Who doesn’t love the film Rocky or hearing about how J.K. Rowling lived near destitute while her Harry Potter manuscript got rejected by scores of publishers right before hitting it richer than the Queen of England?
A lot of our view of failure in popular American culture is romanticized. The fact is, while you are failing, it feels really awful and does not become the enlightened lesson that you share until you have ten years perspective between you and the excruciating experience.
Author and speaker Barry Moltz addresses this topic in his most recent book called Bounce: Failure, Resiliency, and Confidence to Achieve Your Next Great Success.
I interviewed him for a podcast where he shares a lot of great insight into things like:
- How to view failure not as a deep lesson from above, but as an integral part of starting a business
- How to not stay stuck in emotional wallowing right after blowing it big
- How to make sure you are connected with why you are trying new things that sometimes lead to failure
- How to bounce quickly from failures so that you maintain positive forward momentum and are able to accomplish your goals
In the podcast, I referenced the tremendous new e-book by my friend Jonathan Fields called The Firefly Manifesto. This gives some great insight and tools for those of you who may have just been laid off, or who are working in unstable industries (which would be just about everyone these days!).
Take a listen to this 30-minute interview here and let me know your thoughts on failure!
[…] Your Next Great Success about dealing with failure. (I did a podcast interview with him on the book here). So I asked him for a minute or two of advice for people feeling deflated from losing a job or […]
Thanks for sharing this interview, there’s lots of really interesting ideas here.
However there was one point in particular that I had a problem with 🙂 I was surprised to hear Barry imply that the approach to failure in the US is somehow more positive or desirable than the approach in Europe. It’s a pretty sweeping statement which whitewashes over some very complex issues. (Barry also mentions Asia, but I’m not familiar enough with the business culture there to comment).
For example, bankruptcy laws may be a lot more permissive in the US, but there’s a flip side to that too. What’s so admirable about being able to run up huge debts, maybe even losing other people’s money in the process, only then to write it off with little or no consequence, free to repeat the cycle all over again?! Isn’t this very attitude at the root of the current economic crisis?!
Barry also contradicts his own point by listing examples of Brits (i.e. people in Europe) who have bounced back from failure, e.g. J.K. Rowling and Simon Cowell.
I don’t necessarily disagree that failure is viewed differently in the US and Europe, I just think the picture is a LOT more complex and it’s misguided and short-sighted to imply otherwise.
Perhaps a specific example will help. In my field it is much easier to make the escape and go freelance in the UK, for example, than in the US. This is because ‘failure’ does not mean my kids are going to go without a good education or basic healthcare. My colleagues and I don’t see this as sponging off the government. Rather we consider that the *society* in which we live has chosen to trust and invest in its people, and therefore shares in our failures (i.e. welfare) AND our successes (i.e. taxes). Whether this is better or worse than the US approach is ultimately a matter of personal (political) opinion.
Either way, as Barry correctly says, it’s about taking responsibility for your own success – regardless of which culture you are a part of, you have to make things work for you.
In addition to above, I would like to add the name of Steve Jobs as he suffered several major failures in his career when Microsoft was thriving but he never gave up and went through the dip (as Seth Godin says) and came out a winner and liek they say All well that ends well.
I have not yet suffered any business failures but my personal failures have taught me several lessons and I am still learning… the hardest part is to go through the period immediatly after failure when the panic sets in…so close the doors on the failures of the past and believe in yourself.
I enjoyed your post as well. Bouncing back from failure appears to be a common theme for business writers in this economy. I am currently reading The Art of Influence by Chris Widener, where there is a section on bouncing back from failure as well.
I believe it was Bill Gates who said that success is a bad teacher: It deludes us into believing we know something. How true!
I loved the postcast with Barry Moltz – particularly the idea that failure isn’t necessarily there to teach us a lesson, sometimes it just happens. And then happens again. And again. I’ve listened to a few of your podcasts now (Nathan Bowers and Tim Berry) – they are all helpful and info-packed. Thanks so much!
Love to talk to you more about it
Please contact me. I could not find your info on your blog.
I have always held the belief that you only fail when you stop so don’t stop and as Sir Winston Churchill put it, ‘if you are going through hell, keep going.’
I went through a period in my life when everything about me was going wrong, parents nearly dieing,lost my job marriage fell apart, just about every thing really! I realised later on when i was getting back on track that these things were happening to teach me new things.
Now when i feel things are going wrong i sit down and ask myself, ‘what is it that i am going to learn from this?’
It really helps because i consider it and then normally make a change that in most cases it does get better.
Too often we are flip about how the successful use their failures as a learning experience. It obscures what a gut-wrenching experience it is to go through — even for the successful. You are doing a great service by pointing this out. Your book is another great resource that Pam has pointed out for those looking to escape their cubicles.
Years ago, as it was becoming evident that I would have to part ways with my business partner and childhood friend, I started each work day by puking. The weight of the world felt like it would crush me. That’s what failure feels like when you’re going through it. I don’t know of a magic formula that got me through it, but it does help to know that it’s a common experience. That knowledge helps to find the strength to put one foot in front of the other. Do that enough times and you walk out of the situation rather than being trapped by it.
It’s years later and I’m still self-employed. Over the years my business has morphed into something completely different and more sustainable. That too was part of the process. It’s still a struggle, but it’s a struggle I enjoy. I like what the process has made me become. I’m more knowledgeable, resilient, and resourceful than I would have been without the experience. I’m thankful for ALL the experiences that have gotten me here, both good and bad. The thankfulness, however, only comes in hindsight. No one is thankful for such experiences while going through them.
After a divorce, I experienced ten years of financial and professional set backs. I’m now back on track, but at this point in my life, making up ten years is going to be a very hard stretch, particularly when I have twin boys to put through college. I’ve read all the positive self-help books, gone to all the charge-you-up seminars, prayed, you name it. I’m not sure I’ve found the right answer, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. Now, if I just knew what that reason was!
Enjoyed your post. They say that overnight success does take 7-10 years!
I wrote about this very subject just over a month ago in an essay called “Failure and Long-Term Thinking”:
Here is an excerpt that sums things up:
To succeed, we must think of our goals on a ten-year horizon. Long-term thinking can be liberating because it puts short-term problems in the context of the larger journey. History teaches us that problems yield to time and effort. We must give ourselves the time to figure things out — to become experts at our problems. I won’t say you should never cut your losses. I will say that if you give yourself at least ten years before you consider it, it’s likely you won’t have to.
Just so everyone knows, JK Rowling CHOSE to ‘live near destitute’ while she wrote Harry Potter. A good choice, I am a HUGE fan but I am no longer empathetic to someone who chose to live off the government for personal gain.
My method for dealing with failure is to remind myself that successful people fail more than anybody else, simply because they try so many things. Trying many things ups your chances of success.
Sometimes I have to remind myself several times, because failure is always going to hurt.
The weird thing is that when you do finally succeed no one seems to remember the failures and all the try-try-trying. They tend to say stuff like, “You’re so lucky!”