It is a Wednesday morning. Early. Very fucking early. I am about to jump on a call with an overseas client. We’ve only been working together a short time, like, really short. It’s our first session.
It is barely light outside; I’m cupping a hot mug of coffee and, because this is not my first rodeo my friends, I have a second prepared and ready to go in a thermos.
I dial the number and as I wait for my client to answer, my mind, triggered by something as simple as an international dialling tone, is suddenly gripped by a nostalgic flurry and I am thrown into deep reflection.
I stare blankly in front of me, through the steam rising from my coffee cup, through the bay window and the weeping gum tree outside, through the building opposite and out the other side; through time. I have spent 4 years in business, and I have failed spectacularly. I smile a genuine smile.
“Hello”. My client answers. I take a sip of coffee.
Because the universe is an ironic bugger, my client presents immediately with the following (paraphrased) sentence.
“This year has been a cluster-fuck of set-backs, especially in business. I feel like a complete failure.”
“Great!” I exclaim. “Only the failures succeed.”
I match it with silence.
Eventually my client breaks the tension. “I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way.”
“Sure, if you like” I shrug. “I prefer not to have a right or wrong way about anything. But changing your perspective can change your world.”
And then I told her what I’m going to share with you now in this listicle (which is a word I only just learnt, and I love it so now I’m using it all the time! Listicle Listicle Listicle! Also, I’m not 100% sure this blog strictly passes as a listicle, but I genuinely don’t care.)
When it comes to failure, this is what you need to know and no, I’m not about to tell you that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Because when people say that, I want to punch myself in the face. Failure sucks. But I trust the following helps it suck just a little less.
1. Most of the time, you can’t do something before you can.
And as kids, we were afforded this grace, this period of trial and error. But then we ‘grew up’ or at least got biologically older. Most of us are stuck in the thinking that age means we should have our shit sorted; our skills fully developed, and our learning cemented.
One of the most powerful things you can do is acknowledge that the learning you did as a kid doesn’t stop when you’re a grown up.
You don’t tell a two-year-old who’s learning to potty train that she’s a failure because she shits herself.
You don’t berate a five-year-old for falling off his bike the first time he rides without stabilisers and take the bike away saying, “you tried once and failed so no more bike for you, loser.”
You don’t listen to your kid misspell a word and say “well, you fucked that didn’t ya. You’ll never be able to spell the word dog now!”
In all of these cases we encourage the child to try again. You’re meant to fail, it’s … normal. It’s how we succeed. Just try again.
2. Failure is universal.
I remember a business coach and dear mentor of mine once saying to you don’t own failure Em. And now I’m gonna say it to you.
You don’t own failure.
You don’t get to sit there and ignore all of the evidence of other people’s fails whilst sipping on a cocktail of vodka and victimhood and deluding yourself that everyone else is floating through life without fucking it up. We’re all fucking it up. The difference between those who are successfully fucking it up and those who aren’t, is the first group keep fucking it up until they fuck it up a little less, and then a little less and then a little less, and then a little less and the second camp fuck it up and stop.
Be in the first camp and start listening out for other successful people who talk openly and freely about their failures.
One of my favourite podcasts at the moment is “How To Fail” by Elizabeth Day and while we’re on the topic of podcasts, you should probably listen to Unashamedly Human too – I hear the host is a funny mindset coach with a cute British accent and although she swears a bit, she has some banging content about managing your mind to change your personal, professional and spiritual experiences, for the better.
3. Celebrate effort, not result.
In my early days of business, I existed in a binary world. Yes no, right wrong, good bad. And it sucked. I either made the sale, or I failed.
I failed a lot. I also used to work with single women a lot and what I noticed was that many women would assess the success of a first date on whether they came home with a boyfriend or not. No wonder they found dating exhausting. Most first dates are pretty shit fyi.
Change the metric. If you start assessing in a different way, you’ll have different results. So, instead of a date being boyfriend dependent, a successful date becomes one where you got to practice speaking to a stranger or exploring a new area of town. Now all of a sudden the evening is a success because you made the effort to leave the house and you learnt some shit along the way, even if that shit was that Brad, 32 from Gippsland, was ill advised when he bought those pleather pants and is never, ever going to father your children.
4. Avoid making global conclusions based on a specific happening.
What the fuck does this mean? Let me tell you about my mate Suzie. Suzie is a Mum of two young kids and last week, she sent her eldest kid to school without his snacks or water bottle. Once she got home and realised what she’d done, she called me up in tears saying “I’m such a terrible Mum”. That is a sweeping global assumption based on one incident.
I’ve heard clients do the same thing, crying “I’m terrible at sales” because they didn’t convert a lead, or “I failed at marriage” because they’re separating from their spouse. Global assumptions based on a specific outcome often ignore all other balancing evidence – like the 297 times you did remember to pack snacks and water, or the or those sales you did make, or the 14 years of married bliss before the relationship fell apart.
5. Externalise it, don’t internalise it.
I once heard Brené Brown talk about guilt and shame in this way. Shame is; I am bad. And guilt is; I did a bad thing. And in my observation and study, those who bounce back from failure and try again are those who see that ‘failure’ is a result of an action or behaviour, not as a reflection of self-worth.
“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, ‘Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again’—my gut reaction is, ‘What a badass.’”Brené Brown
The reality of the situation is that success and failure are the same thing. You can’t have one without the other so if you want to succeed, start failing. I look forward to seeing where the next 4 years failing in business takes me.
I share the pitfalls of business and life freely and hilariously in my podcast, Unashamedly Human (listen here). I also encourage you to DM me via Insta emily_thatcrazythingcalledlife with your funny Unashamedly Human moments which I read out anonymously at the end of each episode.
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Thank you very much for reading, Em x