How To Grow From Failure (Start With Your Strengths)

Image by Ian Kim

Failure hurts. It's embarrassing, scary and painful. For some of us, it's paralyzing. Keep reading to learn how approaching failure through the lens of your strengths can help you come out even stronger.

"Face your failures," they say. "Let your failure fertilize your future." Chance the Rapper lives his best life by turning all his "L's into Lessons." Those are great quotes and intellectually good advice, but there is one problem. The consequences of public and private failure can feel so heavy that our instincts are to prevent them, avoid them and run from them. What's missing from that advice is a blueprint for moving through the hot sting of the missteps to find the soothing wisdom within.

You are not alone! For me, past failures legitimize my perfectionism and fuel my procrastination. I have so many ideas that I'm still "working on" because I don't want to fail and get DRAGGED in the internet streets.

A recent conversation with my Nana opened my eyes to a new way to approach failure.

I should explain my Nana to you first. She is a BADASS. She has a Master's degree in Mathematics and taught secondary honors math for thirty years. Then she created curriculum and taught math teachers for another 10 years. The whole time she wrote math books for big publishers Silver-Burdett and McGraw-Hill, whom she still writes for. Additionally, she travels to failing school districts and saves their math departments by teaching the students and then teaching the teachers how to teach what she just taught the students. She keeps trying to retire, but the schools that need saving keep calling. She has over fifty years in the math game. She is 77 and can learn anything new, right now.

I told y'all. B A D A S S. My Nana is #GOALS. She is the HOV of Math. She is my great-aunt and godmother. She and my godfather, who is a retired History educator and coach, raised me from three months old until I was almost thirteen. Do you know I am STILL learning from what I saw every day growing up in their house?

Ok, so my godfather is moving through the stages of Alzheimer's disease and lives in a retirement home. I'm so hurt to see him experience this and grateful that he is receiving the absolute best care possible. Nana goes there every day at 8am and stays with him until after he goes to bed, and leaves around 8pm. Dedication. My family and I visit every Sunday and I keep trying to figure out how I can help her.

"I'm not doing too much here," she tells me. "I have a lot of time. As a matter of fact, I'm helping a school with this." She handed me a worksheet of equations.

Just like in high school, the numbers and letters immediately started floating around the page. I got drowsy.

(Author's Note: Her math skills did not make it into my branch of the family tree, nor did they transfer down the hall into my room. That's why she likes Devon, my husband. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and they talk about math and reminisce over vectors and matrices together. YUCK.)

"I work with "Re-Testers," that is, the students who have failed the tests and have to take them again," she told me. "I'm teaching the teachers to start with their strengths instead of focusing on the areas of failure to help them pass."

I was like wait whoa what now? Can you talk more about that? Because baby let me tell you, I am a RE-TESTER in life. She broke it down for me.


Nana says, "Math builds from one skill to the next. You can’t have a top story without a strong basement. Most students have strong basement skills."

Basement skills are the foundational understanding that we come to a challenge already possessing. It's what's holding the "house" up and what we learned first. It's what is natural to us, yet we don't think it's spectacular; we assume everyone has them. The truth is, everyone does have basement skills, but they are different! Your "common sense" is not as common as it is actually very important and unique.

I call these our "Superpowers." When I teach my Confusion to Clarity curriculum, I start with teaching superpowers. My strategy is to help you climb out of the fog of confusion by first getting clear about your power. That clarity spills forward into other areas.

Then she says, "High school kids know a lot about how to use technology. Well, you don't have to solve for X by hand anymore." So her tactic is to help them understand what they already know about math and leverage how keen they are with technology to teach them how to solve the problem using a graphing calculator.

What if we faced the things in our lives that don't go well by FIRST assessing our "basement skills?" Treat it like a warm-up before getting into the problem.

Finish these statements:

Ok, I'm strong in ______ and good at _______.

My superpowers are _______________.

Then after grounding down in where we are powerful, we can look for tools that outsource the areas of our failure. For the students, that tool is a graphing calculator. For the film editor, it may be a YouTube tutorial about a technique or product they don't understand. An entrepreneur may need to follow or spend time with a business coach to gain some clarity on a next step. For a teacher and writer, it may be sitting at the feet of a Nana who is where she wants to be when she grows up.

What does your failure communicate about your area of need?

What's your graphing calculator?


Nana teaches them to change their personal story about their math skills. She reasons, "When the kids are successful at something they become open to succeeding at something else. But if you're always failing, then you keep thinking I’m failing, I’m still failing."

So now the students have a new story about their skills. Nana says, "Then the student realizes: 'I can use technology. Technology gives me the answer. Once I have the answer, then I can go back and figure out why the answer is what it is.'"

After the student is successful at using the calculator, Nana capitalizes on their joy to teach them the actual math. "Once you show them how to do it on the calculator," she says, "Then you can go back and teach them the building blocks of the properties."

When we build our self-esteem, our sense of value appreciates. Like a car or a home that grows in value, we understand our experience as an investment that requires some fixing up.

Try this:

Can you approach your most recent failure by listing where your skills showed up first?

Then, can you take a look back and pinpoint the area that is an opportunity for growth?

Now identify your "graphing calculator," that is your new tool that accompanies your existing skills. For the students, using the calculator to solve for X helps the students learn how the x- and y-axis works.

How can you learn from your new resource about how to grow in the area of failure?


Guess how many students do well on the test after Nana swoops in? "Over 90% of the students pass the test," Nana shares. "Those few that don't, didn't come to my tutorial." Alright Nana!

The students come to the understanding that they failed the test.

They get the help they need.

They re-test and move on to the next level of growth.

So can we!

Y'all I feel like life is a series of re-tests. My whole career has been a series of launching, learning and re-launching to help people realize their dreams.

Starting November 1, I'm launching a journey called

#40DaysofSuperpowers that is a path from using our failures as warnings and signs of what we shouldn't do to understanding our superpowers and growing the character qualities we need. It takes 40 Days to break a habit and build up a new one. I intend to teach you how to break a habit of using failure to inform you and learn how to master and leverage our superpowers. To sign up for the emails, videos and practices in this journey, click here.

P. S. If you've responded to all these questions and are still unclear about your superpowers, book a superpower session with me and gain clarity on how you are a contribution to everything you are apart of. Enter TRIBE at checkout for your special 50% discount.

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