I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.
This is a really common idea in the personal development world and it’s a good rational way of looking back at failure and putting things in perspective.
However, since reading Seth Godin’s book Poke the Box, I’ve been wondering whether there’s a better approach… Sure, the “feedback is failure” method soothes a shattered ego and helps us focus on what matters in the long run, but does it actively encourage us to get back up and fail again? I’m not sure.
Also, isn’t the standard still to strive for success? And doesn’t the celebration of success put a whole lot of pressure on us and make it insanely difficult to start something new?
I Propose an Alternative Approach
How about instead of denying the existence of failure (since it’s “all feedback”), we acknowledge that it exists and embrace it. What if we actually PRAISED people for failing? What if success were measured by ACTION rather than results?
I think that if we all took some time to praise failure and even encourage it on a regular basis, there would be much more experimentation, creativity and innovation in the world.
The more we celebrate failure, the more we’ll all be encouraged to take action. So lets do it. Lets take this week and celebrate our most mortifying, horrific, soul-crushing failures!
I Hereby Declare this Failure Celebration Week!
If you have a blog, I challenge you to write a response to this post: Tell us all about your most spectacular failure and we’ll praise the hell out of it!
If you’re not a blogger, then leave a comment or tweet it out on Twitter (use the hashtag #failweek so that we can give you props on your big flop).
But seriously, lets do this!
Other Perspectives on Failure
A few weeks ago, I reached out to some other bloggers to see what they thought of the idea of celebrating failure. I tried to get a range of entrepreneurs involved, some who are perceived as being incredibly successful (i.e. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby) and others who are just beginning to find success.
I wanted to see how open they were about their most life-shattering moments and how their perspectives on failure varied. I asked each participant to answer the following:
Describe a time when you failed spectacularly.
In one year: (2007)
- My wife divorced me, and took my life savings.
- 90% of my company was no longer mine, on a technicality.
- My apartment was destroyed, so I slept and showered in the warehouse.
- All my employees, led by my good friend and VP, led a mutiny against me. (I never returned, and never saw them again.)
- I invested everything I had left in a mutual fund which fell 50% immediately, and never came back.
- I invested everything I had left in a different mutual fund which also fell 50%, and never came back.
- The woman I was madly in love with married the guy she would always complain to me about
- My life had gone so off-track that I sold my company and left the country, just to shake things up.
People congratulate me for selling my company, but don’t realize that selling it was really a huge failure for me. But at the same time, it was the most successful thing I’ve ever done.
Most failures are like that, in hindsight.
I quite absentmindedly destroyed my health following my freshman year in college. I was in pursuit of acute self-awareness, indestructible self-confidence, and divine self-empowerment. All meaningful goals to be sure. But the manner in which I pursed them – namely an unhealthy obsession with vanity – torched my greater wellness and wellbeing. I dropped 30 lbs in three months; from 185 to 155 when I was 19.5 years old and 6′ 3″ tall. Yes folks, that’s insane.
The resulting chaos corroded my life for years. I had triggered chronic IBS that drained much of my energy and resolve. And I became ever-anxious around food, not knowing what might ignite another IBS episode.
My failure was quite spectacular. But from the depths of anguish I discovered (rather ironically) what I had been searching for – namely my true motivations and true sense of self. I was able to return to my versatile creativity because, after all, I had to be creative to crawl out of the ditch I had dug for myself.
Ultimately, I succeed in my resurrection. It took seven full years to return to what I deem “good” health. Even better, I’m now a well-educated and highly-experienced healthy lifestyle artist. And today my health (in all aspects) has never been better :)
I remember an event when I was in high school. Everyone was new in class, and me + a friend decided to make a kick-ass party where we would invite EVERYONE in order to introduce each other. We prepared the party for two weeks, snapped a cool location (a loft) and made delicious food.
We even promoted the “event” for a whole week, telling everyone about the “big thing”.
Well, and on the party night, a whole 5 people showed up. That’s it. 5 fucking people.
