Feel the Anguish of Failure But Don’t Let It Determine Who You Are
Keep your head high and keep trying your best
I’ve certainly experienced disappointment and failure in my life, just like anyone else. I’ve come in 2nd. I’ve lost the game. The “sure sale” slipped away. The “job of a lifetime” (after 5 interviews!) wasn’t offered to me. I have, as they used to say on the ABC Wide World of Sports, “suffered the agony of defeat.”
It’s no fun, I can tell you that. The lost commissions, the missed bonuses, the opportunities that “slipped away” will always haunt me. Why, you say, would it bother me? Because no one remembers the “runners-up.” No one can name all the vice presidents of the United States, for example. Or the candidates who didn’t get elected. (Doubt it? How ‘bout this? Do you remember who ran against Theodore Roosevelt for Roosevelt’s first term? I’d bet you don’t — but so you’re not kept in suspense, it was Alton B. Parker.)
Even when you’re a winner, you can be a loser. (Consider that 1987’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Last Emperor, wasn’t really memorable to a lot of people; but the runner-up, Broadcast News, will never be forgotten. (That’s mostly for Albert Brooks’ incredible line, “Run to your window, and shout, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”). Wow — imagine that — winning, but yet still losing.
So why the monologue on winners and losers? Because of my mother. Mom was “always there” for my brother and me. She traveled to many a baseball field, many a game (of various sports), and to lots of tryouts, practices, contests and performances for band, choir, sports of many types, and for plays, operas, etc.
Mom was the voice of reason and consolation when I came in 2nd. She was there for me when I didn’t make the team, when I was selected as “understudy” or “runner-up,” or when I just had a really bad day. Mom was my one-person support squad when I was incredibly crushed because I felt I had failed myself — and her.
Do you know what she — without fail — always told me in those moments? “Don’t let it define you.”
Let failure teach you, not defeat you
Don’t let failure define you. Don’t let it become part of your personality. Don’t drop down to the level of believing you can’t succeed. Know and understand you will NOT always come in first. You will NOT always be selected for the part, for the team, for the award, but it does not define you as a failure.
Look at these situations with the respect they deserve — if you did your very best, but still came in second, or didn’t get selected, or didn’t make the team, you’re still good — very good — and you should appreciate the fact that you had the opportunity to try.
That’s the way Mom taught me, to keep my head high and keep trying, and to know my self-worth. And that’s how you, as an entrepreneur, should view your efforts.
In fact, over the past several years the general “silicon valley philosophy” has been “fail fast.” (Check out this great article in Forbes about that aspect of entrepreneurship.) The concept, as outlined in the article, is “A hallmark sign of today’s effective leaders is his or her ability to unlearn old habits and change their mind when presented with convincing evidence.”
The objective of failing fast is to LEARN fast by experience (good and bad experiences!) — but it’s also to learn to accept failure as just a “stepping stone to success.”
Failure is something we all experience in life. As one of my favorite philosophers said, “You can’t always get what you want” (Mick Jagger, 1969). It is certainly a true statement. None of us always finishes first or gets the job or wins the day.
However, as Mom always said, “It doesn’t have to define you unless you let it define you.” And I chose NOT to become someone with a losing attitude. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and entered the fray again — just as you should.
For sure, go ahead and fail fast. But learn from it and succeed even faster!
Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on August 17, 2021.