March 17, 2023

Is failure where your story stops, or where it starts?


Failure is just another word for death.

Anytime we do work that bombs and we get humiliated, it feels like our life is being taken away.

Death’s cruel hand has stolen our existence from right under our noses.

Seas rise, locusts devour, the four horsemen ride and darkness descends.

Now, this might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s human nature to believe that failing makes us feel worthless.

Sandage, a professor who studies and publishes about the history of failure, explains it thusly:

Failure is when the story stops. Failure is not merely a cataclysm that adds to the plot of your life story, but is something that stops your life cold because you lose a sense of your future.

Wow, no wonder people are so afraid to start things.

My colleague who just became a new dad was sharing his fear of failing as a parent, and it was heartbreaking to hear. Who wouldn’t have that fear?

Although it did give me an interesting idea for a new business.

Every parent is going to fail to some degree. And since their kids are probably going to hate them anyway, they might as well do the right thing.

Flub is the name of my new idea, it’s a failure management firm that prepares a personal inventory of stationary for the many times parents mess up their children. Whether it’s missing the big game, getting drunk at their birthday party, or simply being a narcissistic jerk, our staff writers will help ordinary parents apologize in real time for the inevitable moments they miss the mark.

Our operators are standing by the moment parents mess something up. Call us anytime, and we’ll help you select from our menu of common mistakes parents make, capture your emotions honestly, and overnight you a handwritten letter with matching penmanship to give to your kids.

For a nominal fee, we will even throw in a bonus letter for your spouse.

Flub is going to become the poster child for imperfect parents.

Tell me that wouldn’t make your failures more bearable.

Okay, probably not. Kids are pretty perceptive. They’d probably get wise to your tricks by the third or fourth letter.

And don’t even get me started on your wife. She’d smell bullshit from letter one. Matter of fact, forget I said anything.

Instead, let’s go back to the thesis for a moment.

Failure is just another word for death.

But remember, it’s not physical death, so maybe failure doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Perhaps it’s only the beginning.

What if failure could create the positive momentum we need to move our story forward?

I’m reminded of a leader at at my old tech startup who used to give out quarterly awards for the most interesting team failure. Where it was a project that tanked, an initiative that totally missed the mark, or a new feature that thousands of users hated, he made it a point to commend employees for, as he put it, hanging their balls out there and risking castration.

Clearly the man had a way with words.

But the best part about the award ceremony was, whoever won it the previous quarter had to give a five minute speech to the whole department. Sharing the wisdom they gained from their interesting failure, and how they used that disappointment to fuel themselves to the next level.

It was goddamn inspiring. Sounded much more like life than death. Just imagine somebody proclaiming to their team:

Look everyone, this is probably not right, but it can become a model to help us calculate what’s next.

Wouldn’t you love to collaborate with innovators like that? Doesn’t that sound more inspiring than trying to manufacture an existence that doesn’t include failure, losing and humiliation?

And understandably, the ego is threatened here, as it defines itself by being right and achieving. But never underestimate failure’s ability to produce positive momentum.

Hell, all of our past failures were necessary for us to be where we are today.

Turns out, we didn’t die. We just evolved.

Whereas not taking risks means we might have lost our resilience and adaptability.

Which is exactly how most species go extinct.

What if your failure was when your story started, not stopped?