190: How to Overcome Failure in 6 Steps

Posted on May 20, 2017

How to Move Through Failure in 6 Steps

In today’s lesson, I want to talk about failure in business and how to move through it.

I’ve been asked questions on this topic a number of times in the last few weeks and while it’s a topic most of us probably don’t want to have to learn about – it’s something that we all will need to deal with at one point or another because it’s a part of any business story.

We all fail – in fact failure is an essential part of any startup and if you’re not having it it could be a sign that what you’re doing is not pushing hard enough and that you’re spending a lot of time in your comfort zone.

SO in this episode I’m going to give you 6 things that I try to do when facing failure of different sizes. I think they’re relevant for the small fails and mistakes that happen to us regularly but am particularly thinking about some of those big ones too!

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Hi there and welcome to episode 190 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com. A blog, podcast, event, job board and a series of ebooks, all designed to help you as a blogger to start a blog, to grow your audience, to create amazing content, and to hopefully make some profit from your blog. Learn more about ProBlogger over at problogger.com.

In today’s lesson, I want to talk about failure, failure in business particularly, and how to move through it. I’ve been asked questions on this topic a number of times over the last few weeks and when I hear the same question more than once, I often pick up my ears and it often turns into a podcast and that’s what I want to talk about today.

It’s something that I guess most of us don’t really want to have to learn about. We don’t want to have to learn how to move through failure but it is something that we will all need to deal with a one point or another, both in our personal lives but also as part of a business story and our blogging journey.

We all fail. In fact, I think failure is an essential part of any start up, any business. If you’re not having times of failure, if you’re not having things where things don’t succeed, it’s possibly a sign that what you are doing really isn’t outside of your comfort zone and perhaps you’re not pushing things hard enough.

In this episode, what I want to do is give you six things that I try and do and I emphasize try here because there’s a right answer when it comes to failure and there’s an actual answer, so most of us swing from the good things through to the unhelpful things. Those are six things that I try to do when I’m facing failure or mistakes of different sizes.

I actually think most of what I’m going to share today is relevant for the small failures we have, those things that just don’t go right from day to day but also those bigger things as well. I’m particularly thinking of those because some of the questions I’ve heard over the last week have been on those bigger failures.

You can find today’s show notes with the six points that I’m going to go through as well as some further reading over at problogger.com/podcast/190. Also, check out the Facebook group at problogger.com/group where there’s some great discussion going on at the moment. We’ve seen a lot of new members over the last few weeks. Let’s get into today’s show.

Like I said in my introduction today, I’ve had a number of questions on the topic of failure recently. Willie over in the Facebook group asked just a few weeks ago, how would you recover from a massive failure? And then Max also messaged me and gave me permission to share his question. He said, “I’ve just had a big failing in my blogging business and I feel unable to move on. Do you have any advice?” That’s what I want to address today.

What do we do, a lot of these will be applicable to other areas of life too, but particularly in a blogging business, the failures we have can sometimes be very public failures and sometimes the mistakes we make, the things that we say we’re going to do don’t often work out and there’s public consequences on that.

I guess I’m tackling it from that angle as well. Firstly, let me give you what I usually do first. That is to freak out. Usually for me, when I have a failure, when I make a mistake, when something doesn’t go right, I usually have some kind of an emotional response. I’m a fairly measured person, you would meet me in person you might not think that I freak out but I do.

I throw as good tantrum as anyone else, I panic as much as anyone else, I think the worst as much as anyone else, and as I was preparing this podcast, I was going to say, “Move past that phase as quickly as you can and get onto the more constructive things.” I actually think that it may be important to have that moment of freak out.

Failure takes its toll on us and that is a natural thing. I think it’s probably important to get through those feelings and to some extent embrace them and sit with them, and to let them out. I think it’s really important to let those feelings out, to not bottle them up. This is going to come out to a lot of what I’m going to talk about today. I think we do need to get those feelings out.