One of them was so upset and screamed at me:” Mars, this is the worst party I have EVER been to in my WHOLE life”
I felt miserable. And after the failure, the bad news spread around the entire grade like a wild fire on acid.
I felt ashamed for two weeks. But hell, at least I took initiative when everyone was sitting on their fat ass doing NOTHING :)
The failure that still makes me cringe when I think about it (despite the – let’s see – 6 or so years since it happened) is when I neglected to have a plan B for a massive concert I was throwing for the second issue of the magazine I founded while in college.
The first event had gone spectacularly, and the expectations were high for this next launch, so we pulled out all the stops. Partnerships were made with the University and with MTV’s Rock the Vote. Sponsorships were accepted from many companies, and we got some of the best bands in the area committed to play.
The event was to take place in the center of downtown, which we had rented out for the occasion, but that morning it started raining and raining and didn’t stop. We had to tear down everything, and though all the radio and TV stations were blaring out promos for it, nothing happened because of the deluge.
I panicked and scrambled to find an indoor location for a few days later, but our PR was spent. We had a total of 2 bands show up (out of 6), and about 4 people in attendance. It was so pathetic.
I wanted to run home and hide in my room forever. My reputation was on the line with all of this, and I just kept thinking about all the money and time and energy so many people had put into this, and because I had failed to think ‘what should we do if it rains?’, it was all wasted. Ugh.
Failure can be a bitch, but at least you never make the same mistake again.
I spent my whole life up until about a year ago planning to be an architect. I prepared for it in high school. I majored in it in college. I got a job in construction and learned everything I could about buildings. Then, I realized I hated it, and subsequently got laid off from my job. Epic failure! So, I went and became a writer. Go figure.
I got my bachelor’s degree in economics and loved the program because it was so challenging. When it was time to leave school and get a “real job” I decided to apply for a few positions in the investment management world. I’d already done internships with big investment firms in college, so it seemed like a good idea. Yet, my instinct was telling me not to pursue the position. But I did because my parents and peers said it would be a good for my career.
I ended up getting the job. However, it was an epic failure because it wasn’t something that was interesting or engaging. I spent hours driving to the office and then way too many hours sitting in my cubicle. By the end of the year, I was overweight, drinking too much and really unhappy. In the end, I decided to leave the investment world and pursue my interest in social justice based work. I could have avoided this epic failure if I had listened to my instinct from the start.
When I was young and fresh out of college, I worked for a couple of years doing marketing and PR. But I was lucky – I wasn’t just an assistant, but rather worked side-by-side strategizing with a seasoned marketing consultant in order to completely re-brand my company, and expand into a larger market. I had my hands on everything, and I was in charge of execution on all projects, which was a fantastic experience, because I learned more in a period of 2 years than I ever could have imagined.
So of course, at one point I decided that it was time to strike it out on my own; I felt that I had eventually grown out of my role, and I wanted to tackle new and exciting projects. So I left my job, and that same day, decided to start Ashley Ambirge Copywriting – my favorite part of the marketing equation. I was overly confident, and my first mistake was in not being responsible with my financials – while I figured I had plenty of time to build up a client base, I watched my savings dwindle more and more and more, until I didn’t have enough money to pay my $1,000 a month rent. Ouch.
The second mistake I made was that I had been doing a lot of pro-bono work in order to build my reputation, and somehow, I ended up doing a significant amount of work for the IT industry. As such, I soon ended up with a reputation in the IT industry, and before I knew it, the majority of my clients were in the IT industry. And let me tell you what – technical writing was NOT what exactly what I had envisioned. So much so, that I actually grew to despise it, and by extension, despise my decision to start Ashley Ambirge Copywriting. Next thing you know, I was caving from the pressure, and instead of finding a new niche and moving forward, I gave it all up in favor of a position selling advertising for a national magazine publication.
I failed brilliantly at my first go as an entrepreneur, thanks to a combination of lack of experience, lack of knowledge, poor planning, and plain old fear. Fortunately, this time around I knew better. ;)
I’ve failed over and over again to create my business. First I failed at Google Adsense, then I failed at affiliate promotions. Then I failed at creating a giant launch of my own product. I also failed at coaching.
