At the ripe old age of 28, I started a mediation business. Having recently earned a Master’s Degree in Conflict + Dispute Resolution from the University of Oregon, I wanted to “get out there” and start helping the world. My idea: help partners communicate better as parents. I made a website. Created marketing materials. Hell, I even hired a photographer friend to take a few fresh, professional-grade headshots.
Then, I wimped out. Well, that, and life got in the way. I had kids of my own. I remembered all the aspects of mediation I hadn’t really loved while earning my degree. Folks around town didn’t seem to “get” my concept (I had yet to learn the valuable principles of clear + compelling copywriting). Whatever the smorgasbord of reasons, I never followed through.
Fast-forward about five years to the moment an associate of mine reached out to announce a new business plan: helping couples communicate about finances. AND IT WORKED. I was floored. First, because it proved my idea hadn’t been a total disaster. And second, because it worried me that I’d cut my losses too soon. Could that have been ME enjoying all that newfound entrepreneurial success?
Cut to this past January, when Steven Cravotta — creator of the original Wordle (not the ultra-popular NY Times acquired version) — noticed several thousand downloads of his app by folks who were looking for the OTHER Wordle. Cravotta, for whom I’ve recently had the privilege of writing, seemed to take it in stride, donating a portion of his “accidental” profits to charity.
But ya gotta wonder: how does that feel? To know an idea you had could’ve possibly achieved greater success, if only it were angled differently? In my case, it felt like failure. And that didn’t feel good. In fact, it weighed on me and affected the degree to which I saw myself as a capable entrepreneur.
For you, maybe it’s a botched email campaign. A crappy review on Google business. Lower sales than you’d anticipated. Horrible feedback from a client. Or maybe it isn’t work-related at all. Maybe your sense of failure comes from a relationship mistake or poor athletic performance.
Whatever the source, we all encounter it. And, while there’s no “quick and easy” way to undo the past, understanding three key aspects of failure can help you proactively build the resilience necessary to continue on with courage:
FAILURE IS UNAVOIDABLE. Failure isn’t the end of the road. In fact, our lives are a constant cycle of successes and failures. If you think about it, the failures are oftentimes the steps that lead us toward the lessons necessary to reach success. So, resist the urge to think failure is avoidable, and start viewing it as a vital stepping-stone.
FAILURE IS PART OF YOUR STORY — BUT NOT THE WHOLE STORY. When failure becomes part of your story, it can feel like the end of your story… but it isn’t. So, don’t give it that much power. If you can open up your perspective enough to mine the lessons from your mistakes, you can integrate the failure into the larger story of how you got to where you are — in spite of (or maybe because of) the flaws in the journey.
SUCCESS IS A SPECTRUM. “Failing” at something just means we didn’t achieve the outcome of “success” we had in mind. What if you changed your idea of what success looked like? Instead of “success equals X,” open up to a wider spectrum of possibilities. Perhaps you didn’t get 500 email clicks, but you did get 100 more than previously. That’s progress… and progress is success.
Cravotta went on to develop further apps, ultimately entering the world of marketing. I now support better communication between creators/entrepreneurs and their audience through powerfully precise copywriting. We both experienced more failures along the way — and more successes. Because it’s never a single destination we’re reaching toward, is it? It’s the empowerment and fulfillment found in unfolding our story, letter by letter, step by step, just to see how far we can go.