How a circus bow can redeem your worst mistakes

by | Sep 22, 2011

How do you respond to failure?
If you’re like most of us, failure comes with negative judgments, and you have a variety of ways to dodge both the judgments and the bad feelings that come with them. You hunker down, often hunching your shoulders, pulling your energy in, and perhaps adopting an apologetic posture as if to say, “Don’t kick me.” Perhaps you adopt a studied casualness, pretending you don’t care. Neither is a very powerful position.

Take a bow

How would it be, on the other hand, if you greeted failure with a circus bow? Take a proud, wide legged stance, throw your arms up in a broad V, fingers spread and palms facing inward. Paste a big smile on your face and take a bow. Wow. You did it! You failed, and guess what? You made it look terrific.

Feel silly? Try it again. And again. Then try it while saying, “I failed!” Keep checking in with your body, making sure you have adopted the victory stance, that you are still smiling with pride, that every fiber of your being is saying, “Hurrah. You may applaud me now.”
How’s that for failure?

Applaud others’ failures

Now, how are you when your colleagues, employees, family and friends fail? Are you afraid their failure will rub off? Secretly relieved that it wasn’t you? Do you feel a flicker of pleasure about how good you look by comparison? Notice how these responses, whether pleasurable or not, cut you off from the person who has failed, effectively breaking the web of cooperation and community.

How would it be if, instead, you witnessed failure with enthusiastic applause? Not denial, but fully felt and expressed appreciation for learning-in-progress. Imagine how your teams and work groups might change if failures were recognized as the springboards for future successes.

Think about how you respond to failure: your own and that of others. Then think about how much time could be saved if saving face were not an issue. How much energy might be released if playing full out became the norm? How much creativity? How much joy?

Pay it forward

This week, I invite you to teach the Failure Bow to everyone you work with. Teach it to your children. Teach it to your friends. Change your culture around failure and you will change your life.