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What I’ve Learned From Failure (And How It Can Help You)

By June 8, 2012February 1st, 2018Marketing Insights & Strategy
What I've Learned From Failure (And How It Can Help You)

Do you ever wake up in the morning with that dread feeling of “oh god I have to tackle that thing today?”

Do you ever sit down to learn or try something new and feel like doing a Don-the-Muppet and banging your head on the piano keys because you’ll never get it right?

Yeah, me too.

I’ve been thinking about the topic of failure a lot lately, mostly because I’m at a point in my business where I feel that I have to grow or die. I’m good at this and that but I want (need) to be good at the other thing, too.

Here’s what I currently do for my business, lest you think I’m a slacker: I’m a writer, project manager, WordPress developer, social media manager, bookkeeper, sandwich maker and cat feeder. And that doesn’t count this blog.

But here’s the thing. Lately, I feel that if I really want to be better – be the best – I have to learn something new. There are certain skills that if only I could add them to my repertoire, would give me a boost up over the wall and open up about a billion new doors.

And so I approach them with complete and utter terror.

Does this ever happen to you? If not, forget I said anything, confessions are over, go home.

If so, come along with me because I’ve explored many of the paths of mental disarray that lead to failure and I’ve come up with some pretty encouraging truisms that can help us both.

Failure Doesn’t Define Me

If you haven’t failed a bunch then you haven’t tried very hard. I’ve failed at everything from grilling a salmon to winning that job that landed in my lap last week. Here is a short list of things I’ve tried and failed at: playing piano, tap dancing, losing that last #&%!@!!! ten pounds, saving the world.

Here are a few things I haven’t failed at but are giving me night sweats as I attempt them now: PHP coding, improving my in-person networking skills, losing that last #&%!@!!! ten pounds.

Take stock: are there things you’ve tried and failed or just given up on? How about things you’re trying now, with hopes of a happy ending?

What I’ve come to realize is that none of these events define me. I am more than my inability to play Beethoven. I am more than my lack of networking skills (yes, I will totally forget your name in about five milliseconds, like before you even inhale after speaking it to me).

And so are you.

For business owners it can be particularly difficult to separate “I screwed up that client account” from “I screwed up my whole life”. We’re invested emotionally in our businesses so every wrong turn can feel like a personal blow.

But if you let the failures define you then you’re setting yourself up not only for personal failure but for business failure as well. It’s hard to keep moving forward when you feel like a crappy miserable loser. That is neither correct thinking nor helpful thinking.

So you lost a client. Your email campaign totally bombed. A few disgruntled people badmouthed you on Facebook. You wanted to make your first million about five years ago and yet you’re still working to pay the mortgage.

Are you going to let it suck you into a funnel of despair?

No, here’s what you’re going to do instead.

Redefine your script.

“I failed to run a successful email campaign” does not equal “I am a failure.” Failure is an event. It’s not you. Next time you’re tempted to play the downtrodden victim of your own demise, focus on the event instead. “That email campaign was a failure.” See the difference? By attaching failure where it belongs (to the thing that failed, not the person) you can detach emotionally and start evaluating, learning and planning something new. Ask WHY something failed. Then move forward with the confidence of your insight and ready to take on whatever comes next.

My friend and fellow blogger Sylvianne Nuccio has a great post on breaking out of victim mentality. Check it out when you’re done here.

Failure Is Not The End Of The World, Life Or My Business

Do you ever feel that if just one more thing goes wrong it’s going to be the last straw and universes will crumble around you? That you’re at the end of your rope, ready to pull out that final Jenga block and wait for everything to crash down?

For some people it’s easy to ride the waves of success and conveniently forget all the crummy things that happened along the way. Some people are lucky enough to have egos that support their constant sense of accomplishment.

If that’s you, here’s your second chance to go home.

For the rest of us, we can easily get mired in the accumulation of losses big and small. There are days when I feel that if one more person unsubscribes from my email list I’m going to quit my business entirely and move to a hut on a mountaintop.

