The road to success isn’t lined with failure, it’s lined with this instead.
We’ve all been there; the heartbreak of failing at something we desperately wanted to succeed at. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur, much less an innovator, and not intimately know that experience of placing your head and face in your palms. Hell, you can’t call yourself human and not know it!
I’m not here to tell you that it all happened for a reason, although it did. I’m not going to praise your courage for taking the risk of at least trying, which you clearly deserve. And I’m not going to tell you that failure has prepared you for a brighter, smarter, better future, because I honestly don’t know if it has.
What I do know is that, in no uncertain terms, something went horribly wrong and didn’t end up the way you wanted it to. And if what you attempted was worthwhile, then you undoubtedly invested of yourself, your time, energy, money, family, relationships, and countless other of life’s most valuable gifts to get to this point, which is why you’re likely grieving over the corpse of your efforts long after it’s been buried. Yes, it’s a jarring visual, but that’s the way it feels.
So, what do you do? Just plow forward? After all, the road to success is lined with failure, right? This is just another speed bump in the road. Well, speed bumps are there for a reason, to get you to slow down. Fact is that the worst thing you can do when things turn out wrong is to label them a failure, speed off as quickly as possible, try to hide from the past, and pretend as though it never happened.
Good luck with that.
I suggest you try this instead.
Step One: Own It
Sit in the pain of loss long enough to learn the lessons it has taught you and then own it completely. That’s right, own the results. Because until you do you’ve really learned very little and you will weep in the embrace of the past while the future passes you by.
Owning a failure has to be one of life’s most non-intuitive responses. But I can assure you that as long as you blame someone or something else you will never get over it and you will never learn from it. Never!
LinkedIn founder, and now Chairman, Reid Hoffman put it this way in a recent session I was at last week for the Word Government Summit in Dubai;
“People sometimes say that Silicon Valley celebrates failure. We don’t actually celebrate failure, we celebrate learning.” We understand that failure is a path to learning.”
Hoffman went even further to tell the audience that venture capitalists actually like to see failure on the resume of someone they invest in; it creates a level of scrutiny, objectivity, and humility that can’t be attained any other way.
Step Two: Change The Label
Stop calling it a failure, because then you are apt to paint yourself with the same broad brush–if it was failure then so are you. This is what psychologists call using Global Labels. We use them to categorize things quickly and easily, and we so love categories. The problem is that the category applies only if you look at just what went wrong, and I’ll guarantee you that a lot went right.
When we second guess ourselves we conveniently leave out all the things we did right and which we would do exactly the same way again if the circumstances were the same.
So, think accurately and instead of labeling it, and yourself, a failure call it a learning experience. Instead of focusing on the one thing that went wrong look at all of the things that also went right. Learn from both.
Step Three: Change The Time Frame
Finally, do the most important thing of all, change the time frame you’re using to measure failure. Because if you draw the finish line at the end of that learning experience then you are indeed failing. But if the finish line is somewhere off in the future, then what you just went through was simply one part of your journey. Sort of like skiing competitively and taking a nasty spill. If you end your skiing career then and there you’ve failed. But if you get back up, race again, coach someone else to ski, open a ski clinic, become a motivational speaker, or write a book about skiing then that spill is just one more learning experience on the road to your success.
Oh, yes, and there is a fourth step–now go ahead and hit the accelerator!
This article was originally published on Inc.
Wait! Before you go…
Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:
- Daily — RSS Feed — Email — Twitter — Facebook — Linkedin Today
- Weekly — Email Newsletter — Free Magazine — Linkedin Group
Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.