I’m here to tell you that the phrase “failure is not an option” is the biggest load of crap you’ve been served.
No more living with shame, guilt, or analysis paralysis, because failure IS an option.
Have you ever failed so hard your stomach felt like it twisted into a million knots? Failing publicly is even more fun. But why do we feel so bad when we fail at something? Is it just plain insecurity? Have we been conditioned to be embarrassed? What I do know – failure is a good ‘f’ word to me now.
After so many years of being scared of looking like an idiot, I realized failure is an opportunity to learn something new. Sure I still feel like crap when things don’t work out – but because I know something better is just around the corner, I’m able to pick myself up much quicker and move forward.
How can failure can lead to success?
To give you a taste of why I fell in love with failing I’m going to share with you some of my most embarrassing moments. Hopefully, these stories will help you learn how to overcome the fear of failure.
If you are looking to cringe a bit, feel better about yourself, and laugh at my expense, yee shall read on.
Failed a midterm…HARD – graduated from UCLA in 3 years.
I was sitting in class when the professor posted the curve of grades on the projector so we could see where our test scores were in comparison to everyone else. My test score was all the way to the left all by itself. In case you didn’t know – that meant I failed the test HARDer than anyone else. I got the lowest score out of a 200+ person class.
Even though no one knew that test score belonged to me I still felt like there was a big neon sign above my head that said “dumbass”. I felt utterly worthless and like someone punched me in the stomach.
But that motivated me to try even harder and I got an A on the final so I could at least pass the class. After being diagnosed with ADHD my sophomore year I finished two years of units in one, while working, and graduated UCLA in only 3 years.
Failed at paper planner company – lead me to a new career.
I got an idea for creating a paper planner after reading “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield. It was a great book with 60+ principles in order to be successful. I have ADHD and am generally a hot mess – so even if I already had 30 success principles down (and I didn’t), implementing 30 new ones at once without a system in place wasn’t happening. I looked for a planner that would fit all of my needs and I couldn’t find anything that had everything I needed all in one place. So I made my own – in Microsoft Word. It took forever to put together and looked janky – but it worked.
After using it some women I worked with in sales asked me where I got my planner. When I told them I made it they asked me to make one for them too. So there I was at Office Max making a bunch of copies and getting everything bound. Six women were using the planner and within six months two of the women became Directors and earned a free company car. Everyone that was using it was happy with their progress and goals being reached. So when my friends encouraged me to start my own company – I was scared. I didn’t know what I was doing. Google became my BFF as I asked her things like “What is an LLC?”.
At first, things were great. I found a printer and manufactured my first set of planners. I attended a business conference and sold a bunch of planners just through word of mouth.
Then at the end of 2013 my vendor told me that the binder manufacturer that makes all the junior portfolio binders for the entire United States went out of business and they didn’t know if anyone was going to pick up the business in 2014. I didn’t know what to do. I figured this was a sign that paper planners dying out (I was wrong btw) and web app planners were where I needed to be. I felt devastated, but the failure of my paper planner lead me to a new adventure in building an online planner.
Failed at a Hackathon – got $20k seed funding.
I’ll never forget the time I failed in front of 250+ people. I got invited to a Hackathon – keep in mind I could barely turn on my TV. I proposed my online planner idea and won a slot at the competition. Basically, you pull together a team from people at the Hackathon and you have 48 hours to make an app, and then present your app to an audience and judges at the end of the weekend.
My first fail – I recruited zero software engineers onto my team. Don’t get me wrong – my team was a-ma-zing! But in order to create the type of product generated at Hackathons – we needed a coder. And none of the programmers wanted to be on my team.
So we made some mock-up designs and practiced our presentation anyways. I got on stage in front of 5 judges and 250+ people.
Flashback: I don’t like public speaking. I once had to give a speech to a room full of only 30 people. I was so nauseous. My knees were shaking so hard they were knocking into each other. I had to hold onto the podium to prevent myself from falling over while I read my essay with that awkward shaky voice that sounded like I wanted to cry.
