The beauty of dirty laundry

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At the management conference I attended in Pärnu, Estonia last week, we had a speaker from Denmark, Morten Lund,  a long-time entrepreneur who had, among other things, made good money investing in Skype.

As he launched into his presentation, he said:

“I have founded over 88 startups. And at the moment, I am bankrupt.”

Due to a failed investment in a newspaper business in his native Denmark, he had lost a lot of money.

But, he said, he actually was feeling quite good. He was spending lots of time with his four kids, whom he obviously adored.

And he remained passionate about entrepreneurship, saying that risk is a huge part of working with startups.

This news first came to light publicly at LeWeb in 2008, when he shared his story very openly with Loic Lemur:

Most people would do just about anything to avoid talking about personal failure. You can see Loic squirming a bit with the directness and honesty in the conversation.  We are not used to airing dirty laundry in public, and hearing it can make us uncomfortable.

Many entrepreneurs become paralyzed by it, even before starting their business:

“How can I coach if everyone knows I struggled with alcoholism?”

“How can I give others financial advice if I still carry debt?”

“How can I write about parenting teens if my child attempted suicide?”

It is scary as hell to talk about failure.

But a better question to ask yourself than:

“Who am I to talk about …”

is rather

“Who am I NOT to talk about …”

When you focus on meaning made in the world as a result of your work, bumps along the way must be part of the picture.

There is no shame in failure, only anxiety in keeping it hidden.

If you have failed, welcome to the human race. Please don’t let that stop you from starting a business.

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27 Responses to “The beauty of dirty laundry”

  1. […] Can bankruptcy and vulnerability be good things? Posted in entrepreneurship, theory by Dan on November 16, 2009 Morten Lund is an entrepreneur who, despite having founded 88 startups in the past, is (as of last month) bankrupt due to his latest investment–but doesn’t seem to be unhappy about it. He discussed this at a conference last year, shown in this 13-minute video. (Found via Pamela Slim, who wrote a little more about this last month: “The beauty of dirty laundry”) […]

  2. Dape says:

    Morten Lund enjoyed the openness of your comments . I am a person who has lost much more than you could possibly realize. The thing to remember, is that in life the most important things are your family and your self-honesty. Friend of Bill W.
    “In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.” regards Dape, hope to meet you sometime.
    .-= Dape´s last blog ..The Focus Is On Twitter…But How Can Facebook Help Your SEO? =-.

  3. Kimmoy says:

    Pam, I have to say that “Who am I not to..” are powerful words that are tattooed in my brain because of you. I literally ask myself this every day so that I keep moving forward with my projects.

    Thanks for sharing this post, it’s a great reminder to be vulnerable and authentic no mater how pretty or ugly the situation is.

  4. In this day of information-overload and hype, people are thirsty for authenticity. Admitting to failure, airing out our “dirty laundry” and sharing our mistakes actually makes us more believable and approachable as experts. The “perfect” person who has it all figured out is actually pretty annoying! I found that once I opened up and talked about my experiences and lessons – good and bad – more authentically, my reader response was much better.

    Blessings,
    Andrea
    .-= Andrea|Empowered Soul´s last blog ..Manifesting: A Changing Process =-.

  5. Great post, Pam. May we all have the courage to be this brave.

  6. Walter says:

    Judgment and expectations from others are the most powerful hindrance in starting a business. We lose even before we start up. We’ve only got one opportunity of life, we might as well live it to the fullest of our abilities. 🙂

  7. So true, Pam – in fact, I think the fact that someone struggles at something makes them more real and apt to actually know what to look for.
    Great post!
    Thanks,
    Andrew
    .-= Andrew Parkes´s last blog ..Stacie’s Dream – ‘A Party Planner and Babies’ =-.

  8. One of the things that has kept me from pursuing (expensive) coach training is the underlying fear that I’ll be “foudn out” as less than perfectt. In fact, just last week, I asked my sounding board “don’t you think coaches need to have their &*it together?” and, because she is awesome she said NO!

    Post perfectly timed for me. Thank you as always…

    Kelly

  9. Tim says:

    Pam:

    Thanks for this sharing this video– its a great reminder about the risks involved with being an entrepreneur. But it is also encouraging to realize how failure is necessary for us to grow and ultimately get better.
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..The Magic of Making Mistakes: A Review of The Talent Code =-.

  10. Oh Pam, as I get ready to give a speech at Microsoft drawing on the last four years of HELL and lots of failure, and I work to find my confidence (it doesn’t help when everybody thinks I am hot shit but I don’t feel like hot shit) again, it’s so welcome to read this message. Thank you!
    .-= Jennifer Louden´s last blog ..Choose Your Life Mondays – Focusing on the Good =-.

  11. Elise Touchette says:

    So amazing how the teacher comes when the student is ready. 🙂 I am getting this message all around me and it is so true. I have been struggling with my website content and I had a fellow coach review it for me recently after hearing about my life path to coaching. After hearing my story and reading my bio she asked, “Why didn’t you write the real story?” I was hiding my failures and who I really am. Now, I am getting ready to write the real story and can’t wait to connect with all the people who will be able to relate to it. Thanks Pam!

