Depersonalizing Failure

I was sprawled in the middle of the road, my right knee bleeding onto the asphalt.

At 0430 a.m. the running trail was still dark. I had failed to see the curb in the middle of the road and tripped over it, scraping my knee and hands in the process.

I began to rationalize the incident.

Who puts a curb there? Where were the street lights? I’d forgotten my headlamp, but I was in a hurry. My alarm had malfunctioned.

And so it went.

When others fail, we learn. We say, “I’ll never do that”. We look out for curbs that others trip over.

When we fail, we instantly rationalize. It’s not our fault we were speeding, the cops needed to write more tickets that month. We went bankrupt because of the economy, not because of poor decisions we made, right? We blame. We see fault everywhere but in ourselves.

And often the lesson is missed.

To learn from failure, we must depersonalize failure. It’s why learning to fly in a flight simulator works so well. The risks, to the student’s health and ego, are reduced by the environment. It’s also why advances in virtual reality technology, like crane operator training, are so exciting.

My knee still carries the scar from the fall. But by depersonalizing the event, I was able to learn (wear a headlamp) and stop the rationalization.

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