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Most people think of failure in the wrong way. They see it as simply negative. We’re conditioned through school – and healthcare providers go through a lot of school – that our biggest fear becomes failing.

This is unfortunate. You should think of failure as a temporary defeat.

You’ve learned over and over again that thinks either work or they don’t work. From the time you learned to walk and through school and starting your practice, many things have worked and many things have not worked. Yet, we convince ourselves from today forward that everything is just going to work.

"Everyone successful has far more failures than wins."

I wrote an article about this in The Burleson Report and I shared the story of watching these skateboarders trying to pull off their tricks. Skateboarding is 99% failure and 1% “Did you get that on camera?” Watching these guys made me think of professional practice. How often are we scared to death to try something new because of the fear of failure?

Extending your hours or expanding the number of locations you have. Hiring an associate or two. Parting ways with an employee who needs to get off the bus. Finally hiring secret shoppers to monitor the new patient exam process. The list goes on.

I understand the tension. Most doctors would never make it through dental or medical school if they enjoyed taking too much risk. The dental and medical students that are risk takers usually have it beaten out of them by the time they graduate.

Think about how things really work, however, and you’ll start to see that failure is natural. Most people simply never learn from their mistakes and sit paralyzed when it comes time to make a decision.

Babies learn to walk by falling down a lot. Then, they fall down less and eventually only rarely. We don’t give a baby one attempt to walk and say, “Well, I guess this one isn’t a walker.” So why don’t we give ourselves a little more leeway when we try and fail?

Airplanes are off course over 90 percent of the time. Starbucks and Apple have entire shrines of failed product ideas over the years. Amazon lost over $100 million on the failed Fire Phone but it didn’t paralyze the company into avoiding risk. They learned a ton from the Fire Phone and parlayed that knowledge into the wildly-successful Amazon Alexa voice assistant.

Three Simple Rules for Dealing with Failure:

First, if you take on something big, be prepared to accept big consequences in return. Owning 16 apartments is one thing. Writing the check for 16 new dishwashers is an issue. Owning 160 apartments and writing the unexpected check for 160 new dishwashers is an entirely different level of consequences.

Second, when you fail (and you will), own it quickly and move on. The world is forgiving. Remember Tiger Woods apologizing for essentially being a sex addict in front of his own mother? Remember Robert Downey Jr. hitting rock bottom as a drug addict? Remember Hugh Grant picking up a prostitute with the paparazzi around the corner? I’m not condoning any of these behaviors, but each could have totally ruined the career and life of someone unwilling to apologize quickly and get on with life, learning from their mistakes. All three men have been accepted back into society because we have a short attention span and we generally give most people a second chance.

Third, when you fail, protect those around you with appropriate shouldering of responsibility and prevent it the next time around. Acquiring a new practice with employees who are probably not going to work out with your philosophy is one thing. Buying multiple offices with this issue requires you to sit down and formulate a plan for severance packages and damage control. Stop going into everything with the idea that it’s going to work out perfectly. Be a skeptical optimist. Switch between optimism and preparing for negative outcomes all the time. Get and listen to my podcast interview with Gabriele Oettingen on her principle WOOP.

Like a skateboarder, the 1% of the time you stick the perfect landing, you’ll be glad you tried and picked yourself up again each time. Perhaps one of the reasons clients travel from across the globe to listen to my advice is the fact that I’m raw and unvarnished about my failures. The list is long. I’ve never pretended to be perfect. I’m almost always the dumbest guy in the room. I just have thick skin and a thicker skull, with the accurate realization that chasing down goals and dreams that are 10X bigger than the average peer is going to magnetically attract 10X more crap and consequences that I’ll have to deal with.

If you look up the term “engine failure” in the American Sailing Association’s handbook, you’ll see the words “sudden cessation of power.” Maybe it will help you to think about failure in this way. Most people think failure means unsuccessful – forever a failure. But, failures are almost always just a sudden cessation of power. Something expected that didn’t happen. It’s not a permanent cessation of power, but rather a temporary one. Knowing the difference is critical.

As perfectionist control-freaks, most healthcare providers are scared to death to lose power. They are mortified to admit they are wrong. Try telling a mom of a patient that her daughter’s canine is ankylosed and will need to be removed. Just the thought of that conversation makes the hairs on my neck stand up. It’s OK to admit you have these fears. Unless you’re a liar or a sociopath, you’re going to have fear creep up a lot in your life.

The difference between the massively successful and the perpetually frustrated lies in the ability to get over your fears and get past your failures. To see them as temporary losses of power or something that didn’t go according to plans. Just because something failed in your hands does not make you a failure.

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