I recently attended an event where author of Half the Sky, Cheryl Wudunn shared her insight on making the world a better place for women and ultimately for all. I would highly recommend this book, though it is not for the faint of heart.  There are horrendous things happening around the world and in our own “backyard” and the only way to foster change is through cooperation and action.  Alas, I digress, that is not the point of this post.

My post is about failing. Messing up. Blowing it. Getting it wrong.

How do you handle failure? At this event, during the Q&A someone asked about the recent scandal with micro-lending organizations that botched it up and are doing a great job at giving everyone else who is doing right a bad name. The question was a valid and thoughtful point. BUT the way Cheryl answered it blew me away – weeks later I’m still thinking about it.  Her immediate response was a sarcastic response on how America’s corporate banking system in recent light had messed up A LOT. But then she expanded the thought, when trying new ventures there will always be failure – what is important is how that failure is handled.  Her answer was enlightening and refreshing.  She then told the story of a charity who started off by giving away one bicycle to a poor villager.  After a short time it was apparent their plan to help support the villagers was unsuccessful – often the bicycles were stolen or left useless due to the lack of training on how to perform minor repairs.

By all accounts, the charity failed.  The idea was great in theory though once implemented it did not go as planned…in fact some might say it caused even more problems amongst villagers.  However, as you might guess the story didn’t end there – the charity “failed gracefully.” Reflecting back, they realized what wasn’t working and tweaked the program accordingly.  They started to send the entire village bicycles in order to decrease the likelihood of them being stolen AND they designated one person to be the repairer (creating jobs too!) which gave them the tools and training to repair minor issues.

In my opinion, this is the perfect example of failing gracefully.  They did not give up or throw in the towel even after blowing it. They reworked it, revisited the original plan and changed what wasn’t working. There are many lessons in this story but what I took away was a wonderful example of how to fail.  Of course no one wants to fail, it’s not pleasant and requires incredible awareness to step back enough to take action.  Admitting failure, admitting what isn’t working and moving on.  What have you failed at lately?

My recent failure: I was living the lie of “I CAN DO IT ALL!” – I can work 70 hours, be a fabulous mom, a perfect wife and a great friend. Nope, not so much.  I was failing at all of those things; my work, my family and friendships suffered.  In short – it wasn’t working. I needed help and support… LOTS of it. Though it has only been a couple of months of my practicing to ask for and then accept help – IT’S AMAZING.  I can’t believe I waited so long to do it!

photo source: the keep calm-o-matic