Failed To Succeed
Everyone is all into failing nowadays. You hear a lot of “fail early, fail often” or “fail fast” or “every failure is an opportunity to learn”. It almost like failure is so awesome, we should shoot for it. Personally, I think that all of those who think failure is so awesome never really actually failed that badly. Not so badly that they lost their cars, their homes, their families. I think that most of those people who laud failure seem to laud the “soft failures”, sure, your startup didn’t do so well, but that’s ok, there is always someone who can bail me out so I can do the next one. These people live in a perennial sandbox where they can just keep on playing at failure until they really win.
But I digress. Sure, failure is a learning experience, but not a fun one. Failure really, really sucks. And we should just call it out as such – you don’t want to fail – failing is not OK, and failure should have serious consequences. If you simply go back to your parents and get more money to live on when your startup fails, then really, have you learned anything? If the bank of mom and dad wasn’t open, where would you be? Personally, I think that most of the startup founders of today so live a bit of a privileged life – they don’t really know what it is to be dead broke. They take risks, but they have a safety net.
My dad grew up a farmer in a little village on the island of Andros, about a 2-hour ferry ride from the coast near Athens. The little village was called Arni, and was right in the middle of the island – it’s not a place which you typically see in the websites talking about Greece, so spectacular views of the Aegean ocean, no amazing sunsets. Just a bunch of little houses up the side of a valley. They put it there because there are a lot of natural springs in the area, and the springs fed the farms, which were terraces on the side of the mountain. There is very little flat land on Andros, but they persevered.
As I drove round Andros, seeing all of the terraces up the mountains, I imagined how hard that they had to work, mostly by hand, since there was no way you could get equipment up to some of those places, ripping off the rocks and pulling up whatever soil there was to grow on no narrow strips of flat land they created on their own. The farmers there were dirt poor, but they had some land and they grew some crops and survived. If the spring ever dried up, they had to pick up and move. The land and life was harsh and hard, and real.
What we call failure and what they call failure are two very distinct things. Our kind of failure is not life threatening. We don’t need to worry about dying from starvation. We have the luxury to say “failure is ok” because our kind of failure is nothing in comparison.
The next time you take a risk, either in contacting that prospect to ask for new business, or starting a startup, or developing the next new innovative product, think about the real consequences of failure. They aren’t that bad, are they? Knowing that, the risk is not a big one, really, is it?
How did I fail? Well, I was planning to post a blog post every weekday, and I’ve missed two days. Instead of giving up, I’m using the annoyance I feel at myself to push myself even harder. I failed, and it sucks, but it just makes me want to push even harder. Isn’t that the lesson in failure after all?
Great perspective Chris. I also read your previous article talking about the common trait among entrepreneurs — being rich. I totally agree, it makes a huge difference. The issue is how to enable the “poor” thinkers to develop ideas. It is not easy, as firms/gov have to get involved and support. ..but there needs to be a push for this. Regards, Eduardo Madero
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