All I would say is as you are having your freak out, as you are having your tantrum, as you are having that panic, try to do it in a safe place that wouldn’t have long lasting consequences on you, those around you, and your business. I think it’s totally fine to feel the pain, to feel out of control for a moment. That is natural and it’s okay to do that so allow yourself to do that. But as you’re feeling that, try to move yourself towards the six things that I’m going to talk about next.

Out of that panic, out of that freak out, here’s what I would suggest you do. The first one is so important and that is to try. This is hard, all of this is hard, but try to separate your failure away from your identity.

One other the biggest challenges that I think many people face today is that they equate their self-worth with their achievements or their lack of achievements, also, what other people think about them and I think this is a real trap. This is a huge trap.

I want to give you an equation. This is an equation that I see the world suggesting when it comes to our self-worth. The world says self-worth equals what I achieve plus what others think of me. Let me repeat it, self-worth equals what I achieve plus what others think of me. This is a message we hear all the time. We hear it in conversations, we say it in the media, and we say it in marketing. My self worth is all about what I achieve my success, and what others think of me.

So to be worthwhile, I need to achieve a lot, I need to have other people think well of me. This idea creeps out in a lot of what we do. Most of us don’t even know that we abide by that equation, but we are constantly looking for success, and we’re constantly looking to look good in front of other people. The problem with this equation is that it really sets us up with problems because it’s just not realistic.

All of us are going to have times in our personal lives and in our business where we do not achieve, where we fail. It’s just human to have failures and so if we equate our self-worth with achieving with success, then we’re setting ourselves up for a massive fault. All of us are going to have times in our lives where other people don’t think much of us. If we base our self-worth upon our success and what other people perceives of us, then our self-worth is going to have times where we will have very little of it.

That’s an unhealthy thing. It’s going to only lead to poor self-worth. It’s going to lead to a roller coaster ride through your life. I guess one of the big things that I want to get across and this is something that I try and really remind myself in those times of failure is that my self-worth doesn’t come from what I achieve and it doesn’t come from what other people think of me, it actually comes from something else.

For me, that comes more from my faith. For other people, it will come from something else. But if there’s one thing I really want to get across today, as we tackle this topic of failure, is that you are not worthless because of your failure. You’re not worthless because of your failure, you are not a failure. What you have done, your business may have had a time of failing but that doesn’t mean that you are a failure, don’t personalize your failure.

Particularly if it’s a business failure which is really not connected to you, it is something that you do. Yes, it’s an action that has failed, but it is not you. Don’t identify yourself as a failure just because of something that you have done.

Number one, separate your failure out from your identity. Number two, don’t face it alone. I’m not sure whether this is a gender thing, whether it’s more of a personality thing, but a trap that I’ve seen many of my friends fall into is that they face their failure alone. They internalize their failure.

One of the best things that I think you can do is to admit your failure and to share with another person, just one other person. That will help so much. Even if that person has no real understanding of your business, by telling them what you are facing, you’re doing something very healthy.

To verbalize it and to start a conversation about it actually is a very powerful thing. Name the mistake, name the failure, first, by you alone and internalize it and you will very luckily become overwhelmed by it. It will become bigger than it really is. This is something I’ve fallen into the trap of, many times.

Even last year, the end of last year, I had a couple of months where revenue wasn’t really great for the business. It wasn’t particularly anything I had done, it just was a bit of a lean patch and I know many other bloggers went through that. For the first few weeks that I noticed that, I internalized it and I would lie in bed at night thinking that the end of the world was coming and not being able to see anything positive in my business, even though there was lots there.

It was only once I shared that load with Vanessa, and for me, Vanessa, my wife, my partner, is the place that I go to. By simply naming the issue, by putting words to it, it put things back into perspective. I realized, even as I spoke the words of what was going on that there were solutions, that there were ways forward.

