Four Things That Are Not Failure But Feel Like It

photo by Rachel Abeyta

photo by Rachel Abeyta

Fail early.
Fail often.
Fail fast.
Fail faster.
Fail better.
Fail forward.
Fail towards success.

Here’s a thought. How about we just stop with all of the marshmallow mantras about how failure is good? Failure is not some ethereal goal, and it’s irresponsible to try to sell it as such. Failure means we got something wrong – sometimes a lot of things wrong. It means we lost, and if we’re talking startups and entrepreneurship, when founders fail, so does the team, the investors and customers. Failure is lack of success. Look it up.

I understand the motives behind the attempts to rebrand failure as a positive; the stakes are high. The Kauffman Foundation recently reported “… new firm entry rates are actually falling and young firms are closing at higher rates than before.” We definitely need to find ways to expand the pipeline, and it’s good there are programs and a growing culture promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. But we really shouldn’t be rebranding failure as a good thing as a reason to participate in anything, really.

But perhaps the real fallacy is that we often view certain experiences as failure when, really, they’re not. I see failure as the absence of any option to move forward. Failure is not the moment of initial disappointment, the first sign of rejection or the first time something doesn’t work out. Here are five things to consider:

Rejection is a Detour, Not a Roadblock

While I’d known my husband long before we started dating, when he decided that he wanted a first date with me, he had no idea I’d recently made the decision I didn’t want to date anyone for a while. He and I were both attending a birthday party for a mutual friend. He spent the evening trying to get me to talk to him, and I spent the evening trying to avoid him. He didn’t make it easy. He was charming, funny, witty … and very persistent. When I rebuffed him, he acted like he didn’t notice. When I got up and walked into another room, he followed. When I sat down in the last chair, he found another and set it beside me. He saw rejection as a detour, a challenge, not as a roadblock. Needless to say, he got that first date, and we were married a year later. That was almost 27 years ago, and it would have never happened if he hadn’t viewed rejection as an opportunity to get to yes.

How hard do we try for something we want? If we lack tenacity, we could interpret a setback as failure and quit before we know if we could have been successful.

Not All Opportunities are a Good Match

I well remember the time I was invited to pitch to an organization that seemed like a perfect fit. And while the pitch itself when very well, it came completely off the rails during Q&A when I was forced to spend all the allotted time addressing a clear bias held by one individual on the panel. Even before I walked out, I knew the answer was no. It felt awful.

Sometimes biases, bad attitudes or things outside of our control will make it impossible to win. When that happens, it is imperative to review the experience to learn everything we can about what went wrong. After that, our only job is to put it behind and move on. Don’t look back, don’t waste time on the what-ifs, just move forward. Realize the experience has left us better prepared and more seasoned for the next time.

Disappointment is an Emotion

If I’m completely honest, I’ll have to admit that I almost dread it when I discover I’ve been nominated for something. That may seem odd, especially when it means that someone out there believed I deserved it. But no one I know enjoys that horrible, sinking feeling of sitting in a crowded room as someone else’s name is announced as the winner. It’s not that we begrudge someone else the win, but that losing just feels awful. One thing to remember is that disappointment is an emotion that goes away. Instead, it helps focus on the fact that someone else believed in us and decide to believe a little more in ourselves.

When One Door Closes, Sometimes Better Opportunities Begin

Having doors close is a rite of passage as an entrepreneur. Not allowing it to derail us is what makes us tough enough to run a business and build something from nothing. And, sometimes, what begins as a lost opportunity results in new opportunities. When I applied – and wasn’t selected – for the Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) Accelerator, it felt like defeat. But that rejected application instead created the opportunity for a new connection and eventually led to a wonderful friendship with the founder of that accelerator, J. Kelly Hoey. We can see a door closing as defeat or as an opportunity to expand our network and move forward another way.

Failure always feels bad. And, really, it should. But when we get the courage to put ourselves out there, win or lose, we are better for it. We expand our own tolerance for fear and risk, and that is so important. We also learn that we can survive disappointment and end up more committed to finding a way to move forward. Fear of failure is paralyzing, but the determination to avoid failure is catalyzing. And that’s certainly more empowering than the marshmallow mantra that somehow failure is something we should do more often.

