You can choose to learn from your failures, and let them propel you to success, just like NASA does. Here’s how.
Houston, we have a problem.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most iconic phrases of the 20th century. While the exact phrase spoken by the astronaut was “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” the meaning remains the same—there’s an unforeseen problem, which affects our mission.
In the case of the Apollo 13, the unexpected problem was an oxygen tank explosion. While the Apollo 13 crew made it safely back to Earth, only three years earlier another failure took the lives of three astronauts.
The tragic incident occurred when the shuttle caught fire during a training exercise in Cape Kennedy in 1967. In this case, the shuttle remained on the ground.
In the aftermath, NASA took steps to prevent another prevent another failure of this nature—steps that ultimately helped the Apollo 13 crew survive.
While failures in your business may not have life or death circumstances, NASA’s experience in dealing with and learning from failure can serve you well.
What can we learn from NASA’s response to failure?
Allow yourself to feel the loss…
Acknowledge the loss, and the grief and sadness accompanying it.
In business, we tend to deny our natural emotions because we think it’s inappropriate. After all, it’s “strictly business.” We’ve heard this rhetoric from leaders in the past, but it’s simply not healthy to constantly repress human emotions. (More on this topic in a future post.)
Allow yourself to experience the sadness and grief that come with failure and process it. If you don’t, you may find yourself having to deal with crippling shame down the road.
Dump the shame…
Resist the nagging, critical voice in the back of your head, urging you to feel ashamed about failure.
Shame is a lie your brain tells you—that failure makes you weak. This leads you to draw the conclusion that because you’re weak, you’ll never succeed. You begin to believe you’re permanently shackled to failure and its partner, shame. History proves this conclusion isn’t true.
Think of the many major success stories born from failure. Take a moment to wonder if they experienced shame after a failure. They may have, but they also refused to allow shame to define them. Thus, they kept going and eventually achieved success.
For more help with shame, take the advice Brené Brown offers in this TED video.
Choose to learn the right lesson…
The first word in this sentence is key: Choose. It’s your choice to learn a lesson from your failure. (If you choose to be ashamed, please reread the points about shame above.)
Instead of choosing shame, choose to learn, improve, and move forward. NASA did just that through fundamental changes to the space program to ensure the safety of its astronauts.
It was this learning process that lead to changes, enabling Apollo 13 to return three astronauts safely to Earth after an unexpected, and potentially catastrophic problem.
It’s not the problem, the missed mark, or the failure that defines you. It’s your response that defines you. It can either launch you toward success, or keep you grounded in shame. It’s truly your choice.
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