Flashforward: Now I’m on this stage, already hating life, and I can tell the judges are NOT impressed. They looked, well, “judgey”. You know those squinty eyes and tilted head that scream “Dafuq?”. 2 minutes in I blanked and proceeded to just say in a shaky voice,
I felt like my stomach dropped to the floor and I wanted to run and cry. Like an ugly cry. My team sprang into action, ran from the back of the room and onto that stage. Keep in mind I just met all of these people that weekend. They took over the presentation (did a beyond fantastic job) and saved my ass!! If you’re reading this – thank you team.
One of the judges was my interviewer a few weeks later when I applied for seed funding for my app idea. I owned up to my failure and I told her “Well, I can only go up from here, right?” They still liked my idea and I got the $20k in seed funding for my online planner.
Why failure is important.
People don’t usually care if you failed, they watch how you failed. Did you get back up after being knocked down? Did you learn from your mistake?
Most people run and hide after failing and just give up. Now I don’t blame them, I’ve done it myself. But when you fight that urge to duck out and you improve on what didn’t work before – that is where the magic happens.
You don’t just learn from failure, others learn more about you by what you choose to do with failure. I’m not the only one who thinks failure is important, JK Rowling talked about the benefits of failure in her Harvard Commencement Address.
Failed at running a tech company – got a job as a front-end web developer.
So starting a tech company with zero tech experience was an interesting adventure. I learned that developers are EXPENSIVE. And the best part? I sucked at managing them. I didn’t know how to talk to them – it was like we were speaking different languages. Don’t get me wrong, I had good developers, but I was clueless. I wasted a ton of money on development (both the seed funding and family money).
When I ran out of money I felt like I couldn’t breathe because my dream was slipping from my fingers. Then I thought “Hey, developers are expensive! Why don’t I become a developer??? I will save money on building my online planner. And I can get hired and make good money to recoup the money I lost.” *lightbulb* So I got a job to supplement my income. Then for a year I buckled down and learned how to code by taking a couple of online courses. I started applying for jobs and got a dream job as a front-end web developer.
Failed at standing on a boat – I can now lift weights like a boss.
Yep – you read that right. I’m a bit clumsy and when I was on a dingy boat I lost my balance and fell off the boat, and then swung back into it. Don’t worry though – my knee broke the fall. Sadly boat acrobatics are not in my future.
My knee had a huge bruise and was swollen for two weeks. For months it hurt to walk one block. I went to physical therapy and I was introduced to weight lifting. Six months after strengthening my legs and butt, my knee is finally healed and I can lift weights like a boss – at least for a beginner. The best part – I lost eight pounds and I avoided having to get surgery. If that doesn’t prove failure leads to success, I don’t know what will.
Fail like you mean it.
It’s okay to fail in school, as long as you try harder and learn from your mistakes.
It’s okay to fail in business, as long as you pick yourself up and move forward with what you now know.
It’s okay to fail in front of 250 people and want to run far far away, because you never know what opportunities are waiting for you because of your “exposure”. Or how you are going to bounce back and be better because of what you learned.
Even failing at standing has its perks. Eight pounds and two pant sizes down baby!!!
Is failing uncomfortable? Yes! Will it ever stop being uncomfortable or painful? Probably not. But failure doesn’t have to be a bad f-word anymore. Failure is learning – if you so chose. Failure is the tipping point that can spark innovation. Failing means you’re trying new things. Failure keeps us humble too. If you’re gonna fail – might as well make it an epic fail – makes for a better story.
And never forget, failure IS an option.
Dude, here’s what you want to do…
1. Remove the stick from your butt that our culture shoved up there. You know the one, the stick that makes you uptight about making mistakes. Don’t feel bad, I had one too.
2. Forgive yourself for your past failures.
3. What was your last failure? Write down just one positive thing you learned from it.
4. Plan your next failure. Seriously. What is one thing you’ve been wanting to try but too scared to do? Write it down, put it in your calendar and do it knowing you’re going to make mistakes and learn along the way.
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