The upside of failure and ADHD

Editor’s Note: How often do you feel like a failure? If you’re like most of us, plenty of times. Now how many times have you celebrated your failures? A great moment about the positive side of failure is in the cartoon, Meet the Robinsons. When our hero spectacularly fails to fix an invention, his friends aren’t mad, instead they celebrate. For, as they explain, without failure, you never learn anything. This week’s guest post, by Edge coach, Gayla Wilson, digs deeper into the myth of failure and encourages us to view “failures” as bumps in the road towards success.

Fail it Forward

Is it possible people who have not failed are people who have never gone too far…never gone far enough? What side of the coin do you fall on? The “I have failed side” or the “I played it safe side.”

How can we ever know how far we can go unless we are willing to fail? Playing it safe requires us to live inside the boundaries of our limitations. A diagnosis of ADHD can mean a limitation of too few neurotransmitters (the thingies that help us focus and concentrate). This doesn’t mean we have to live inside this limitation. We can manage this in several ways; education, coaching, medication, exercise, diet and therapy just to name a handful.

You know the game we all play sometime; “What would you do if money were not a concern.” I ask my coaching clients “What would you do if you knew you would not fail.” When we strip away the “yeah, buts,” “if onlys,” “shoulds,” “I can’ts” and my favorite “I tried that and it didn’t work” what do we have left?

I can. I will. I am.

It takes great strength and courage (an “I told you so” occasion for the nay-sayers in your life, real and imaginary) to consider the possibility of failing. To know in your heart you might fail and then decide to take the plunge and do it anyway. Anis Nin said, “Life Shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” What will it take for you to feel courageous?

A life of unmet potential is easier and less painful.

Those of us with ADHD have had our fair share of bumps in the road. Sometimes we settle for a life of unmet potential because it is just plain easier and less painful. Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” describes it well. Thoreau sought to learn to live deliberately and without resignation. He did not want to discover that he had not lived. Bob, my husband, has quoted this passage many times to me over the years. It has become his mantra, a reminder, as he learned to move through his daily challenge with ADHD. Like many adults diagnosed late it life Bob has had his fair share of bumps.

Many of us have learned to rely on the strategy of defensive pessimism. This strategy anticipates a negative outcome and then we take steps to avoid that outcome. Not necessarily a bad strategy, but certainly a limiting one. Yes, we must learn from our past mistakes. The learning and wisdom we gain from those mistakes guides our future…fail it forward, get it? As we side-step our way to the comfortable use of the word failure we can live firmly in the present. Fail, learn, grow, and succeed.

Want to think on this topic some more? You might also be interested in

How do you view failure in your life?  Do you agree that you can’t learn if you don’t fail?

Learn About Edge Executive Function Coaching


Share on Social Media