Have you ever been glad that something didn’t turn out like you planned for it to? Have you ever been happy that you failed? (Or seen the funny side of losing, as Cass Elliot puts it in her song “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass Me By”)
For myself, I had planned to study theater in college after being in an intense training program for the last two years of high school. But, after going through the college audition process and not being excited with any of my options, I decided to move to New York City and study English at a small liberal arts college instead. I am so glad that my dreams changed and that I ended up where I did. But that never would have happened if I had gotten into my top theater school; if I hadn’t failed.
As we move this month from our series on freedom into talking about failure, I want to take a moment to acknowledge how the two are connected. In the first article on freedom, I stated that there are two kinds of freedom: freedom of something and freedom from something. In the case of freedom and failure, we are being freed from our own expectations and freed to pursue something new.
This trajectory can be best realized in the context of the Project Mood Curve.
The Project Mood Curve
To summarize, the Project Mood Curve is a chart that maps the course of any human endeavor. It begins in the Forming Stage with excitement and expectation before moving into the Storming Stage when those expectations are not immediately met. In the Storming Stage you fall into The Pit where you have the option of quitting and starting the mood curve over, or climbing out of The Pit to the Norming Stage. Here you move forward based on the new information gained in The Pit that enables you to move into the final Performing Stage where you finally achieve what you set out to do.
You can reach The Pit through a few different means, like frustration with ability, a lack of clear communication, or the realization that this will require more effort than you initially planned for. But they all involve an element of trying and failing.
The Inevitability of Failure
We often view failure as a personal lack of ability; as something that could have been avoided if only we had had that skill or this knowledge. But what the Project Mood Curve shows us is that failure is inevitable. This reality should not make us disappointed, rather it should free us up to fail!
If we “have to” fail, we can view it not as a personal indictment, but as an opportunity for growth and new insight. Let’s look again at The Pit. Stuck in this place of failure, you can choose to either quit and start over or find a way out of The Pit to continue with the endeavor. It forces you to decide if your goal is worth the effort. Sometimes you decide that it’s not, and that is an okay decision to make! (Unless you only ever make that decision and never persevere to the other side).
But whether you start over or stay the course, you are making an informed decision based on new information learned in The Pit. Either way, you will not end in the same place that you started. Failure gives us the opportunity to learn and move on from our failures into something new.
Free to Grow
We set expectations for how we want endeavors to go in the Forming Stage and by the Performing Stage those expectations have usually been transformed into something new. This is because we often do not know what we actually need when we start out.
Just like in my endeavor to choose a college I thought that I wanted to study theater, but that is not what I needed. Failure allowed me to take a clear look at my goals and decide if they were in line with my Path towards There. Along the Path we Plan, Act, Learn, and Adjust based on circumstances, obstacles, and new information. If we had never failed, we would not have the clarity and insight that it brings. But by failing we gain the freedom to break out of our original plans and expectations and move forward on a better Path.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.