I have bad news and good news for you.
First, you’re going to fail. Second, you’ll survive that failure.
In 2008, JK Rowling gave a wonderful Harvard commencement speech. (you can watch it here) The parts about failure are my favorite.
One of my favorite pieces is this:
"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."
I love that she acknowledges that failure will happen. You can’t escape failure.
Most of my clients are like me – they are both moms and business owners. The topic of failure is always lurking. Not only do we have all the worries and work that come with owning a business, we also have the added weight of motherhood and all its complicated ideas, history, burdens, and expectations.
What does that mean? Well, it means we can fail at something five times before breakfast and keep going knowing another failure waiting for us around the next corner. It means we keep going because we have our families to take care of and our business to run.
Here’s the neat thing about failure – it gives us a chance to continuously learn and gain more skills. It teaches us things about ourselves and our work we couldn’t have learned in another way.
Sometimes that means we didn’t promote a launch or a sale enough, and we learn that next time we need to start earlier and plan better.
Sometimes that means raising our prices because we’ve learned that burning ourselves out trying to please everyone isn’t good for us, our family, or our business.
However, unless we’re willing to think about why something isn’t working for us, we can’t move forward. We must understand our failures to learn from them.
For Christmas, I bought myself a book called Tribe of Mentors. The book is short essays, in Q & A form, by famous and well-known people. One of the questions is “What is your favorite failure?”
I love this question because it invites us to examine our failures and see which one we like the best. And, to do that, we must reflect on what we learned from different failures and how they helped us grow. Instead of lamenting the path not taken, we get a chance to embrace our growth and celebrate where we are now.
If you think about it, that’s incredibly powerful. Instead of sweeping failures under the rug and never talking about them again, we hold a failure up to the light to see what it was made of and where we went because we lived through it.
Not every offer is going to land. Not every connection is going to work. Some ideas will seem great until they flop. And that is ok! If you hit a dead end, turn around and go a different direction.
JK Rowling’s failure led to her focus on her writing and embrace who she was and what she was meant to do:
"I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged."
Other quotes from amazing women about failure that are worth remembering:
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” –Maya Angelou
“Just because you fail once doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything.”
“For my first show at ‘SNL’, I wrote a Bill Clinton sketch, and during our read-through, it wasn’t getting any laughs. This weight of embarrassment came over me, and I felt like I was sweating from my spine out. But I realized, ‘Okay, that happened, and I did not die.’ You’ve got to experience failure to understand that you can survive it.”
“It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.”
“Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
“Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.”
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.