Take stock: do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the daily frustrations and the bigger defeats? Are you sometimes on the edge of your seat wondering if the last block is going to get pulled out from under you?

Here’s the reality: failure is inevitable. It’s often also useful. It’s the way that we learn and the reason we try something new in the first place.

If you put it into perspective I bet you can think of about a billion ways you’ve failed all your life. I bet the first time you let go of the edge of the coffee table to take a step for the first time, you failed and fell flat on your cushy little behind. But I bet you’re walking today, aren’t you?

If you’ve put failure where it belongs (on the event, not on you) then you’ll realize that in spite of all that falling down you managed to get back up and keep going. Your life didn’t end. The world didn’t end.

And your business won’t end because of a failed social program or a lost client. So you wanted a thousand email subscribers this month and only got 10. So you wrote an ebook and the only person who bought it so far has been your mom and that creepy guy who stalks you on Twitter.

Are you going to let that be the end game for your business?

Of course not. Here’s what you’re going to do instead.

Redefine your script.

“Nobody bought my ebook” is the perfect opportunity to wonder “Why isn’t anybody buying this ebook?” Turn what you would otherwise perceive as a failure into a learning and growing opportunity. Maybe your ebook sucked. Hey, it was a good first attempt, but it might be time for a revision! Or maybe you need an alternative promotion strategy. Instead of heaving a sigh, make a new plan, set a new goal and treat it like a science experiment that will help you uncover the secrets of your success.

My friend and fellow blogger Cat Alexandra wrote a great post on learning by falling down and of course getting back up again. Stop by when you’re done here.

Just Because It Happened Before Doesn’t Mean It Won’t Happen Again

Do you sometimes feel so great about your accomplishments that you’re sure this is the thing that’s finally going to lead you down easy street? That you’ve hit the mark and things are only looking up?

Rejoice! It probably won’t last forever.

That’s not meant to be a mood killer. When things are going totally right it’s easy to sit back and bask in the glow of your awesomeness. And you should! But don’t slack. Keep trying new things, keep taking measured risks that just might lead to failure again. When you’re feeling great is when you should stay grounded and remind yourself that if something does go wrong, it doesn’t negate any of your accomplishments or those good feelings.

Take stock: are you doing well and feeling pretty smug about it now? Or can you remember a time when you were flying high and going along for the ride?

Sadly, we’ve been mostly groomed to think of failure as a bad thing. So even during our best times, bumps in the road can feel like huge potholes. We get frustrated when something interferes with our success. We drown our sorrows in buckets of Ben & Jerry’s when we don’t close deals and quickly forget the last ten we did close. We think, “Not again! I thought I finally got this right!”

Reality check: life isn’t perfect. Your Facebook strategy isn’t perfect. People will keep unsubscribing from your email list until the day you no longer have an email list. Is this a bad thing?


Are you going to fall into the complacency of thinking you’ve nailed this whole business and marketing thing, or worse, are you going to obsess about the next time something might go wrong?

No again! Here’s what you’re going to do instead.

Redefine your script.

After 13 years in business together, 15 years married, and 23 “in love” one of Ralph’s quirks has worn off on me and I want it to wear off on you, too. He has a habit of approaching everything from a misfire to a catastrophe with this sentence: “That’s interesting.” It often leads me to insist that he doesn’t quite understand the meaning of the word “interesting”. Complete database meltdown? “That’s interesting.” Lost email campaign? “That’s interesting.” Broken pipe under sink that somehow managed to bypass the water sensor and do $23,000 worth of damage to our kitchen? “That’s interesting.” If you have the right attitude, it’s all indeed very interesting! So next time you’re tempted to think of something as a misfire or a dismal failure, try, “That’s interesting” and see where it leads and what you can learn. In fact, if you stop using the word “failure” and start looking at it all as quite “interesting” then you’ll stop worrying when something goes wrong and approach it with curiosity instead.

My friend and fellow blogger Donna Merrill wrote a great post about dealing with feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Check out her coping ideas when you’re done here.