  12. Susan Honnell says:

    Beautiful Pam. Saving this.

    Just sent you an email about my own “mental metaphorphosis” 5 minutes before reading this. What a testament to the miracles that occur when we emerge from the most life challenging events.

    Thank you.

  13. Kelly Pratt says:

    Pam, thanks for sharing this very important viewpoint.
    Bankruptcy, divorce, other “failures” – all hard to share in public. But I don’t think they’re really failures. I think you can look at these kinds of decisions and view them as triumphs. Just making a decision like that is incredibly hard. Many people choose to stay in dysfunction rather than facing the decision. Then to actually follow through with it?! Yikes. Sucks. That old cliché – that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger! True. My clients appreciate that I’ve been where they are. I wish more people would have the courage to share like Loic did. Thanks for sharing, Pam.
    .-= Kelly Pratt´s last blog ..The Gift from the Sea that Keeps on Giving OR Why My Social Self is taking Rhumba Lessons =-.

  14. This is a great reminder of the power in failure. Thank you for reminding me that to fail is a true sign of being human.
    .-= Tonya Seavers Evans´s last blog ..Style Matters =-.

  15. I agree, failure will never be a hindrance for us to reach our goals.

  16. HSG says:

    Peter Senge of MIT wrote a book (5th Discipline) about some of this–the talking about the awkward things–well it takes their ‘power’ away. Interesting stuff.

  17. My mentor, Barbara Hemphill, often says “We teach what we need to learn.” I think this post kinda completes that thought: “We teach what we need to learn, what we have learned and what we’re still in the process of learning.” Great post!
    .-= Catherine Cantieri, Sorted´s last blog ..How to do your best work when you’re sick =-.

  18. fas says:

    Business needs no reason to not start, just go ahead and try your luck.
    .-= fas´s last blog ..Is The Manza What We Have Been Waiting For? =-.

  19. Dana Essex says:

    I recently read that one way to energize ourselves is to tell the most personally empowering stories about our own most difficult, challenging life events. You know the ones – the ones that make us cringe inside when we think about them.

    Try it. It takes some practice and it gets easier. I find that I am sharing stories of resilience and lessons learned rather than feeling pain and shame. I am who I am PLUS my life experience.

    @Christian: I hope that sharing my battle scars will make me a better mentor.

  20. Aaron Harris says:

    What a great question to ask ourselves, Pam. Who am I not to talk about . . . . ? Fear of failure motivates most of us, certainly me. But I think we are also so afraid of ourselves – we doubt ourselves most. We lack confidence; we think we don’t have credibility. But each one of us is uniquely different, and therefore we have unique experiences that we can share, in both success and failure, that will connect with someone.

    Thanks for posting this blog!

  21. What I learned from working with start-up companies in Silicon Valley is that most people in the start-up community, including investors, understand that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many entrepreneurs have had their businesses flop before they start their high growth company. What distinguishes the successful is their ability to keep trying and learning from their failures.

  22. Christian says:

    I think it depends on how you choose your mentors. I don’t want to learn how to loose weight and have a good diet from a gym junkie.

    I want the fattest bloke I can find, who managed to drop 20kg (or whatever) over a healthy period of time and managed to keep it off with a healthy lifestyle.

    Pam, I agree that it is all about asking the right question.

    The best mentors are the ones with the battle scars to prove it!
    .-= Christian´s last blog ..Hosting your own terrible Windows 7 Party! =-.

  23. Chris Horner says:

    Everyone has gone through hard times at one point or another. EVERYONE. Anyone that says they haven’t is lying.

    When you’ve faced a serious problem head-on and overcome it, that gives you even more credibility. You’ve been there, you’ve seen that, and you’ve beaten it. Everyone learns something from everything they experience. Well, smart people do anyway.

    Problems and adversity shouldn’t disqualify you. Only giving up and giving in should.
    .-= Chris Horner´s last blog ..The D =-.

  24. Earl Gray says:

    The things that were part of the most difficult parts of my life were things that I though would disqualify me. Instead, they ended up working in my favor and uniquely qualified me to coach and invest my life in others. Your quote is powerfully accurate, and personally resonate to me: “There is no shame in failure, only anxiety in keeping it hidden.”

    Well done. I believe you will encourage and even embolden many to become unstuck and move ahead. Bravo!
    .-= Earl Gray´s last blog ..Earl52: Powerful! "There is no shame in failure, only anxiety in keeping it hidden." – Pam Slim =-.

  25. Jim Taggart says:

    This is an important lesson, one that Canadians need to learn. For whatever reason, we abhore watching people failure, especially if it ends in failed and bankrupt businesses. In the U.S., and other parts of the world, the entrepreneurial drive is much stronger. And we also don’t like to watch people flaunt their success. I don’t know why our culture is like that, given how close it is to America, but we better get over it soon with the onslaught of global competition.
    .-= Jim Taggart´s last blog ..Generation Y’s Job Plight: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y =-.

  26. Don Ford says:

    My wife and I find that the areas where we have struggled the most are the areas where we are able to most help others. You can’t do that without admitting that you have struggled.

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