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Why You Need to Fail Faster

Why You Need to Fail Faster

Failing sucks! There is nothing fun about it and no one wants to be apart of it. But the sucking part of it doesn’t need to last and many times failure leads to the biggest and best breakthroughs.

Admitting a mistake shows you are wiser than you once were, don’t be afraid to admit.

I have failed many times and I am sure will fail many more, only in the future I hope to fail faster so I can learn from the experience and move on to the next goal. Too often we let failure drag itself out over months if not years. You may be leading a project you believe is doomed from the beginning for a multitude of reasons or you could be in a leadership position that you are not the right fit for because of your experience level and interest.

It is human nature not to want to admit failure so we push on; enduring sub par performance and results with the fleeting hope things will work out.

I am not telling you not to stretch yourself and push your comfort zone taking on challenging projects, positions and goals. What I am suggesting is that as you stretch yourself or dive into leading challenging projects you set realistic boundaries that, if crossed, lead you to admit failure. This could be a date, a dollar figure, closure of a knowledge gap, level of progress. The faster you admit failure the faster you can learn from the experience and move on to inching your way to success.

Shawn Stratton

© Ben Andrews

Proper failure is a speed bump, useless failure is a cliff. Don’t drive yourself off the cliff.

I have had many successes in my life but most of them had been preceded by failures. In the first chapter of my book TEAMS ON THE EDGE I chronicle one of my greatest and meaningful failures, failing the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Instructors Course. Prior to the course I had been dreaming for years of getting accepted as an instructor. When I was surprisingly selected off a wait list for the course I had decided to cut my three-month backpacking trip around New Zealand short and take the last spot. The course would be starting in Arizona in two weeks. I could have passed on the wait list spot, finished my trip around New Zealand and reapplied to take the course the following year as per my original plan, or I could jump on the opportunity to kick start my career with NOLS.

Not wanting to let this golden opportunity slip by that could shape my future career, I chose to take the spot.

In retrospect in some ways I was mentally unprepared for the course, and putting a tremendous amount pressure on myself to pass didn’t help. Passing the course would have punched my ticket to become an instructor for NOLS, the world leader in outdoor education, my number one career goal for the previous four years. To make a long story short I failed the 30-day expedition style course that I had just taken out a loan to pay for and was devastated.

Shawn Stratton The good thing was, the course ended on a given date so my failure didn’t drag on. I failed fast. As well I was given explicit instructions on what I needed to improve upon to show I had reached the level required to lead expeditions with NOLS. I learned the lessons needed from the failure to eventually turn the disappointment into a success.

A few months later I was given the opportunity to demonstrate I had increased my skills to the level required to now become an instructor. I went on to have a 10-year career with NOLS, living the dream, as I lead one to three month backpacking, mountaineering, sea kayaking, sailing and canoeing expeditions around the world while teaching leadership and expeditioning skills.

If I had let the devastating failure of not passing the instructors course be a cliff instead of a speed bump, I would have missed out on pursuing a dream and passion and ultimately a career that would shape the rest of my life.

As I continue as an entrepreneur, husband and father, failing fast has become even more important as others are dependent on me—causing my resources and ultimately my time to be stretched in many directions. Anything I take on, I need to really make it count or fail fast, learn what I can, and move on to pursuing my next success.

Failure only truly happens when there is no learning.

Action: Pick three goals, two short term and one long term, write them down and include a clear boundary other than success that indicates when you will stop pursuing that goal.

Until next week… Embrace the Adventure


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.

Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.