Just Because It Happened Before Doesn’t Mean It’s Going To Happen Again

Admit it: when was the last time you did a Don-the-Muppet? Is there something you’re working on and wondering if you’ll ever get it right?

Maybe you’ve only got 63 Facebook fans and you’re at your wits end trying to attract people to your page. Maybe you’re frustrated with your email open rate or conversions on your website. If you’ve been at it long enough you may feel like you’re destined to fail and it’s time to throw in the towel.

Take stock: are you tempted to give up or on the verge of giving up on an idea, plan, or worse, your business or vision entirely?

What I’ve come to realize is that failure is negotiable. Failure is a matter of choosing whether to pursue a path in spite of the horrors and obstacles, or give up. I gave up tap dancing (boring? unfulfilling?) and chose failure instead. But I haven’t quite given up the fight on the ten pounds yet.

When it comes to business and marketing there’s failure and there’s failure. Failing to make sales through Pinterest is one thing but failing to make sales is another. Keep this in mind as you fail and separate a failed strategy from a failed business. Your strategies and tactics may not be working but there are always others. There’s always a new approach.

Are you going to throw in the towel? Call it a day and get a job licking envelopes?

Pft. I insult you by asking! Of course you’re not. Here’s what you’re going to do instead.

Redefine your script.

Whenever a particular strategy fails, remind yourself that it’s all part of building up your experiences, insights, expectations and knowledge. These are steps on the path, but not the path. Just as you differentiated between thinking of yourself as a failure vs. thinking of a particular event as a failure, you should do the same for your business. “My Facebook marketing isn’t working” does not equal “My business isn’t working.” Instead of getting mired in nagging thoughts of despair, take stock of your strategies. Ask yourself whether you’re doggedly pursuing a path that simply isn’t leading anywhere and whether it might be wiser to blaze a new trail instead. Ok, so Facebook isn’t working. Is there something different you could try to fix that? Then do it. Otherwise, ditch Facebook and check out Tumblr. Remember that one failed idea, trial or project does not mean the next one will fail.

Failure is not particularly fun, especially when we have so much at stake. It’s not particularly enjoyable, especially where egos are involved.

But it can be helpful, it can be a catalyst for growth and if you approach it with the right attitude you may even find yourself becoming friends with it. I’ll repeat  what I said in the beginning: if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried.

No matter what, keep trying.

Even if I never lose that last #&%!@!!! ten pounds and die trying, I haven’t succumbed to failure. I just ran out of days to try!

Next time you want to bang your head on the piano, remember that, and move on.

Now you tell: what are you struggling with, afraid of, or putting off because it’s big and scary and might lead to a failure?

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Hi Carol,

    Another great post my friend, and thank you so much for including my post about breaking out with victim mentality. 

    It is very, very important not let failure define us.  Failure is not YOU, failure is just failure and it’s destructive if we take it as our own, so to speak. You explained that very well in this post.

    When thing go well, a lot of us are so happy, and in the clouds for a moment, that it’s easy to slack as you mentioned. I know I have been guilty of that myself.  When things go well, we need to be thankful, grateful, do our little dance and say… OK time to work even harder so I can keep that little dance longer 🙂

    Replace “I failed” by “that’s interesting” is a genius idea, I’ve got to try that next time I’m being hard on myself.

    Thanks for this great post, Carol.

    • You’re welcome Sylvianne, your posts are always inspiring and really hit home. It’s really easy to do things “wrong” so when something goes right we want to sit back and say “whew! finally!” But the challenges don’t go away at that point so the better we can be at dealing with them, the less likely we’ll be to succumb to defeat. Let me know how saying “that’s interesting” works out for you!

