Updated: Sep 5
No one is ever failing—they are always succeeding. The question is, at what?
Most people have a tough time receiving compliments, praise and even acknowledgement. Often their discomfort gets expressed with a nervous giggle or laughter. And when I point it out in a coaching situation, very often the response is, “Well, I don’t want to come off as arrogant.”
Now, take a moment to think about what accentuates this fear of being fabulous? Let us try to work our way around our consciousness:
"If I receive praise I’ll be seen as arrogant."
"If I say 'Thank you' that will look like I think a whole lot of myself too."
"But if I laugh and blow it off, I’ll come off as modest and unassuming."
If you laugh when someone compliments you, do you actually think that will make you even look like an adult? Not likely. Instead, you’ll look more like your teen-age niece or nephew who’s dressed up for the big dance and can’t handle being complimented on looking terrific.
This brings us back to the question: "What accentuates this fear of being fabulous?" Undoubtedly, we all are succeeding at something and what is more important here than arguing over the success versus failure ratio is to understand what are we succeeding at? Isn't it quite obvious that we are succeeding at the "falling for fail fast fantasy trap"?
Why would you allow yourself to behave that way at all, much less in the workplace? Think about it.
What stops you to OWN the magnificence that YOU are?
Let us look at workplace breeding grounds of the impostor syndrome to see how humans perceive professional success and failures to better understand this fear of being fabulous:
Does your social media feeds tell you about the virtues of failure? Do you observe that it is a recurrence that every week or so another business leader, brand or blogger will pop up with a post encouraging you to “fail fast and fail often”, “fail forward” or “fail better”? If, you've known about this trap since long then you've been caught in the fear of being fabulous.
Failure seems to be fashionable these days. Laughing off compliments is understood as a guard that shields you from getting called off as 'arrogant'. Think again! When we receive goodness without being humbled, we are understood as weak and immature. Definitely not leaders! If you are reading this and thinking that you've been practicing this weak and immature trend, you have certainly fell for the orthodox way of thinking about innovation, entrepreneurship and workplace culture.
Success, like compliments, is mistakenly understood as 'high standards' - one which you are made to believe that you cannot achieve. Also, you must fail fast first to succeed faster and better next.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to throw yourself into ventures and notch up some ambitious failures before you can connect with that home run to make you a success. If you’re an agency, you need to be incubating lots of tiny agencies with different specialisms or business models, most of which will fail but one of which might put you ahead of the next big marketing trend. And if you’re a marketer, you need to risk failure with every emerging marketing technology and platform, just in case one of those failures turns out to be a successful way to connect with your audience.
The failure mantras are repeated from the stages of TED and other conferences, and in the pages of memoirs and self-help books. They promise to deliver something that’s become a holy grail in much thinking about business: a “start-up mentality” that helps companies of any size stay dynamic, energetic, a driver of disruption rather than a victim of it.
Is failure really all it’s cracked up to be?
This view of failure is very popular because it’s very attractive. It’s inherently liberating to be told that, if you screw up or fall short, it doesn’t matter; that it’s actually contributing to your future success; that the more speedy and spectacular your failure, the better. It’s so attractive an idea that I’d almost certainly go along with it if it weren’t for the fact that I actually know several entrepreneurs running start-ups and small businesses. And when I talk to them about how wonderfully liberating it is to fail, they don’t react in quite the way that they’re supposed to. They go a bit quiet and pale, look at the floor, potentially reach for another drink, and maybe even mutter about mortgages and credit card bills.
That’s because people who are actually in the start-up mindset tend to see the failure fantasy for exactly what it is: bad advice based on a network of myths about entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s advice that tends to be spread almost entirely by large businesses that can indulge the idea of failure because it would take some seriously hard work for them to catastrophically fail themselves. The failure fantasy is dangerously misleading for anybody looking to start a business – but it’s also misguided and misleading for any business interested in making effective use of innovation and new technology.
Contrary to what you’ve been told, successful entrepreneurs don’t embrace or celebrate failure – they do everything humanly possible to avoid it.
Don't believe the myth: successful start-ups didn’t start out by failing.
The first plank of the failure fantasy is the myth that the most inspiring and innovative leaders got to be that way by starting out as serial failures themselves. This is one of those ideas that feels inherently true – but when you take a quick look at the evidence, it doesn’t stack up.
List the most successful, innovative and admirable entrepreneurs that you can think of – then try and track down their failures. It’s a lot more difficult than you might think. The first business that Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched was Google, a company that was such a rapid success that it was receiving $100,000 cheques before it even had a bank account to pay them into. Mark Zuckerberg? Launched Facebook while still in college. Jeff Bezos’s first business? Amazon of course, a company he launched immediately following a successful career on Wall Street.
Isn't it quite clear that you are fed with the fear of being fabulous and made to fall for the fail fast fantasy? Why does it happen?
It is this self-deprecating thoughts that makes you a victim to believing what is made to do the rounds around you. This becomes the impostor syndrome that hinders you from acknowledging your own achievements and success. We are so engaged into thinking about failures and not having 'high standards' that we get caught into not embracing our reality - of how fabulous we are and can become. Most people suffer from 'perfectionism' and dive in happily into the 'failure well'. We often come across such people who blow off business deals, relationships and self sabotage their image due to this want of having it all the perfect way.
Are there changes we could all make which would help everyone feel appropriate pride in their achievements?
Yes, you can!
If you wish to do so, seek self-help advise by well-meaning friends or mentors or Psychologists to fight this impostor syndrome. If you agree with me, begin to make a commitment to consciously practice receiving praise and compliments like an adult who feels worthy! Yes, a little modesty is a fine thing but self-deprecating isn't. Once you realize this, then you’ll be acting in your own best interest, your professional interest.
[In this article, I've tried to understand the impostor syndrome in two scenarios: facing difficulty receiving compliments and believing failure to be the first step to success in workplace - the fail fast fantasy.]