For most of us, failure is more scary than almost anything else in the world.
Failure is painful. It is frustrating. It can make one feel like a total loser. Small and unworthy. Hopeless. A complete joke.
So it’s no surprise that so many of us get crippled by this fear of failure. Afraid to try anything new, stuck in our comfort zone, settling for a mediocre life. Not even allowing ourselves to admit that we too had big dreams once. Ah, the bitterness….
Of course, we’ve all heard inspirational stories of people who kept trying. People who persevered and didn’t despair in the midst of hardship, who followed their unique paths and at the end succeeded at making their dreams come true.
Apparently, Thomas Edison tried about a thousand times before successfully inventing the light bulb. If he had let himself be brought down by failure we’d still be living in darkness. Well, probably not, as there'd be some other more persistent inventor… But, you get the point.
And yet, when it comes to our own practical experiences of failure, do we remember all this positive thinking and inspirational jazz or do we instead let ourselves get overwhelmed with shame, pain and frustration?
Well, let me share my most recent story of failure and what it has meant for me.
About a year ago I had a vision of the next big thing that I wanted to do in life. I would create my own brand of fisherman pants and call them EyeGee’s Jungle Pants. I would get old abandoned shirts and cut them into small patches, painting the logo for each pair of pants by myself. I would make the nicest product ever! And it would change my life…
It wasn’t long before I was making my first moves. Traveling across Thailand to find suppliers for fabric and sewing, making sure that the quality was ok, finding suitable storage (mostly under the bed in my bungalow), painting the logos, taking photos, creating artwork…
I wanted to be sure I did everything right, so I kept postponing the launch. The truth is, by the end of it I was mostly working on small imperfections here and there, never feeling quite satisfied with the result. I wanted to do absolutely everything in my power to ensure that the launch was a success.
Finally, in mid December, I forced myself to go for it. I removed the password from my website, invited all my friends to like the Facebook page and started rolling online ads. I made an announcement that the project was now live and that the big question now was who was going to be the first official customer.
In the first hour after launching a guy contacted me about possibly buying a large quantity. Hundreds of pieces, thousands perhaps… Can I deliver that many? “Wow”, I thought to myself, “This is gonna be even bigger than I imagined”. But it was past my bedtime, so I decided to call it a day. A big, big day indeed. How many will I have sold by tomorrow morning?
Well, it turned out there were no orders the next morning. Or the entire next day. Or the day after that. Or the following week. I was spending money on advertising, and there were people visiting the website, but nobody actually ordered anything. There were no compliments about how cool the website was. No comments at all. Nothing. Nada. No word from the guy who talked about the big order.
After a week or so, I stopped the online ads, and the fear of failure was clearly starting to emerge in me. “What if it doesn't work?”, “What if all my efforts were in vain?”, “What if I have to go back to the corporate job that I hate so much?” And how do I follow up on my big launch announcements without sounding like a complete loser?
This was a moment of truth, and it wasn't a pretty one.
The first thing I knew I needed to do was to totally accept the feeling of failing. Not try to ‘positive think’ my way out of it, not try to see ‘why’ things happened like they did, not try to fix my website or my ads.
In fact, I put the whole project aside and decided I was going to use this as an opportunity to really explore the physical sensation of failing. How does it feel in my body? I was going to use this experience to become an expert in failure rather than a victim of it. To master it once and for all.
The willingness to face the discomfort made all the difference. I played with it more and more, diving deeper into the sensation of failing, to the point where I actually started to enjoy it. I realized that if I do it right, than the more I experience this feeling, the more I become free of it. It was as if I was getting cured of a life-long chronic disease.
Because what we call failure is really just a feeling. Nothing but an uncomfortable sensation in the body. If we can heal it on that level, we can be free of it forever.
The second thing I realised was that the way I was steering the project was not completely aligned with what I really wanted to do. I was still doing some things the way they were 'supposed to be done’, even though it didn’t quite feel right. And I knew that I would keep failing until I get it right, just like “Groundhog Day”.
If EyeGee’s Jungle Pants was to be my ‘life project’ than it would have to reflect that which I am most passionate about - personal transformation. So, I decided to start focusing much more on my blog. Sharing things that are important to me, rather than just trying to sell my product. And an article about the power of failure seemed like a perfect place to start.
So here I am, six weeks after the initial launch. About to do a re-launch of a sort. Will I fail again?
Well, it’s certainly possible. And if I do, I will surely get that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach again. But you know what? It’s ok. Even if I really get stuck in paralysis for a few weeks, I know with every atom of my being that “I’ll be back”, to quote Mr. Schwarzenegger. And every time I fail, I am moving closer and closer to the inevitable success.
As the Buddha said, “The only real failure in life is not to do your best.”
And what about yourself? When was the last time you failed big? And how did that play out?