Choosing to Fail So You Can Succeed

In a Juggling Elephants training program a few years ago, a participant gave me a powerful tool to improve time management and work life balance with one short comment. I was introducing the idea that we don’t like to acknowledge our limits, but that we must if we are to stay focused on our most important things. A few seconds later Warren spoke up and said, “It’s like asking yourself the question, ‘What are you willing to fail at?’” I’ve caught myself asking that question countless times. It centers me like few other thoughts can do. And when I see other people overwhelmed with all they want to accomplish, asking them the question brings a (sometimes painful) clarity to their choices they have rarely had in the past.

Over the past few months I’ve added a second part to the question: What am I willing to fail at so I can succeed with something more important? The key is asking the question BEFORE we make a choice between one action or another. If you take an honest look over your past week you will most likely see some wrong choices you have made. Choices like:

  • Failing at getting a good night’s rest so you could succeed in interacting with more people on social media
  • Failing to work on a personal goal so you could succeed with watching another hour of ___________________ (insert your favorite TV show).
  • Failing to stay focused on an important assignment at work because you want to succeed in checking your email every 15 minutes.
  • Failing to effectively lead your team at work because you wanted to succeed in making sure you micromanaged individual members.

Think about how different these situations could turn out if you asked the question before making the choice.

One recent series of events reminded me of the power of this question. My daughter has been home from college this summer, and on several occasions we have resumed our daily three mile morning run. Well… at least she has. Due to a lack of sleep, not exercising on my own, or eating too late at night, I would often find myself unable to complete the three miles. It would break my heart as I watched her make the turn for the last mile as I walked back to our home.

In my frustration one morning I realized I was failing at spending precious time with my daughter so I could succeed at things way less important. I soon changed my eating habits along with getting a little more sleep, and was able to run the entire three miles with her on the last few days before she went back to college. Thanks for the tip, Warren.

What are you willing to fail at so you can succeed at something else?