Eating Failure for Breakfast


I’m an introvert. And I’m just now coming to terms with that without apologizing for myself.

I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” and have been so gassed discovering the superpowers I never knew I had. So excuse me while I boast.

Introverts naturally have an ability to deeply analyze situations, sometimes to our detriment. But being able to think intrinsically about things like our failures is key if you want to learn from your mistakes.

As small business owners and independent consultants, I’m sure you’ve become more familiar than you’d ever imagined with quotes about failure.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” 

— Robert F. Kennedy

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” 

— C.S. Lewis

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.” 

— Janet Fitch

As much as I’d hate to think of myself on fire just to get to the other side of success, Ms. Fitch is right. Getting comfortable with imperfection is where it all starts. The thought of scraping our knees over and over again is grueling. But scabs grow. We develop tough skin and strategy over time. And if we’ve taken notes, we learn to invest in knee pads and protective measures to soften our fall next time.

But I’ll admit that it’s hard to reconcile some current climate we live in. In the midst of so many ideals in the media (and in our own heads) that point towards perfection, we are encouraged to accept failure as a natural part of business and life. Yet the tools to actually process our failures seem kind of camouflaged.

How do we come to terms with something so inevitable? How do we find the guts to look away from artificial perfection in all its shiny glory and get down to business on our missteps?

The process may look different per person, but I want to share how I arrived at my personal recipe for eating failure for breakfast:

Expect It:

When you are trying something for the first time, preparation and planning are essential. But perfection isn’t. You will fall. You may even have to retreat.

But the experts at failure are right: it will happen when you are taking a calculated risk, something business owners do everyday. Get comfortable with that knowledge in preparation for your journey.

Enjoy It:

I’m not asking you to celebrate your face plants as monumental triumphs. But avoid the urge to scrap your whole plan and start from scratch right away.

Don’t be afraid to take some serious inventory once the dust settles.

Ask yourself questions like: Did I have a solid plan in place? Did I seek out the right tools and professionals to make sure things ran smoothly? What didn’t work? What did? And by the way, clap for yourself once you’ve identified what DID work. Findings like that make for wonderful leftovers for the next go round.

Edify It:

Learning from our attempts is probably the only redeemable thing we are comfortable uplifting when it comes to failure. Go past simply identifying where you went wrong. Figure out why you made certain decisions. Were feelings of insecurity or fear or pressure present?

How can you deal with said feelings so that it has little influence on your decision making next time?

Leave no stone unturned. Try to make each element of the failure a guiding post for the next attempt.

Let me know if you have any unique tools for devouring failure. For now, I'll leave you with one of my favorite failure quotes:

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” 

— Henry Ford