Lesson 31: Reframe Mistakes and Reclaim Your Life
Reframe Mistakes and Reclaim Your Life
Who do you know whose life is not defined by success, but rather failure? People who have never learned the mindsets needed in dealing with mistakes. Instead, their life is full of a myriad of excuses, an incessant recounting of the ‘glory days,’ and an utter lack of personal responsibility. What is the difference between someone being great versus not? Why is it that some children are totally resilient while others melt down at the first real challenge and frustration? People who have achieved a level of greatness and those that are resilient have learned how to reframe their mistakes.
Consider the Following Reframers
I love the story of Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He was told by a Munich schoolmaster that he would “never amount to much.” Harrison Ford was told that he was an “awful” actor” and was “too stiff.” How many people have dreams about being Indiana Jones or Han Solo? Do you remember my view on the long term success of Olympic athletes? Vera Wang, the massively successful fashion designer, first, failed to make the U. S. Olympic figure skating team. Walt Disney’s first business went bankrupt. He was told that he lacked imagination and had few original ideas. Yet, while on his deathbed, Disney was still moving forward and had the image of Epcot perfectly pictured on the ceiling above his bed.
Did you know that Katy Perry was a high school dropout? Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum, tried 5,126 times to create his cyclonic separation bagless vacuum cleaner. Today, Sir James Dyson is a billionaire. And, the magnificent Dr. Seuss also experienced much failure. Dr. Seuss’s first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was refused by twenty seven publishers.
Case Study: Ernest Shackleton
Sir Ernest Shackleton has been referred to as “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.” Shackleton has been called this not because of the incredible goals he set out to accomplish and did, nor because of his amazing skills, but because he saved the lives of the twenty-seven men stranded with him in the Antarctic for almost two years. The Ernest Shackleton story is perhaps the greatest story ever told about human endurance and overcoming failure. The Shackleton saga is a brilliant example of the power of reframing failure. Please read Shackleton’s Way by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell.
It was not until relatively recently that people knew anything about Ernest Shackleton. The Shackleton story was virtually unknown until a few people heard about the Endurance expedition, and began to tell a few others. Shackleton has become very famous, but long after his death. Why? During his lifetime, Shackleton failed at nearly every single goal he ever set. He never commanded a group of people greater than twenty seven. And, near the end of his efforts, he literally had to beg people for money and a chance.
His first failure was in 1902. Shackleton was part of a three-man Farthest South team on the Discovery expedition of the renowned explorer Robert F. Scott. Shackleton and his team had to turn back after scurvy infested their bodies to within 460 miles of the Pole. Then, six years later, Shackleton commanded his own group of men to head back to the Pole. They failed. They were forced to turn back only 97 miles from the Pole, after realizing that they would all starve to death if they pressed onward to the Pole.
This time though, even though he failed, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII for his wisdom, bravery, and effort. Very few people know this part of the Shackleton story. Most assume that Ernest Shackleton was knighted as a result of his greatest of all reframings – the Endurance saga, but no. The knighthood following his second major expedition failure, allowed him the credibility and confidence to secure a bigger boat, more funding, and more men for his greatest of all failures.
For nearly 15 years now, I have used the Ernest Shackleton story as part of a leadership development exercise. Essentially, we study the exploits of Shackleton and reframe from the lens of leadership capacity. In other words, how do you know what your leadership capacity really is? On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the most incredible leader ever, and 1 is pretty sad – where would you place yourself? How do you know? Who would you ask for their honest opinion?
One of the things that the Shackleton situation reveals is that we do not always know what our leadership capacity truly looks like, until it is put to the test. I believe that if we are continually working on leading an amazing life, and are always growing and moving forward, when we are put to the test; we will thrive. Will you? Reframing mistakes into opportunities will always lead to increasing your leadership capacity.
Back to Shackleton …
At the age of forty Sir Ernest set out on an independent voyage to make what he viewed as the last great expedition left on earth: an eighteen-hundred-mile crossing of Antarctica on foot. Cold. For the journey, Shackleton secured a ship, he named it the Endurance after the family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus, “By Endurance We Conquer.” And so it was, that in August of 1914 at the eve of World War I, the Endurance made its way to Buenos Aires, to South Georgia Island, and eventually to the Antarctic Circle. Ironically, the twenty seven men that Shackleton traveled with, he recruited from an advertisement. The advertisement loosely translated said, “wanted men for a hazardous voyage, low wages, bitter cold, return doubtful.” Thousands of men answered the advertisement.
The ship trudged through one thousand miles of brutally cold water filled with massive ice floes. The ship was built with an extra thick bow which was able to bash through most of the floes. But in comparison to the scale of the ocean of ice, the little boat was up against a pretty impossible feat. Just one day’s sail from its destination in Vahsel Bay on the Antarctic coast, the ship got stuck like a stick in a pop sickle in the polar ice of the Weddell Sea.
Shackleton and his men were stranded on an ice floe more than twelve hundred miles from the farthest outposts of civilization. The ice pack encrusted the ship and dragged it north for ten months. Shackleton had hoped that in the spring the ice floe would melt and allow the Endurance to be freed. Then, Ernest was hoping to continue the voyage as planned. Alas, the ice instead of freeing the Endurance began to slowly crush her. Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. The men secured everything they could use from the ship for their new home on the ice. They called their new home, Patience Camp.
For nearly four awful months the men survived on this ice floe. Eventually, it became clear that the ice was breaking up. The men took to their three remaining small lifeboats. Wet, cold, hungry, exhausted, the men had to endure violently pitching seas for nearly a week in tiny vessels to reach Elephant Island – a barren piece of land constantly battered by storms.
Ultimately and amazingly, Ernest Shackleton and five men sailed eight hundred miles in a specially outfitted lifeboat to reach the island of South Georgia. An accomplishment known today as the greatest open sea sail of all time. However, once Shackleton and the five reached this island, they still had much work to do. They landed on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station that they were trying to reach. On foot, Shackleton and two men set off to cross over to the other side. They did it. Later, this hike would be called one of the greatest climbing expeditions ever accomplished. Reframing.
A few months later, once the seas had calmed down, Shackleton and a boat and men from South Georgia, made their way back to Elephant Island. All of Shackleton’s men were alive and well.
Reframing Failure at an Insane Level
Failure turned to unimaginable triumph. Reframing at its ultimate. The Ernest Shackleton saga is the most incredible tale of passion, perseverance, and will that few can top. It is a story of choice. The choice of living for each day, day-by-day. It is the story of choice of moving forward and past mistakes. It is the story of the power of the human spirit. It is the story of the power of human relationship, connection, kindness, investing in other’s lives, of operating out of love. The Shackleton miracle epitomizes what can happen when we live unselfishly and for others. It is an amazing tale of how to rightly reframe failure after failure after failure.
Reframing Mistakes Like Shackleton
The Ernest Shackleton story is a larger than life story, the likes of which you and I will never come close to experiencing. Thank goodness. I shared the story with you as a reminder that even at your very worst, your most major mistake or failing – the odds of it coming to the Shackleton level is small. Remember that. Reframe it. You can have a better life, especially if you are not defined by your failings. Reframe your mistakes. Make your mistakes count for something. Use your mistakes as a way to gain perspective, a different view, or a realization of how to begin again with even greater tenacity. Reframe your mistakes in such a way that your passion will create a laserlike focus, and allow you to reclaim your life.
- How will you fail forward?
- Who do you know that became highly successful after first experiencing failure?
- Where are going to start a reclamation project?