FailCon is a convergence of entrepreneurs who listen to and swap war stories about starting and enduring business failures.
As the day wore on I began to feel that the word "fail" was harsh and, in any case, not quite perfect. If we talk of business failures, I ask 'must we apply the same word to ourselves'? The word "defeat" came to mind. It's still brutal. It means something crashed, hit the ground, that someone or something else came out on top, and that recovery will require great fortitude. But for me defeat feels like 'down for this round', 'down for this game', 'down for this season'. Recoverable.
Several times in my life I've felt utterly defeated over a period of years. I've thought about what giving up means. If not death, then what? Living in a remote but low-pressure location isolated from failure or the shame of failure?
First off, bad things happen everywhere.
Then I thought: let's say I do that. Let's say it's the day after I've got myself ensconced in some near-wilderness. It's not like "they" won. "They" have no idea, and if they do, my responses will be forgotten soon. Plus, some people will then be deprived of whatever value I do bring to the world even if I think it's miniscule. But most importantly, what will I do that next day? Knowing me I'd start over, complete with strategies, because that's what I do. I can't help but survive and thrive. So that means I must put up with the current misery. Shit.
I rallied. I was defeated but I had not failed. I was not entirely the weak link in the cascade of events. In fact, to always write myself off as the cause disregards my fallible humanity and larger forces around me. This is why I deeply appreciate Scott Berkun reminding us of the Fallacy of a Single Failure.
And so I may be defeated today. I do a post-mortem about what I could have done, what I should have recognized, but also noting how I might have been blindsided or inexperienced. Then I repair what I can followed by working on putting such thoughts aside. On those days I give up for the day. I accomplish as much as my sore emotions allow, consult with my inner board of directors, and then take a break. A hike, a chat with friends, a new indie film. Tomorrow I layer on more effort. I learned to take care of myself.
In one of these periods of dismay a drunk friend of a professional acquaintance told me to my face that I should give up. This guy had no idea what he was suggesting. What did he think 'give up' meant? I was later instrumental in that professional acquaintance getting a good job. Over lunch (that he bought) I asked for, and received, an apology. Who's going to tell me I have no value and that I should give up?
"Failure is only failure if you don't get back up" Ben Huh, FailCon 2012. Sounds like a defeat to me.
Personally, I think that first bracing smack in the face is exhilarating. The first day or so afterwards is precious. Not that I enjoy injury but the sharper the pain the more vividly displayed are your incorrect knowledge and assumptions. Your market has just been corrected. The new reality is here. Savor the release. I spend those sparkly moments examining every super-charged facet and feel the effects, checking on how I'm responding. However...
"Be certain that you are not suffering over your suffering." (The Book of Runes, Ralph Blum, St. Martin's Press, 1982) I read this as saying 'Save your energy for the issues, including the facts of your trauma and the crisis at hand. Don't waste energy on melodrama, languishing in your misery.' Care for emotions as you go and then also when the crisis has subsided.
I counsel suffering friends to not shove the pain of these events aside, to stay in the moment. Anguish festers and compounds itself. This is an opportunity to grow, to accept responsibility for your own maturing, to become a better person for your own happiness and the well-being of others. Well, that's what I say anyway.
"When times are good, some of your character shows. When times are bad, all your character shows." This is a "Chinese" proverb I cannot re-locate since I first spotted it in a 1979 Farmer's Almanac. This one bon mot has been a guiding light through my adult life. Message: 'Behave yourself while you deal with your issues'. Similarly, it's also best to mind your character when times are extra good.
Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre spoke of being not superhuman but a super human, the chairman of emotion and meaning. A man after my very own heart. He spoke of Maslow (whose hierarchy of needs he simplified to 'survive, succeed, transform') and Frankl, two psychologists who profoundly influenced me.
Ben Blank's (Intuit's Innovation Catalysts team) said things about recovering from professional defeat and instilling sustainable practices that I believe and promote. I particularly soaked up these gems:
Experience researcher in high tech, healthcare, and built environments with an anthropology provenance.