Identifying 3 Types of Negativity That Prevent Success

reading_phone_on_bench

When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.

Joe had an empty wine glass in one hand, and by the volume of his voice, I was pretty sure it wasn’t his first drink of the night. He thrust his other hand out at me and said, “Hi. I’m Joe.”

I shook his hand, and, making polite small talk, asked him what he did for the company.

“Not a damn thing,” he replied, loud enough for two of the company’s founders to turn around and take note.

After some nervous laughter on my part, Joe continued, “I haven’t done a damn thing here since 1986.”

The Complainer

We quickly made our escape, but I listened to Joe as he moved from group to group complaining about the projects he was being assigned and just how underused his many talents were in his current position. Joe was obviously not satisfied in his job, but it was also obvious that he enjoyed the attention he gained from complaining and making shocking statements about his plight. He’d found just enough pleasure in complaining that it kept him from taking action to change his situation.

Whether or not we’re like Joe – making just enough bluster to avoid facing difficult change – here are two more types of negativity that will hold us back from realizing our dreams.

The Fault Finder 

One of the easiest ways to avoid facing the scary parts of ourselves is to focus on the faults of others. When we feel inadequate, it can be a lot easier to tear someone else down to our level than to acknowledge our own insecurities and figure out how to move forward. In the best-selling book Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save the World, we find this advice: “If you feel jealous or envious, examine the reasons why you are experiencing that emotion instead of projecting your negative feelings onto her choices.”

Listen to yourself the next time you’re sitting with a group of your peers. Do you gossip about someone who isn’t there? Do you find reasons why someone else’s success, award, or promotion isn’t due to their hard work? Are you the one with a quick quip, a snarky joke about others? If so, you may be using negativity to cover up feelings of inadequacy or envy, and when we’re focusing on why someone else shouldn’t be getting ahead, we’re preventing ourselves from moving forward. What is it that you’re afraid will happen if you go for an opportunity? What’s the worst that can happen? We can live through humiliation, defeat, or losing – and we usually find that we are the better for it. But it is really hard to live with the disappointment we feel when we hold back from taking risks that could move us ahead.

The Problem Solver

One of the most effective ways to mask negativity is to wrap it in the guise of solving problems. We all need to have the voice of reason as part of what we listen to, but if you find yourself continually offering advice on why something won’t work, you might need to take a step back. If your voice of reason usually results in not taking a step forward, not trying something before all of the wrinkles are ironed out, then you might want to ask yourself if fear of failure is behind the litany of negativity. While we must be willing to see the pitfalls that we might not have considered, we should also embrace Thomas Edison’s attitude when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Despite the trend among some in startup culture who celebrate failure as some kind of badge honor, it shouldn’t be celebrated. It can make us cavalier about the costs associated with failing. But neither should failure be so feared that it paralyzes us. Failure is part of the process, and we have to be prepared to get back up and find a different way around a problem if we want to find success. When we focus on the ways something hasn’t worked, it is so much more difficult to see the possibility of success. If we find a better balance between hopefulness and negativity when solving problems, we’ll be better equipped to move forward with the appropriate preparation to find success.

I well remember a moment in my own journey when negativity just about derailed not only my own happiness but also my family’s. Despite flourishing as a wife, stay-at-home mom, and writer, the regret of quitting college – especially the regret of wasting what my father had worked so hard to pay for – it ate at me. When my youngest enrolled in school, I decided it was time to go back to school and finish my degree. But it soon became clear that our little family needed me to be more present. Although I knew it was the best choice, it didn’t keep me from spending a great deal of energy feeling sorry for myself.

And then I remembered the words of my great-grandmother, “Your pity party will never make you happy, and it won’t make anyone else feel sorry for you. It’s your job to find your own gumption, so figure out to be happy with what you have.” I made the conscious choice to see this change in my plans as a new opportunity to spend more time with my children. Not only was my family happier, but I was, too. And I found that when I finally started pursuing my own career a few years later, I had absolutely no regrets. A couple of years before my father passed away, he told me how proud he was of me. I learned that his approval didn’t depend on a piece of paper but in finding a way to let go of the negativity of regret and fear and in finding courage to pursue a different path to success.