  • AnnMullen says:

    Great post with tons of good ideas. I found it very interesting. In a good way, that is. In our family saying something is interesting is a nice way of saying what in the world . . ? I am glad that I am not the only one who cannot remember a name by the time the person has inhaled after saying it. I thought I was just born senile. 🙂

    • Thanks, Ann! There’s that word “interesting” again! It’s become kind of a joke in my house. But it makes a difference, even though that may sound crazy. Sometimes the worst thing will happen and we’ll just look at each other and say, “that’s interesting” and crack up. So it’s not such a horrible thing. As for names… ugh, I’ve tried so many “tricks” that I forget people’s names now because I’m too busy trying to remember tricks! Oh well, there’s always tomorrow 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  • Thank you for offering all this valuable content Carol Lynn!  I appreciate your attention to detail, as well as your inspiring and motivating references.  Persistence is one of the essential requirements of success in any endeavor.  It also pays to truly believe in what you’re doing.  Thanks again…

    • Hi George, thanks for stopping by! I’m really glad I could inspire. What good is all the crummy stuff if we can’t turn it to our advantage right? 🙂

      I agree with both your points – persistence and belief are completely necessary. And it doesn’t hurt to get a little kick in the pants once in a while. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Adrienne says:

    Oh man Carol, could I ever relate to this one.  Failure, I’ve been slapped around a time or two for even mentioning that I’ve seen myself as a failure.

    I think this term really means different things to different people actually.  I see it as having given it my best at something and not succeeding.  So maybe down the road I pick that up again and give it another go then until I’ve actually succeeded in that specific area I still consider myself a failure.  But I’m not beating myself up over that because I’m giving it my all.

    So I use to give myself a very hard time Carol when I would really do my best at something and fall flat on my face, over and over again.  I admit not really being the smartest person you’ll ever meet so some things need to be explained to me in simple terms.  If they aren’t then it’s so over my head and I’ll beat myself up over that.  It’s just frustrating.

    I now use the term more like “failing forward” and that’s usually a good thing.  We all know that if none of us ever failed at anything then we’d never learn right!  Just knowing that we’re still in it should be worth something right!

    I have a hard time visualizing you at failing at anything Carol.  You’re such a go getter but that just helps the rest of us realize that we’re all just human.

    Thanks so much and love that picture by the way.  Priceless!!!

    Enjoy your week.


    • You’ve mentioned some of these things to me before, Adrienne, and I find it so hard to think of you as someone who didn’t have the confidence or think you had the ability to do what you wanted. You’re such a strong and energetic person now and you certainly know how to go out and get ’em. That should be a good lesson to everyone because you didn’t let the idea of failure stop you and you learned how to deal with whatever came your way and move on.

      I like the idea of failing forward. You just gotta keep moving! Yes, sometimes things will be frustrating but if you have the right motives and attitude you will get past it. It’s all about how you approach a situation.

      I’m glad you liked the photo 🙂 It cracked me up so I knew I had to use it.

  • donna_tribe says:

    Hey Carol, I think everyone has gone though this path.  We all fail at things because we are not perfect.  Sometimes we expect too much from ourselves and as you say above, write a new script!  What a healthy idea.

    When failure strikes it sometimes gets to be a domino effect for me.  I just want to give up on everything from my business to feeding the dogs!  But that is human nature. 
    As long as those feelings are not acted upon and don’t last long, it is OK.

    I have learned when I’m in this emotional situation to do an opposite action.  If business is getting me frustrated, I shut the computer, turn off the phone, and go out and do something ….anything!   By the time I return, steam is let off.

    I have also learned not to “should” on myself.  Oh boy did that get me down! 

    I really love the advice you gave when you said  “Take stock: are you tempted to give up or on the verge of giving up on an idea, plan, or worse, your business or vision entirely?”
    That hit home because sometimes I have days like this. 

    Thanks again for bringing us to a better and healthier reality!

    • I love your words of wisdom, Donna. First of all, taking an opposite action is a great idea. Getting out of a situation and getting some perspective can really help. Second, I totally agree on the “shoulds”. That’s something I do a lot! Should’ve, shouldn’t’ve over and over. When I catch myself doing that I like to say, “says who?” Show me the rule! 

      Being successful has a whole lot to do with our attitude and approach. If we can take that script that plays automatically in our head every time something goes wrong and spin it into something positive then we’re already succeeding!

