Forgiveness & Growth: Embracing Failures

I am writing a book about taking an action-bias approach to thriving in an organization. During this preparation phase, various versions of nagging thoughts on failure keep popping up. This, ironically, comes at a stage when the book's success is the least of my concerns – my focus is on getting the content down, pouring my heart and knowledge onto this writing project. Yet, the thoughts were significant enough to lead me to pause in what I was doing. This incident highlights a crucial disconnect – I, who have championed embracing failure in countless coaching sessions and training modules, am experiencing the very fear I advise others to overcome.

Self-forgiveness nibs negative self-fulfilling beliefs

This experience made me realize a crucial truth: "Embracing failure" is a catchy phrase, but the true power lies in understanding how to navigate it for growth. When I managed my retail stores in Singapore, I constantly struggled to optimize supplier-vendor relationships. I clung to a naive perspective that we could bridge the gap between their business objectives and my business ethos of viewing them as collaborators who prioritize longevity in business relations over immediate transaction gains. It was a recurring pattern – my approach which allows for greater flexibility (on commissions, staffing, or payment terms) at the expense of my company's resources was often accepted by the vendors without any intention of reciprocation.

Why is it that I struggle to learn from my erroneous approach? I realized it was because I couldn't look at my naive perspective as an error to be forgiven. Only by recognizing and looking at my approach with forgiveness, I finally agreed that I needed a more balanced approach with my vendors. Not processing this through self-forgiveness, this recurring habit would have festered into self-fulfilling beliefs that it is inevitable to be taken advantage of in my business transactions.

Embracing failure isn't therefore just about acknowledging we failed; it's about looking it in the eye and extracting the precious lessons. This process of embracing failure is impossible without a deep and compassionate understanding of ourselves. Many seem drawn to embracing failure as a kind of courageous bravado. But in my experience, many were reluctant to heal the wounds that failures left behind.

Self-forgiveness is akin to staring into that wound and conducting a thorough audit. It requires asking ourselves tough questions about our actions, motivations, and the role we played (good and bad) in the situation. For many, this isn't a natural thought process. It's far easier to gloss over our own mistakes or deflect blame to others. 

The 4Rs of Self-Forgiveness

Here's where the 4Rs of self-forgiveness are a useful roadmap for cultivating the courage and compassion to embrace failure. The 4 Rs of self-forgiveness – Responsibility, Remorse, Restore, and Renew – serve as a compass for navigating self-awareness in the face of failure. Responsibility delves into our motivations and actions, aligning them with outcomes and recognizing the broader context. This introspection fosters self-awareness about our role in the situation. Remorse, born from heightened self-awareness, allows us to understand the impact of our actions on ourselves and others, deepening our empathy and emotional intelligence. Restoration, driven by self-awareness, guides us toward reconciliation and growth, urging us to identify areas for improvement and make meaningful amends. Finally, Renewal empowers us to leverage self-awareness by turning setbacks into opportunities. Through continuous reflection on strengths, weaknesses, and areas for development, we embrace ongoing learning and navigate challenges with resilience, ultimately transforming failure into a catalyst for growth.

The Nuance of Responsibility

When taking true responsibility we can't simply accept blame for the bad – we also need to acknowledge the good intentions that sometimes lead us astray. In business, good intentions don't always translate to good strategy. In my situation, trusting a partner or believing in the power of collaboration might seem noble, but disastrous amid the realities of market forces and the diverse work cultures. This highlights why a deeper introspection around responsibility is vital. We need to be accountable for all our actions leading to failure. We have to shed the victim's narrative of a blameless good citizen and step into the empowering space of responsible growth.

Now I do not mean we must abandon our core principles; it simply acknowledges that advocating for ethics and other positive intentions such as collaboration effectively might require additional skills and strategies. When my trust in business partners was not reciprocated as expected, I felt like a victim due to my naive outlook. However, I realized it was far more productive to take responsibility by accepting my naivety and leveraging it as an opportunity for growth. Instead of clinging to idealistic expectations from business partners, I now prioritize developing the skills necessary to negotiate and navigate diverse work environments effectively without losing the core principles I uphold. It won't be easy, but it is more productive than blaming others for not reciprocating my well-intentioned approaches.

A Roadmap for Self-Reflection

Self-forgiveness is a powerful tool for learning from failures. It's a process that unfolds in stages, but a core principle remains constant: a commitment to honest self-reflection. Here's how I put it into practice:

Map the Journey: meticulously map all the events that led to the failure. Break it down, from the initial planning to the outcome. Consider both your actions and the actions of others involved.

Embrace Honest Reflection And Compassion: At each turn, ask yourself honestly how you could have done better. Reflecting on it with compassion will help us not shy away from difficult questions.

Find a Balance: Self-forgiveness requires a fine balance between being strict and kind to ourselves.

Do you find self-forgiveness plays a role in truly embracing failure? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And, if you're feeling inspired, consider reflecting on a past failure. Could self-forgiveness unlock new insights and propel you forward?

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