In life, when it comes right down to it, there are no failures- only outcomes, with some outcomes certainly more satisfying to us than others.

We can learn from both…but only if we choose to grow intellectually and emotionally; meaning that if we keep what we perceive as a “failure” within the proper context it becomes a life lesson which can make us wiser, and not just another loss or a defeat.

When we strive to avoid failure (M. Scott Peck MD referred to doing so as the greatest sin – laziness – represented our refusal to grow toward our God-given potential), we are choosing to repeat only that which we know to be comfortable, safe, and predicable. We put ourselves in a box, and then resent being so restricted. We fabricate our own limitations, and then start to believe that they are true. And from there, we are only half a click away from perceiving ourselves as being a victim, which cleverly disarms our willingness to keep trying by justifying our failures.

Repeating old habits of thinking and functioning does have value as it makes things more predictable on the short term, but doing so can also shelter us from experiences which could dramatically shift our paradigm and therefore catalyze deeper understanding. Hence, habitual repetition of old habits can in some ways be a form of neurosis – a dysfunctional need to try to control the outcome of everything around us – which in turn limits new learning and personal growth. Hence neuroses = antigrowth = lack of positive adaptive change = stuck = desire to control even more things = doom loop.

As healthcare providers, the challenge lies in finding a balance between internalizing the precise habits which render out success, while remaining open to the fact that our current level of knowledge and understanding will likely become insufficient over time to sustain our success.

The simple truth is, if we are not failing on occasion, we aren’t trying hard enough to be successful. And that “success” and “failure” aren’t two ends of a bi-polar scale which should be judged, rather they are part of a natural cycle consistent with how we learn. By embracing these truths, we can become more comfortable with our failures over time, recognizing that they are necessary for our growth, while no longer interpreting them as being signs of personal failure and inadequacy.

Paul A Henny DDS

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