What Failure Has Taught Me About Success (...and Vice Versa)

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

We don't like to talk about failure. Failure is the dark secret hidden in the back of our subconscious. It is the unwanted guest lurking behind the door. The ever-growing pile of detritus swept under the rug. Failure, for most of us, represents the things in our past that we would much rather forget than actually deal with. And yet... failure is how we learn. If we can embrace failure, we can grow and improve. If we avoid it, we limit and stunt ourselves.

We never used to be this way. As small children, we embraced failure on a daily basis. We revelled in it. We sought it out. There was so much that we wanted to do, and yet couldn't. And if we could just figure out a way to unwrap the mysteries that others had mastered but we were not even qualified to be apprentices of, the riches of the universe would be ours. Things like learning to whistle. Or ride a bicycle. Or just the right pressure and the right angle on the counter edge to break a popsicle in two. These were the secret mysteries we longed to be initiated in.

As we grew older, however, our relationship with failure became more complex. We learned about disappointment and expectations. We took on, through the attitudes of others, an understanding of standards and what it means to “measure up”. We were confronted with the fear of not measuring up, and the horror of others being let down by …

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