The first rule of blogging is that you should write about topics you know a lot about. And I know a lot about failure. This post will be the first in a series on the topic, through which I’ll share a few of my own failures and how I’ve done my best to use them to my benefit.
In almost every context, the word fail is a negative:
- Last night’s database backup failed.
- Our data warehouse project was a failure.
- We failed to close a deal with this prospect.
- The boss failed to live up to his promise.
Failure means that something wasn’t done, or was done incorrectly. Failure is a missed deadline. It is a lack of planning, or misplaced trust. Failure is a lost parcel, a lost customer, or a lost cause. It is a business ending, a marriage dissolving, a career plan torn to shreds. And it’s also an inevitable part of life.
I don’t consider myself an expert on failure, but I’ve experienced enough failures – both large and small – that I can speak with some measure of authority on the topic. I’ve lived through multiple divorces of parents and grandparents. I’ve lived in poverty on the wrong side of the tracks. I nearly got fired – on multiple occasions – from my first job because of my immaturity and a bad attitude. I dropped out of college in the middle of a semester (and failed to withdraw, of course) and received grades commensurate with dropping out in the middle of a semester. I invested years in preparing for a career I’d dreamed about since junior high school only to discover that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I started a business which failed in under 2 years. I’ve missed out on dozens and dozens of business and career opportunities due to my own procrastination. And those are just the high-level failures I can think of off the top of my head that I’m willing to share – there are many more that I’ve forgotten, and some others are frankly too embarrassing to blog about.
But the beautiful thing is that I’m still here. I’m alive, I’m employed, I’m healthy, and I’m sane (stop laughing – I really am). But even more importantly, I’ve learned that failure is a part of life, and more specifically, it’s a part of my history. For every failure I experienced, for every hardship I brought on myself, I learned something. And because I still fail, I’m still learning.
I don’t know if there’s value to anyone else in my sharing this information. So in that way, this post may be a failure. Except that it won’t. Even if neither of the people who subscribe to my blog get any value from this, I will have learned something from writing all this down. And at a minimum, I’ll have something that I can refer to on those days after I’ve had a particularly large failure and need a reminder that I haven’t failed in vain.
I realize that some of this may resemble bumper-sticker logic. I promise not to go all-out Tony Robbins on you, but here are a few of the points I’ll cover in this series.
- Failure is necessary for growth. Not unlike the muscle-building process, to build we must first destroy. Failure is a little bit of destruction, but managed properly, will lead to personal and career growth.
- Failure of integrity. This is the worst and most destructive kind of failure. How do you get past this?
- Failure through inaction. Failing to seize an opportunity is a huge source of regret for many (this guy included).
- Respond properly. You’ve got to know how to respond to failure (yours and that of others) to be able to properly manage it.
- If you’ve not failed in a big way, you’re not taking enough chances. This is where I’ll tell you all about my business failure and what I learned from it.
- Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. Failure is not the end of the line. It’s an obstacle in the road.
- Failure demands both forgiveness and accountability. Learning to forgive failures (especially your own) is critical, but there must be accountability as well.
On failures: I’m not necessarily proud of the times when I’ve tripped over my own shoelaces, but I try to remind myself every day to use those errors as a way to do it better next time.
Well, one of the “neither” found value. Failure is a gift that we can learn a great deal from if we are willing to jump back in the game and look it in the eye. “The road to wisdom? Well it’s plain and simple to express err and err and err again but less and less and less.” By Piet Hein. That and my high school Coach used to say ” play the game on the field and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”. Two of my favorite quotes. Thanks for sharing your road traveled and we look forward to more great posts in the future!
Hi Tim, is there a way to subscribe to your articles. I have read 2 of your articles(On Perspective and On Failure) and I have had invaluable insight from them(and “I don’t wanna miss a thing”)
Hi Tim, nice post!
I appreciate you writing about something that all of us know more about than they are prepared to admit.
On this topic I like to think about insights from some of our great jazz musicians. “It isn’t the wrong not you play that counts, it is the one you play next” (I’m not sure who said that), “When I make a mistake in a solo I keep playing it over and over again until I learn it” (paraphrasing Charlie Parker), and “There are no wrong notes on the piano” (Thelonious Monk). Maybe it is silly but those are words to live by for me.
I like the notion that if you have not failed in a big way, then you’re not taking big enough chances.