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Thursday, 01 February 2007

Finding grace in the throes of gut-wrenching failure

Failure This month's ezine topic is a juicy one, if you are anything like most people who struggle with failure ...

I think we have a very skewed view of success and failure in our modern-day society.  I find it hard to reconcile the concept that "failure is good" with the reality that "failing is gut-wrenching, agonizing and generally to be avoided at all costs."

Failures can be things like:

  • A business partnership flops
  • The product you thought was going to sell 1,000 units sells 5
  • You failed to deliver what you promised to your client on time
  • You get terrible feedback from users reviewing your new website
  • You choke in a live presentation
  • You don't secure the venture funding you were counting on

Based on work with clients and my own personal gut-wrenching, I have found that there are some steps to take that not only make you feel a bit less stressed at having made a mistake, but actually make you feel good about the things you learned from the experience.

The highlights:

  1. Describe the situation objectively
  2. Brainstorm reasons why you think it turned out the way that it did
  3. Figure out what you could do differently in a similar situation in the future
  4. Make a plan of recovery
  5. Honestly and sincerely thank yourself for learning the lessons

The complete article with more details is here.

I know that the only way to grow and learn is by experimenting.  Sometimes, this will involve making mistakes.  By taking some of the self-flagellating heat out of our experience of failure, we will learn faster. 

How do you emotionally process failure?  What have you done to recover from it?


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Andrea J. Lee

"I am not sure if it is the same with you, but I find that each time I choose to ignore a valuable lesson, it crops up again and again in other situations until I do something about it. Why not learn the lesson now?"

Pam, talk about a GREAT message for Groundhog day! Hehe.

Thanks for the lucid breakdown of what to do when the heat is on.

Christine Kane

The word "experiment" helps me a lot. I'm an indie performer/songwriter, so it's easy for me to take it ALL so personally. (One CD sells 10,000 units in a year. The next one only sells 7000 ...ohmigod what's wrong with me??? That kind of stuff.) But when I can separate my personal self from it, and see it all as an experiment - which is hard, yes - then I am able to try new things and keep going. Thanks for being willing to write your own thoughts on this topic. It helps us all!

Chuck Anastasia

Thanks for your great blog. I enjoy your insights regularly.

It was a stroke of brilliance to choose the word "grace" when writing about failure.

Having a firm grasp on what success really means helps to put failure in perspective.

What Is Success?
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one's self;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived -
This is to have succeeded.

When we get too attached to the expected outcome, its harder to deal with failure.

Happy Ground Hog Day.
Keep the inspiration flowing!


Failure has been my guiding light for most of my life. I have fallen down figuratively and literally so many times I consider myself well versed on the subject. I believe there is such a negative connotation attached to the word failure in this country. Calling someone a failure is one of the harshest assessments to make.

If you flip the script, those that throw their all into trying to achieve something are to be commended and not labeled as failures if the outcome is not as desired. So-called failures are just minor adjustments on the path to your desirted outcome. If your outcome is not reached as you envisioned it then be at peace with the fact that you tried.

Emerson was right about laughing often, finding the best in others and appreciating beauty. The more time I spend with my wife laughing and experiencing the world the more success I feel.

Becky McCray

I have this secret plot to redefine the word "failure" so it no longer carries a negative meaning. Failure is a natural a necessary part of success! If you are interested in reading more, I've written a whole series on this topic, including some terrific quotes.

Susan Kitchens

On my To Do list for the first part of the year has been to sit down and spend the time thinking through the "cringe factors" in my work... and get past the no/avoid/ouch/do something else instinct to analyze what I did, didn't do, and how I can do better. Still have not done that, but the timing of your article is most helpful; it's nudging me toward it.


Another great topic Pam. I think one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome first is recognising when a project or task hasnt gone well and accepting that there is something you have to do about it. Its amazing how long its possible to ignore the signs that it is not going as well as it could and to accept that its time to do something about it. I almost liken this to the same experience as dealing with change where an important step is to accept the change and look for the positives.

Chuck Anastasia

I've been meaning to come back and correct the attribution on the Quote about Success that I entered in the comments above.
What Is Success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...

I found out that the quote was originally written by Bessie Anderson Stanley in 1905, and has been frequently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. There is an interesting story behind the misattribution which you can read about on my blog. I confirmed the correct source with help from my local reference librarian. I had forgotten how much fun it is to spend time in the library.

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