And now I have a successful coaching business, regularly do five figure launches and wake up excited every day to go to work (down the hall from my bedroom). I would call that pretty spectacular.
So I started a Big Important Now I Am An Entrepreneur course: 17 modules of video, worksheets and interviews, delivered once a week.
I was six weeks in, with a half-dozen people already having paid over their $597, when I realised that I didn’t really want to run this course any more. The idea of shooting a couple of hours of video every week filled me with horror and despair.
So I shut it down and offered the members one-on-one help instead. And I felt MUCH better.
I learned a lot of things about myself and walked away better off for it. Best failure ever!
Ev Bogue (borrowed from here)
The truth is, I failed more times than one during the last year.
I exaggerated headlines. I made shit up. I sometimes grew complacent in the writing. I pretended like my life was more awesome than it was. I even let other peoples opinions of my work, especially close relationships, decide how much of myself I would put into my work.
Sometimes I even let my work plateau, because I wanted to be safe, and because I was making too much money — I knew that a topic would be successful, so I just re-hashed it over and over again, despite the fact that it no longer challenged my own personal edge.
When I first started my business, maybe 6 months in I decided to launch a product. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have an email list, and I really didn’t plan it very well. What I did have though was the “learning mindset”, so even though the product launch was a total flop (no one signed up and I felt like a failure) I was able to learn and really get ready for doing it the right way. I think the biggest thing is picking yourself up and learning from the failure. My next product launch was a huge success, and kickstarted the business in all ways.
I’ve screwed up lots of times; quite a few of them publicly. And that can be embarrassing—for a short while. But quite honestly, the only things I would really consider “spectacular” failures are times when I failed to give it a shot and talked myself down from doing something I really needed to do. Most often these things were about putting my heart on the line and being vulnerable to personal rejection. Those are the failures that really ate me up inside and left lasting wounds on my self-esteem. Those are the failures that kept me stuck in the same self-defeating patterns of powerlessness. That kind of punishment is more devastating than any public failure could be.
The real test is not whether you’re successful in accomplishing your goal, but whether you’re successful in beating the fear of failing. When you can beat that fear, success in anything else is pretty much inevitable. When you step up to fear, you grow. When you step back, you shrink. Truth.
I look at most experiences as an opportunity for growth and self-mastery. The world “failure” doesn’t come up much for me. I think that failure is subjective – just like reality, love, and god. We all assign our own meanings to these elusive words and create belief systems based on them.
Okay, so excuse my improper use of this language, but I’m a bit rusty speaking this way. HERE’S FAILURE:
When I published the article “How Tim Ferriss Took Me To a Jets Game with Gary Vaynerchuk” I got a ton of traffic (relative to my blog at the time.) I thought that I’d get a plethora of people to sign up for my newsletter.
Wanna know what percentage of people signed up?! Less than one percent!!! Haha, yo – my free eBook was called “Psychic Reading.” WTF does a psychic reading have to do with living an extraordinary life. Nothing!
I really didn’t dwell on it as failure tho. I just went to work to do what I had to do. The next week Sensophy actually went viral (!!!) and not only was the traffic over 6 times as much as the week before, but the subscription rate itself was 6 times the amount as it was the week before. Screw you failure.
I have failed over and over in my life. I have built and destroyed businesses, lost friends and blown it in relationships with all my emotional chips on the line.
A few years ago I was working on what I believed was a revolutionary Twitter client – something that would change the way companies did business online, and that would make it easier for me and other bloggers to keep in touch with my followers
After spending weeks on the project, it was about 70% done when Hootsuite launched. Hootsuite was better, had outside funding – and with all the coverage they got on major blogs, there was no way I was going to be able to compete to even get a foothold. Plus, I actually liked Hootsuite – I was happy someone had finally solved the problems I was having with Twitter with all the noise.
I threw in the towel and let go of hundreds of hours of software development – but the experience building software, working with people and making friends with others who had similar twitter frustrations has expanded my network and made me a better software developer.