The other person may not even know what you are talking about but you, simply verbalizing it to another person, can be a very powerful thing, so tell a friend, share the load. As I said, it’s usually for me, talking with Vanessa. Today, she is a blogger and so she does have some understanding of what I’m talking about but even in the early days, back in 2002, 2003, when none of my friends knew what blogging was, when social media didn’t even exist, I found simply by verbalizing those things really did help a lot.

In doing so, you’re actually going to find that you’re not the only person who has failed as well, we all do. Most of the people that you share your failure with will be able to recount some story in their own life where they faced something similar, even if the details are different.

The other thing I would suggest you do though is to also find someone who does understand your business. Talk about it and this might be the second person that you talk to. It maybe that you need to find another blogger, it may be, for a period of time you need to find a business coach or a mentor. Those types of relationships are really important, even if they’re not formal business coach type relationships.

There are a few people in my life, if I’m having a tough time in business, I’ll pick up the phone, and even though they might be in the different type of business, to me, they understand some of the pressures of what it is that we’re going through. Get some professional advice. It doesn’t have to be an ongoing thing. It might just be a simple phone call with someone who’s been through what you’ve been through and to draw the wisdom of them.

It might also be something like more of a group type of support, maybe finding a Facebook group like the ProBlogger Facebook group or there are plenty of others online as well to actually have those types of people we can present the failure, the mistake or part of it to that type of group and get that type of advice.

Lastly, I would say is that there are times where you might need to find a therapist. You might need to find a counselor. Perhaps your business failure has rocked your world, your confidence, your personal health, your mental health in some way. There is no shame in actually finding someone to give you support on that emotional level. When you’re sick physically you go and see a doctor and when you shaking up emotionally with your mental health, I think it’s important to seek help there as well.

That’s something that I’ve done from time to time as well. Sometimes, our business life spills out into our personal lives. Just to encourage you if that is spilling out to actually get some help in that way. Maybe going to speak to a doctor and getting some help in that way as well. No shame at all in that. It’s an important part of this journey.

Number one is to not take on that failure in your business into your personal identity. Number two, don’t face it alone and number three, is related to not facing it alone and that is to be transparent. It really does relate a little bit to what I’ve just talked about, you speaking with that friend, or that colleague, or that doctor, and being a little bit vulnerable with another person, it’s being transparent about the type of failure that you’ve had.

Often as you begin to process these failures, you realize there are other people impacted by your failure. This doesn’t always happen but in many cases there will be someone else who has been impacted by the mistake that you have made. It maybe that there is a business partner, maybe there is a team member, maybe there is a colleague, maybe even your readers as a blogger have been impacted by your failure, by your mistake.

The temptation when other people are hurt by our failures or impacted by our failures is to save face, it’s to hide our failures, and to actually even pretend that it didn’t happen or to lie about them, perhaps. But in most cases, this just escalates the problem, and this is really tough. I know it’s tough and I’ll say it’s kind of hesitating but come clean. Admit to your failing to those who are impacted, own your part in it, take responsibility for the mistakes that you have made and attempt to deal with those consequences to find a win-win solution for those who are impacted and to I guess seek forgiveness and to actually right the wrongs that have been done.

This isn’t really relevant to all types of failures but in many cases, I’m sure you can realize that those times in your life where you have had a failing, other people are impacted by that. Many times the failing, there’s ripple effects that go out from it.

To give you a really quick example, and this is a small failing, I know many of you are probably thinking of bigger things of what I’m about to share with you but this sort of illustrates in my own business a mistake that was made a few years ago, we sent an email, a sales email that was supposed to go to a few hundred people. It was a small segment of our photography blog. A few hundred people was supposed to get this sales email. We actually sent it out to every single person on any of my list including my ProBlogger readers.

I think it was close to 700,000 to 800,000 people who got this email. The email was irrelevant to most people. It was a sales email and it went out. My immediate reaction was to panic, to throw a bit of a tantrum, to run away, to pretend it didn’t happen and I was really worried, particularly my ProBlogger readers, that they were going to get this photography sales email.

