There are a number of experts in the field of failure, and each of us was once one of them: Children.
Children are a prime example of how failure works properly. If something goes wrong, they are frustrated for a short time, then look at the problem again and keep trying until they succeed. Sometimes with reference to a benchmark, such as parents, relatives, or playmates who tip them off, whose behavior they adapt or develop under watchful eye.
The rules of the game of success are changing
However, when school starts, the rules of the game for one’s own success often change and, above all, the idea of competition and the expectations of third parties come more and more into focus.
Anyone who thinks about their first bad grade and still has their parents’ reaction to it in mind quickly realizes that this is where the foundation for later resilience in life is laid. How did my parents deal with (apparent) failures? Did they reprimand you, tell you it would be better next time, or comfort you? How did you deal with it yourself? Did they try to hide their grades? Did one block? Did you go into “performance mode” to make your parents proud (and supposedly happy)?
In my family, the subject of failure was treated as if there were no such thing. Poor grades were met with accusations of not having studied enough. Even if there was no comment and a “it’s not that bad” was made as a statement, the disappointment was clearly visible to the other person.
This leads to the fact that also in me the belief set formed: “Who fails, is worth nothing. Only if you perform will you be accepted, so don’t take risks and always try hard.”
Not only in the working world, but also in the course of my blossoming self-employment as a Female Empowerment Coach, this belief system was a constant obstacle.
Do you want me to publish the blog article like this? Will anyone even read this one? Maybe it’s not perfect enough yet and I could really fall flat on my face with the blog. These are just some of my thought processes from 2014 when I entered the unknown “bloggersphere” with my business blog FemalExperts. Conclusion: I was accompanied by fears, doubts and the constant thought of not being allowed to fail. One thing in particular became clear to me: perfection is not a must!
Failure is THE condition for one’s own success
Now I am about to go live with my new homepage in order to conquer the digital world in addition to my successful local work as a coach, trainer and speaker and to be able to offer my services nationwide. In doing so, I encounter the spiral of thoughts from 5 years ago again.
It was only when I clearly realized that failure can and even must be a guarantee for success that I began to use this for myself. The following examples show that this success strategy is working:
- After Harrison Ford’s first film, the producer was so disappointed with his performance that he told him it would never succeed.
- Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too slow mentally” to learn anything.
- Ludwig van Beethoven was so clumsy with a violin that he only ever played his own compositions on it. His teachers declared him a lost cause.
- After his first works were rejected by all publishers, Stephen King was so disappointed that he threw the manuscript for his novel “Carrie” in the trash. His wife took this out again and persuaded him to finish it. The novel sold millions of copies, was made into several films, and laid the foundation for King’s career.
A similar example is known here from the famous Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling, who was even advised to take a writing course.
These examples show that a rethink is needed and, in my opinion, they are told far too rarely in times when a perfect social media world is propagated (see also my article: I’m not your Instagram Bitch).
This could be due to the fact that failure is still strongly associated with shame and one is attributed a high level of self-involvement (debts, alcohol consumption, unemployment, etc.).
The American Way of Failure
In contrast, the start-up mentality from Silicon Valley (“You can’t lose, you can only win or learn!”) has brought the subject area into sharp focus in the USA. For example, an analysis by the Friedrich Nauman Foundation found the following:
Many newly founded companies survive just one year. Failure is the rule, not the exception. But failure in the U.S. is not interpreted as personal failure, but as a learning opportunity. Founders must be made less afraid of failure and their start into an entrepreneurial future must be made easier.
In the USA, openness with failures leads to the point that failure parties are celebrated.
Most people definitely recognize the benefit of a failed situation and the learning effect that comes with it. Unfortunately, many don’t take advantage of this learning effect to move forward and build a multimillion-dollar business with the next idea after the first one fails. This may be culturally influenced, as the security aspect still takes precedence in most of the Germans’ lives (finances, workplace, property, etc.) and every risk is preferred to be hedged tenfold. In order to keep up internationally, but also regionally, it is necessary to change this way of thinking. Particularly when it comes to setting up a business, we Germans are still too timid and let ourselves get discouraged. For example, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) released in 2018, the startup rate in Germany was just 5.3% and 42% said that fear of failure kept them from starting a business. Not much has happened since 2017:
A rethink of our error culture is needed
Of course, it’s not exactly easy to adopt a new way of thinking from one day to the next, but it would make sense to readjust one’s points of reference.
Am I a bad mother for making a rash decision? Am I a bad athlete because I lost a match? Am I an insufficient entrepreneur because my company failed? In most cases, the answer is a resounding NO!You can’t lose, you can only win or learn! Click To Tweet
Of course, you also have to think in the opposite direction: Am I successful because I am wealthy? If I am satisfied and happy, am I still developing? How important is failure to me and how do I deal with it?
When something new starts after the end, is there failure at all or was the whole thing a learning process that helps me refocus?
At first glance, these questions only appear to be diametrically opposed. In truth, they complement each other and gradually lead one out of one’s own negative thought carousel.
My tips to fail your way to success
After I have worked out my final offers, I will publish my homepage, no matter if I am directly successful with it or if I start a longer learning process.
To help you break the mind spiral and not let your fear of failure paralyze you, here are my tips and tricks to help you fail successfully:
- Accept the failure and make an actual analysis: Where do I stand? What feelings do I have?
- Write down the most important points on a blank sheet of paper and draw a red line underneath with a pencil (figuratively speaking, this is the mental final line)
- Readjust your reference points: What is important to me? What does this situation mean for me? What is perhaps GOOD about this situation and what opportunities arise from it?
- Find allies and banish “energy vampires”: who is doing me good right now? Who can I bring to my side as a sparring partner? Who am I no longer inviting into my life right now because his/her energy is not doing me any good? Whose proximity do I consciously seek?
- Do a resource analysis and find out what you are good at and what strengthens you: What can I do? What gives me pleasure? Where do I still need to educate myself? Where can I get this support?
- Strengthen yourself through symbols or rituals: You will fail at any time as long as you live, and that’s fine. How to deal with such an exceptional situation is crucial here: What do I do when I feel that I can’t manage something? What symbol or ritual could strengthen me?
The last point is very individual. Some meditate or do yoga, others carry a small symbol and take it in their hand when they get into situations they are afraid of or fear to fail. If you are more of a “digital head,” it may be better to switch into some sort of “emergency mode” and initiate a strategic plan that will maneuver you out of the situation stronger, or create a safe place deep within yourself where you can consciously retreat to in order to return full of energy and hit the ground running.
No matter what you do, just start!
Taking action is the most important component to successfully fail your way to the top. If even one of the people mentioned above in this article had ever stopped, we would have missed out on many groundbreaking literary, musical, technical, and scientific works.
What tips and tricks have helped you emerge stronger from difficult situations? What does failure mean to you and why do you think it is difficult or easy to deal with? I’m happy if you want to share your valuable experience with the FemalExperts community, because only by talking about it, we can change our mindset together.
Valuable reading recommendations on the topic of “Failure:
- The path to success? Failure!
- Failure: The wrong relationship to failure
- 15 prominent proofs that failure is the precursor to success
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.