All the time spent working on creative side projects to make the world better and improve my own skills is never wasted – it’s what prepares me for the next step.
I failed at being good with girls for most of my life. I was good at everything else, sport, school, music…but not with girls. It really had a negative effect on my confidence and self esteem and only when I turned 18 I decided to change my life. I spent the next 4 years going out multiple nights every week and literally approaching hundreds of girls over that period. I used all sorts of lines, routines and methods I learned from books and the internet, and I was a nuisance to all those girls who served as my guinea pigs. Eventually though, they all helped me get to the point where I know I can get a sexy, intelligent girl and I can hookup with a girl almost every night I go out. (Cool feeling).
I failed spectacularly at being an entrepreneur for the better part of six years before I finally made a significant breakthrough. Through that I learned that if you don’t fail at anything you’re doing, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.
During our journey as nomadic location independent entrepreneurs, we “failed” spectacularly several times. There was the time we told family & friends we were moving to Panama, only to leave there after 6 weeks and move on to Buenos Aires. Then there was the time we tried to move to Chiang Mai for a couple of months only to fail at finding accommodation when we arrived and ended up heading back to Phuket.
In fact, we failed spectacularly in our overall quest to find somewhere else to live instead of the UK, since we’re currently back in the UK still trying to figure it out 4+ years later. And from a business perspective, our biggest fail was not promoting our own professional web design & copywriting services to the 2 decent-sized communities and audiences we’d built, for fear of seeming overly-promotional – meaning we did things the really hard way for 3+ years.
Do we regret the spectacular failures? Not one bit (well maybe just a tiny bit) – we wouldn’t have learned half as much if we’d done it all right the first time round and it wouldn’t have been half as fun ;)
The first time I attempted my final year of high school, I screwed up. It was around the time my anxiety disorder became a full blown one and I just couldn’t concentrate. I passed, but got average marks. I repeated the year and got into the university of my choice.
I had to drop out a year into my degree because the anxiety got so bad I couldn’t leave the house. The embarrassment was huge. I’ve always been the smart kid and not only did I repeat year 12, I dropped out of uni. 3 years wasted and my career apparently down the drain.
The next few years were tough. It involved screwing around with anxiety meds until we found the one that worked (yay effexor!) and then rebuilding all the skills I’d lost. I felt like a complete failure as a person and adult, and didn’t think i’d ever get my life back.
So. 4 years later. I’m still in the recovery phase of anxiety, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to go back to higher education. But you know what? I have a small business that allows me to work within my limitations. I have a boyfriend that I love – and I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of love. I have a home, and friends, and a solid relationship with my family. I fucked up BIG time when I lost control of my life, but I was able to get it all back plus a lot more.
I fail a lot. One of the more memorable times was when I set out to do 100 pushups. I announced the goal, I gave my self a deadline and when the deadline came, I videotaped myself and posted it on my blog. I wasn’t even close. I failed spectacularly (and there’s video proof too). Failure’s bound to happen on the road to success, but that’s what makes success so much sweeter. I’m inching closer and closer to 100 pushups. I’m not the fastest person in the world to do them, but make no mistake, I will do them.
Okay, obviously I’m not going to get away with publishing this post without contributing myself. (Gotta walk the walk, as Abe would say.) So here goes:
In 7th grade, my friend and I decided to enter the school talent show. For some reason we thought it would be hilariously funny if we built dance partners out of balloons, dressed them in suits and danced around, with a grand finale culminating in us jumping on them.
As you can imagine, this was not nearly as funny as it sounded in our heads. All the other girls in my class had prepared these very complicated dances with lots of crazy moves and booty shaking. And then my friend and I took the stage and started waltzing to classical music with these ridiculous balloon men. Not only did nobody find it funny, most people, as I found out later, were positively mortified for us.
Describe a time when you failed spectacularly.
- Post a comment,
- Publish a response on your blog,
- or Tweet about it. Remember to use the hash tag #failweek
(also yesterday was my birthday and your contribution would be the most wonderful bday present ever… just sayin’. ;)
Check out the #failweek wrap-up post here.