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Don’t fear failure, sing it out loud

Stuart the examiner looked slightly bemused when I walked in the room for my grade 3 singing exam. All the other candidates were under 10 years old. I was way out of my comfort zone. As was Stuart when I started belting out ABBA’s Thank You For The Music!

But actually, part of the reason for doing the exam was to push myself into unfamiliar territory. To experience discomfort. Because what we know to be true is that going through hardship makes us stronger, more resilient and better able to deal with difficulties in the future.

Robert Glazer writes about this today in his excellent Friday Forward – “Psychologists have identified that one main cause of depression and anxiety in teenagers and young adults today is the way that helicopter parenting has eliminated struggle and discomfort during formative years. The outcome is similar to facing a virus when your body has never had any previous exposure or built antibodies to combat it—when you are shielded from smaller obstacles early in life, it is much harder to confront real challenges later in life”.

And we all know the importance of antibodies.

I was extremely nervous in the exam, I forgot some of the words, and there were a few notes which Benny and Bjorn hadn’t thought to put in. But I moved on with a smile, and my certificate is in the post.

There was much talk of resilience during the Euros. Gareth Bale missing a penalty (unheard of) but going on to be instrumental in winning the match for Wales was a prime example. Rather than being crushed by a moment of failure, he put it behind him and upped his game. Let’s hope England’s three lovely lions will be able to do likewise.

Indeed, one of the drivers of success in any field is the ability to learn from but move on from mistakes. Matthew Syed brilliantly explores this in Black Box Thinking. The tendency to ruminate on failure holds people back in all areas of life and especially in my field – communication skills. Many of my clients are hamstrung by the fear of saying the wrong thing, forgetting something, stumbling, hesitating. It causes a great deal of anxiety.

That’s why I believe that one of our main tools for success is rehearsal – saying the words out loud; talking to ourselves in advance of the actual event. And a ‘dress rehearsal’ (where you can’t stop even if George Clooney walks in the room, demanding coffee) means you’ll experience the horror of the forgotten word or the mispronunciation without repercussion. You’ll grow your confidence muscle. You’ll create more antibodies. Then when something happens in the real thing, which it will (Steve Jobs used to say that things don’t go wrong, they go differently), you will be better equipped to deal with it. You will have desensitised yourself to the sensation of singing a wrong note or missing the penalty.


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