Failing better

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

As the week begins with even worse-than-usual news — ranging from the horrible shooting in Las Vegas to the continuing humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico — I decided to forego what I was going to write about (interpreting the OIG's latest report) and make a recommendation.

It's not to stay positive, although bless you if you can. It's to do something that may seem negative, which is to try doing something where you have no experience, or are actively unskilled. Attempt to start something where you may fail.

When I start something new, I generally land somewhere between a remedial student and unmitigated disaster. I have, over various points in time, spent months learning how to knit, sew, cook, run faster, scrapbook and snowboard. There's a reason why none of these are what I'd list as hobbies.

Most recently, I have been going to boxing class one to two times a week for the past seven months. Despite this commitment, I am still terrible at boxing. My biggest attribute is that I have a certain innate aggressiveness that helps me hit a bag, but my form, ranging from my arms to my legs to my back, basically resembles a hunched-over hyena trying to punch a tree.

The reason I keep going back isn't just because it's a great workout, but because it's important to me to deal with my fear of failure. That fear keeps a lot of us, in whatever industry we are in, from tackling big problems or trying innovative strategies. How much is long-term care's resistance to change based around this fear?

By giving ourselves permission to fail, whether that means not keeping up with a fitness class or admitting a new program didn't work, we learn that it's rare that anything is fatal.

We learn how to fail better.

By giving into a fear of failure, according to psychologists, we worry too much about what other people think, set expectations lower, fall into procrastination and become deeply frustrated.

When we accept that we may fail at business, relationships or a hobby, we are likely to be more successful in the long run. As Wrike CEO Andrew Filev told the BBC last year, “A lot of people still think of failure as a sign of personal incompetence and try to avoid it at all cost. But when you view building a business as a series of experiments, you start to see failure as an inevitable step in the process.”

Sometimes failure — such as my attempt to snowboard — allows us to say “That was interesting and I have no desire to ever do it again.” Sometimes, we examine what caused something to fail, and dive into how it could have gone better. We must asking the questions of not only what we learned, but how we either grew as a person or had positive things come out of a situation.

Which takes us back to boxing. Despite failing regularly, I know I'm — slowly, incrementally — getting better. You won't see me in the sparring ring anytime soon, but at least I know how to correctly throw a punch.

And in this day and age, you never know when that may be needed.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.