You Have No Clue What Failure Is

What is your definition of “failure?” Quick — write it down. Stop here and write your one-sentence definition. Do it. I bet it’s wrong.

I’ve talked to so many people, heard the fantastic things they’re doing (and realized how much smarter and braver they are than me 😉 and then heard about their so-called “failures.” They almost tear up sometimes. I realized one day that all these incredible people aren’t actually “failing.” Our definition of failure and failing is all wrong!

We all want to avoid disasters but an outcome different from what we were aiming for isn’t “failing.” It is not failing. We jump through all kinds of hoops to avoid what we think are failures when in fact those outcomes aren’t failures at all! We’ve all tied ourselves up in knots and stressed out due to our definition being complete wrong.

Does this sound familiar: “I would do/try/go for <something> but if I don’t make it/get it then I’ve failed (or worse — I’m a failure)?” If you honestly go for or try something and give it your best, then if it doesn’t work it’s not a failure. What we’ve been conditioned to believe is that it is a failure. This is what we all need to work together to correct.

What is “failing?”

  • Not really trying, so that when it doesn’t work out you can use that as a lame excuse.
  • Signing up for a distance race and then skipping it because you were too lazy to train/prepare.
  • Not showing up, not practicing, not training, not listening, not studying, etc.
  • Trying something once and then quitting because “it’s too hard.”
  • Having something not work out as you expected but not learning anything from it.
  • Charging ahead assuming that you’re brilliant, you’re always right, etc.
  • Only doing what’s easy and avoiding anything risky or unknown.
  • Thinking that you can be “excused” from being responsible for you.
  • Blaming others so that “it’s not my fault.”
  • Being too afraid to make an honest, 110% attempt to get out there in the real world and do something.
  • Being afraid of success.
  • Writing your first Medium post (like I am here) and not listening to everyone’s constructive feedback.

What isn’t a failure?

  • Making a sales call and having the door slammed in your face.
  • Writing software and it not being perfect the first time it runs.
  • Writing your first Medium post and being criticized, condemned, etc.
  • Designing the next MVP and not getting the results you expected.
  • Having to roll back a Production deploy because it failed the smoke tests.
  • Not being able to run a distance race because of some injury that happened during training.
  • Trying to fix something and learning half way through, even though you did your homework, that it’s a much larger job than you thought.
  • Reaching out to someone and being ignored.
  • Trying to honestly help someone and having them react badly to the offer.
  • Losing a key client to a slick-talking competitor (who won’t be able to deliver, BTW).
  • Approaching a prospect with your idea or proposal and being told your idea is stupid.
  • Sticking to your diet when your peers are gorging themselves on bad food and criticizing you for not joining in.
  • Not buying into the latest fad.

If you have an idea then the only way to fail is to not really try to develop it. Did you shy away from taking action? You failed. Did you really try to make a go of it? You didn’t fail no matter the outcome.

For those of you going for it I’d like to applaud your bravery and ask that you maybe stop looking at all the things that haven’t worked out as failures. Cut yourselves some slack. You haven’t failed and you are not a failure. If we all really try 110% then there are only two outcomes:

  • Learning how to do it correctly.
  • Learning another way not to do it.

Ignore the haters. Ignore people pointing fingers at you and saying you failed. Like I said earlier — they have no clue what failure actually is.