Failure is Always an Option

  • October 01, 2016
  • By Caroline Nevin

Choosing a new comfort zone

Is anyone else numb to the message that we live in times of ever-escalating rates of change? We’ve heard it so often, and we feel it in everything we do. Our anxiety levels are through the roof, and there simply aren’t enough hours to keep up with everything. New technologies, new processes, new ideas – even new buildings and people in our work and personal lives – pop up and demand space in our consciousness every day. It’s exhausting.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this lately, on the theory that there must be a new and better way to cope with the speed of change, filter out useless things, and make myself faster at incorporating useful practices and tools that lead to more success. And there’s the killer word: success.

The two most important things I’ve learned from the change management gurus are actually very simple: first, fear of failure – and by that I mean the paralyzing terror of being exposed as unworthy – is the single biggest barrier to actually succeeding in the end. Second, the most essential thing to change in the face of change… is yourself.

Robert Quinn, in Building a Bridge As You Walk On It, talks about our drive to stay in our “normal state” – a zone of comfort where we know how to manage and control, where we are externally driven, self-focused and internally closed. And that we waste huge amounts of energy in staying in that state even when faced with blazing signals that it is maladaptive and destructive to our own wellbeing as change in the world around us demands a different approach.

When we are comfortable with how we’ve always approached the world, and refuse to evolve when it clearly doesn’t work anymore, we experience a loss of energy, vitality, and even the hope that things could or will ever be different. You don’t even have to be older to have this experience – the panic of being out of our own zone of comfort and control can be as powerful and devastating in the first years of practice as in mid- to late career.

The good news is, there’s one simple thing that can make a big difference. It’s not a drug, but it has as strong an effect. Think of it as the super-tool that arms you for anything – except its entire point is to help you lay down the armor, and become more open to being purpose-centred, internally driven, other-focused and externally open (all the conditions Quinn says make it possible to not just cope but bloom in response to change!). It’s called mindfulness.

In their book The Anxious Lawyer, Jenna Cho and Karen Gifford do a great job of laying out the professional and personal gains that real lawyers have achieved from practising mindfulness and meditation. The simple act of booking in any small acts of mindfulness, any minutes for meditation, on a daily basis will make a significant difference to your ability to flow with change. And guess what? There’s an app for that! (Calm and Breathe are two, but there are lots).

The second tool you need in your toolbox? If you want to truly succeed in work and in life, it’s time to reframe your ideas about failure. In the words of Kotter’s penguins in his fabulous fable, Our Iceberg is Melting, “Walk around, keeping your eyes and minds open. Be curious.” Denying yourself genuine chances for failure – or public discussion about failures when they occur – means choosing to lose half of the lessons life has to offer you as an evolving lawyer and person. It’s time to create a new comfort zone!

Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org