While watching the Olympics last month, I witnessed a number of athletes “fall short of success or achievement in something they expected;” they failed in their Olympic sport by not winning a medal as expected, recording a terrible score, not finishing the race or competition or falling down / crashing in the middle of one. Some of these were heart-wrenching to watch. However, what was worse was seeing all the “#fail” mentions on Twitter and the constant barrage of jokes and laughs at the expense of the athletes who trained years upon years just to fall short in the end.
Our culture celebrates “winning.” Winners get medals, accolades, praise, peer-approval and success. When we fail, we get none of that. Most of us feel mental anguish, physical pain or sometimes both…and nowadays, we get lampooned on the web.
Face it, failing sucks. It feels terrible to fail at almost anything and the bigger the failure, the worse it feels.
In business, we celebrate failure….to some degree. We read about entrepreneurs who fail numerous times before they find success. They wear it as a badge of honor; they go from “rags to riches” and make it big. They preach about how they went broke and started over; #do-over. They try again, fail again and fail better. While I prefer to view failure from this perspective, failure in business for most of us is not so glamorous.
It can be awful depending on your boss, job, company you work at and where you stand on the corporate ladder. The truth is most businesses have little patience for failure; you fail at your job and you will have few chances to try again and fail better in that company. Yes, there are those that push their employees to try and fail. They are usually ones lead by executives who understand risk and challenge employees to stretch outside of themsleves; #out-of-box.
The majority of companies are risk-averse and want employee compliance to policies and process. If you work at one of those companies, you will get fired for failing, be marginalized, demoted or left out on your own (i.e. the passive-aggressive way the company pushes you out the door.) I have personally failed, tried again and failed better. It is not fun.
Failure can make you physically sick and mentally depressed; #Cymbalta. Nobody thinks about getting fired when they have a job or are sinking their life savings into a business just to see it lose more money than it makes despite their best efforts; #sinkhole. When an employee takes a risk and gets fired, nobody celebrates her “failing” as she is escorted out to her car by HR with a box of stuff from her desk.
So, what do you do?
You give up. You keep doing your best every day and forget about failure. That is what you do. That is what Olympians do and they can teach all of us a lot about handling failure.
Many of the athletes competing in London last month were in Bejing four years ago and Athens four years before that; all working towards the goal of winning. They failed and tried again, only to fail better. When I listened to interviews with a few of them, each one spoke of disappointment and lost hard work…..and how they will dust themselves off, reset and get back to work on achieving their goal.
Many of these athletes may never “win,” but their perseverance and willingness to accept that failure is part of the path to success is something everyone in business should note; #life. Failing means you are trying. You may fall down. You may lose your job. You may even go bankrupt.
I believe in failing forward in one’s career and life. It is far better to have tried and failed than have done nothing, been a voyeur into other’s attempts to succeed and tweeted something snarky with a hash-tag.; #winning.