  • Am I the only one who read lengthy posts these days? 😉 And I’m really busy too. Ohw Carol… Great. You’re a motivator dear 🙂

    I’ve failed few times but not much. I’m not a risk taker, but wanna be successful too. Really scared to fail. Sometimes I feel everything will be finished if I did something wrong. Especially in front of everyone. I don’t dance ’cause others will gauge me. I don’t speak in public, ’cause they will know I’m a fail. I don’t wanna say what I think, ’cause others will think I’m boasting. I don’t wanna share my failures, ’cause others will name me a “FAIL”.

    That was me, until last year. I started failing. I mean, trying and failing. Facing my failures. I was scared of failures dear. Oh no, still I do, but I do know I’m improving.

    I’ve started my blog last year and few months later, I’ve lost 100+ blog followers and 100+ Facebook fans I had. Due to a technical issue and my mistake. I was really upset. I didn’t know what to do. “Can you think starting from scratch?” ~ That’s how I felt. I was afraid of failures. But later on I understood that matters is not followers but regular visitors. Building relationships. I love that way learning from my failures and from others 🙂  What if I stop blogging that day? 🙂 I feel proud of it when I’m thinking. Else I wouldn’t find you or comment on this post today.

    I’m wanna build my own online business and afraid of it dear. But I don’t stop that. I don’t like being a graduate and be on a regular job. I wanna stand by myself. It’s a big dream of me. Also I’m love to do a public speech myself. Crazy huh? 😉 I’m really afraid of public speaking and sometimes even at public places. What do you think about ’em? There are some things I wanna show for bad bloggies too. I ll keep ’em for myself for now 😉

    Thanks Carol 😉 Read this 2 times. Sorry I couldn’t comment first time ’cause I was really busy with studies.

    Have a Great Weekend Ahead !


    • Wow, thanks for sharing all of that, Mayura. You should be very proud of yourself for facing your fears and taking action. You should be especially proud that you didn’t quit! Sometimes when there is a setback, it’s easy to give up and say “forget it!” but you didn’t, and that’s how you become successful.

      Failing is not as bad as you think. Ok, it’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world. It may feel bad for a while and maybe you feel dumb in front of other people but life goes on. Nobody is going to remember your mistakes except you, so try being kind to yourself and forgiving yourself so you can move on. Learn from your mistakes and be better next time.

      I think it would be great if you did a speech in public. Then you could really conquer your fear. I am like you – I hate the idea of speaking in public. I avoid it if I can because it makes me so nervous. I think a lot of people feel the same way. But if you can do it then you are doing even better than me 🙂

      If you want to start your own business, you can. all you need is the desire to do it. What kind of business do you want to start? 

      Thank you for sharing your fears with me, I know that isn’t easy to do, either. And good for you because you’ve really tackled your fears and it sounds like you’re winning!

      • Thanks for your encouragements dear 🙂 It all means to me. Yes, I said you’re a motivator and absolutely you are.

        Here I have several ideas dear. Most of time I get requests from my blog readers and they need to hire me to help with implementation, designing/redesigning or to create them a blog according to their preferences. Or sometimes to fix a problem occurred in their blogs.

        Until now I refused payments and took no blog projects ’cause I was busy with studies mostly and out of home most time. But helped them and advised what to do as I can. Also I like helping offline businesses to create their online presence by building websites and on Social Media too. Mostly implementation aspect. I have to learn more about other aspects eventhough I’ve learnt Online Marketing and E-commerce stuff in my school.

        And I have an idea to come up with a buying and selling website for local people here 🙂 My friends gonna start their own business offline and they want me to take care of their web presence too. I love to take those challenges, but still afraid as a newbie. However everything has a first step 😉

        Thanks for your kindness and support dear 🙂 I think now I need to get out from my comfort zone.


        • Good for you for taking on the challenge. If you’re providing a service of value that someone wants, then you should absolutely get paid for it. You have to start somewhere. Pick a project that inspires you and go for it! 

          • Thanks for your advice Carol 🙂 You got a point. Providing service for whom it needs. Absolutely dear. I have to start from somewhere 🙂