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On Failure and Turning the Corner

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By LaMesha Craft
September 7, 2020

As we near the last quarter of 2020, I often ponder how we will commemorate 2020 on December 31st. How will the news broadcasters categorize the highs and the lows of this year? How will we reflect on our failures and lessons learned. How will we reconcile the anguish of loss, loneliness, change within many aspects of our daily lives and acceptance of a new normal (whatever that will become)? Once we eventually turn the corner of this pandemic, how will we measure our resilience as individuals, communities and organizations? As I contemplate these things, I am reminded that inherent in change is failure (in some capacity) and the concept of failure resonates with me because of a valuable (albeit unorthodox) lesson learned many years ago.

What that “Crazy Lady” Taught Me about Failure

I’m the middle child and the only girl—which means there was a lot of compromising required if I wanted to play with my brothers. For example, I had to allow the Transformers to use my three-story Barbie Doll House as a parking garage. I also had to learn how to get maximum speed out of my Big Wheel and drift around sharp corners, to keep up with “the crew.” Phrases like, “Hey, bet you can’t do this!” were a common challenge that I learned to embrace.

Suffice to say I fell down, fell through or fell out of MANY things. However, whenever that happened, so long as I was not broke or bleeding my mother would clap, like her football team just scored a touchdown, and exclaim, “Yayyy! Now GET UP and TRY IT AGAIN.”

At one point we were all capable of simply brushing off failure.

Have you ever seen a toddler in exploration mode? They typically walk much like an adult who has had one too many drinks. But unlike the adult, the toddler is very much content and not second guessing his or her life choices. You see, the toddler is happily stumbling their way through experiencing life. But then … it happens … they pick up too much speed and their chubby little legs cannot keep pace with their wobbly little bodies, then … BAM … they hit the floor!

Now, if you have ever witnessed this spectacle you may have noticed that for a couple of seconds after the toddler meets the floor, he or she is trying to rationalize the rapid change in motion and disposition. Often times it is only after a parent or bystander gasps and/or runs towards the toddler that he or she responds by crying.

As I think about resiliency, I can’t help but hear my mom exclaim, “Get up and try it again!” I’m not suggesting that my mother’s method was the best. To be fair, there was a period during my childhood that I questioned why, “That crazy lady is clapping when I just fell!” However, in retrospect, by clapping she basically said, “You may have tried and failed, but you have another opportunity… so GET UP and TRY IT AGAIN!”

It’s okay if attempts to teach your loved one included a meltdown (by you or the child); if your internship or study abroad was cancelled; if your virtual meeting was full of hot mics and barking dogs; if your organization suffered the results of inadequate forward thinking; or if you’re a new hire trying to virtually assimilate into the organization’s culture. Your challenges and failures are okay, but we must get up and try it again!

Turning the Corner includes Appreciating the Journey

How we choose to recover from and adapt to this pandemic speaks highly of our collective resolve. We must embrace our challenges and failure—we must honor them as part of our journey. This is an opportunity for leaders to establish a 2020 Year in Review forum to capture the failures, but most importantly how those failures have led to lessons learned. It’s a perfect opportunity to emphasize how the organization and its people have emerged stronger and more resilient. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the pandemic will end as the clock strikes midnight. However, preparation for the “new normal” should be a continuous process, one that periodically captures the journey as well as the destination. The last quarter of 2020 provides the chance to embrace all of what this year has taught us and to celebrate how despite everything, we can get up and try again!

Author: LaMesha “MeMe” Craft, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the National Intelligence University and an adjunct professor at Tiffin University. Her research interests include community resilience, disaster risk reduction, leadership, impacts of disruptive technology, alternative futures, and postnormal times. She may be reached at [email protected] or @DrLCraft20

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