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Time To Define Failure

Failure. What an incredibly sexy word these days. 

If you’ve spent any time around startup communities in the United States, failure is often embraced - almost to the point where it has become a buzzword. Events such as fail festivals and special failure hashtags have popped up to specifically talk about people’s experiences. Simply put, the entrepreneurs of the world are in love with the idea of talking about failure.

When you do find yourself in those chatty circles, everyone begins to ask each other about the W’s of their experiences: 

When did you fail? Where did you fail? Who did you fail with? Why did you fail? …. the list of questions seem endless. 

And as much as I love to learn from others and somehow directly apply that lesson to my own life in order to achieve progress, how often do we collectively take a step back and examine what kind of social and mental impact that experience had on the person who went through it? 

The more I talk to fellow entrepreneurs and budding young professionals, the more I believe we’re at a point in society where we’re trying to dehumanize failure far too much. We’re so quick to accept another person’s failure as a stepping stone to their success rather than trying to comprehend what kind of setback that person just endured. And while I’m not the type of person to think that we should coddle every individual that has gone through a career or startup failure, I do understand that the each level of failure comes at a price. For some, the ability to get over a hurdle lies in taking the weekend off, while for others, they may never truly be able to recover. When you consider the amount of people that bet their own financial well-being and their families’ well being just to get their idea off the ground, only to have everything turn sour, the old saying of “get up and dust yourself off” just isn’t applicable. 

What truly amazes me is our instinctive nature to learn about other people’s failure without offering help towards others. Our minds are wired to squeeze out each disappointment as if we’re magically going to find a math formula that will bless us with a next steps eureka moment. But the reality of it all is that for each successful bounce back-story we hear, there are possibly hundreds of similar people that never were able to turn their personal ship around. 

Let’s be clear for a moment. I’m not indicating that every misstep or every collapse results a famine “woe is me” type situation. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that some form of acceptance can qualify as a level of failure. Know someone who lost hope and just kept repeating the same routines? Or do you know someone in your community who is labeled “the person with so much potential who just accepted mediocrity”? 

I think we all could answer a resounding yes to those questions.

With that in mind, how many of those people in those same chatty circles truly get what failure really means? 

In a literal sense, we see that failure could mean one of a few things - it could be a lack of success, the omission of expected or required action, or it could be the action or state of not functioning. However, if we attempt to humanize it, we could easily turn our own definition of failure into “losing the ability to step forward or recover”. Failure, at the core of it all, is something we all should avoid. It isn’t a required right of passage, nor is it something we should celebrate. It is what it is. Therefore, the next time you (or someone who know) experiences failure, you need to ask yourself: what can I do to start moving forward again? Rather than focus on the life lessons from those experiences, start with a few small steps to get back to level ground. Once we’re able to do that, those valuable stories will shine through on their own, so much so that our deep concentration surrounding the idea of failure will be a thing of the past. 

John Quaylefailure, startups, career