Many people talk about success or talk about a failure within the context of later success, but sometimes failure just happens without leading to success down the line.
Some people are doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes again and again, or make a big mistake once and then be too scared to ever try again.
In this post, I will provide further information about the points made around failure above and discuss solutions or approaches to take when thinking about failure. But first I will talk about times that I have failed personally.
There are a number of times I have failed at things in my life. Some of those failures are small, some of them are big and have had a lasting impact on my life and how I approach things.
But paradoxically some of the bigger failures didn’t affect me as much as some of the smaller ones.
Failures in relationships come back and haunt us quite often as well. Primarily failures in romantic relationships, but also when friendships fail.
One of the biggest things about failure is the fear that it can cause – the way that fear manifests how we tackle new challenges, and sometimes the surprising subconscious defence mechanisms our brains put in place to help try and protect us from that failure.
An example would be: Starting a new business.
People love the idea of starting a new business and maybe have even built a small prototype or website. That part is easy. The scary part is when you actually come to the point of getting feedback from real life customers.
People make excuses for why they aren’t actively selling their product – it needs improving, something needs tweaking, but in reality, the main reason is that they don’t want someone to tell them that what they’ve done so far isn’t good enough.
They put too much of their personal self-worth into the product, so it hurts them more than it should when the product isn’t getting the traction or feedback that they want. Or there is a sunk cost fallacy whereby they have invested so much time and effort to get to that point that they feel that they can’t easily walk away, as it would all have been a waste of time, energy and money.
I have personally faced these issues and have had failures relating to this.
The way I was able to handle this is because having been through the failures; I realised it’s not as bad as you think it will be. You develop a certain mental fortitude that immunises you against such failures going forward. Fundamentally it’s all a state of mind – failure can be a good thing! It’s better to get a resounding no than an ambiguous maybe, as that allows you to stop going down a dead end and explore more fruitful avenues.
As a result, I do two things:
- I actively seek feedback from customers as soon as I can about a particular product or value proposition, as early as possible so that I’m not as emotionally invested in the outcome as I would be later on down the line.
- I treat each iteration as an experiment. This means that each step I take isn’t about failure or success its about learning something.
If you frame each step as a process of knowledge acquisition, then every step is successful by default. Mentally this takes a lot of pressure off you and whatever the outcome of your experiment you’re able to feel good about it as you know a little more about your business model or customer than you did before.
The key is to set up this feedback loop and make sure you are actively learning from your mistakes or that you have clearly stated the hypotheses that you are testing, otherwise you will end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
However sometimes there is nothing to learn from a venture or particular step, sometimes it can just be bad luck.
This has happened to me in the past – I tried to use my intelligence and experience to overcome a problem, but unfortunately, there were a number of factors that were stacked against me.
This kind of scenario can be very demoralising. So what do you do here? There is no easy answer – for me, I take solace in the analogy of poker. There is a lot of luck involved in poker, sometimes you can have the best hand and still lose, understandably this can be very frustrating.
However, the more seasoned players know that the luck always averages out so there’s no point in getting too caught up in emotions when your going through a purple patch.
I try and adopt the same approach in life and when I have ‘bad luck’ I remind myself of all the times I have had ‘good luck’ and just have faith that I’m learning from each mistake and keep going forward!