How was that going to impact? Was it going to impact my credibility? I really hoped that no one would notice but I quickly realized that people were going to notice and so I had to come clean about that mistake as quickly as I could sent an email again to those hundreds of thousands of people, apologizing and owning the mistake that we’ve made and apologizing for that.

I sent that second email with a lot of fear. I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. Whether people will believe me? I was amazed, instantaneously I started getting emails from readers, messages from readers, saying that they understood it, that they were confused by the first email but they really appreciated me owning the mistake. By no means was there any intention for this to happen. It actually ended up being something that built the brand. I think people were impressed by the way that it was handled and people reflected back that they could relate to the mistake.

In many ways, sending that email, owning that mistake, owning that failure, actually humanized the brand of ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. That’s not a big example. I know there are bigger failures. There has been bigger failures in own life but I’ve seen time and time again, when we own our mistakes, when we own our failures, when we take responsibility for where we have done the wrong thing, that often will be received well from other people. Most people are incredibility generous and gracious and can actually be something that can lead to solutions as well. As you are transparent with people, you will hear back things that can often help you to move forward through that failure. Number three is to be transparent.

Number four is to learn from it. This is something I say to my kids all the time. I say to my kids all the time, making a mistakes are not a bad thing, it’s actually making the same mistake repeatedly and not learning from that mistake, that’s the issue. That’s where I get across with my kids. If you made a mistake, that’s totally fine. What are we going to learn from it? How are we going to do things differently next time?

When they make the mistake again, that’s when we have tough words. That’s where we really need to address it, I guess. Making mistakes is a part of life. It’s actually I think a sign of life, that something that you are building momentum, that you are moving forward. Mistakes come when we do that. Failure comes when we do that. Embrace those mistakes, but look for what you can learn through that mistake.

All businesses will have their times of failure, but what you can learn from it, why did the failure happen? Spend some time with that question, what actually happened. Don’t just move on to the next thing, what actually happened, what could you have done differently that would provide a different result. What can you learn from that failure, what lessons were there?

Don’t run away from the mistake, the failure, embrace it. It’s a learning opportunity. If you can find some way to see as a positive and to do it differently next time, that’s a very powerful thing. You know that for a fact, if you actually think back to previous failures you’ve had, you know that those times, sometime they make you who you are today. In hindsight it’s really easy to see that but trying try and convince yourself out in the moment as well. What can I learn for this? How I can turn this around?

Number five thing is to keep moving. I do think it’s important to sit with the problem, to sit with the foe, to learn from it, to rest perhaps, if you need to recover from it, because sometimes it does take an emotional toll. There are times where I think in business we need to rest, we need to stop, and we need to have a break. Sometimes, after failure, that can be a really good time to do that, to look after ourselves, but I think it’s really important to then move on to keep the momentum going in some way.

Right now I’m teaching my five year old to ride a bike. I know a lot of you listening to this podcast, the parents, have had that experience yourself, and he has had his fair share of crashes over the last few weeks. He has scrapes, bruises, and sores on his elbows, on his knees and he even got a little one on his nose at the moment. He has had these crashes and that’s part of learning to ride a bike.

He kind of understands that but there are these moments after he has a crash, after he has banged into a fence sort or something, that his natural reaction is to say, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to ride a bike,” and to ride off this whole experience. I understand that, I understand that’s a natural reaction, I understand the little tantrums that he throws at those point, but I also understand that if he wants to develop this skill, he needs to get back on the bike.

He understands that too in many ways as well and sometimes a little rest is in order, sometimes a little what went wrong is in order so we can learn from the mistake, but most importantly, he gets back on that bike. The same is true in our business, failure can paralyze us. It can stop us in our tracks but it’s important to keep moving, get back on the bike.

Identify your next best step, maybe that your next best step is about picking up the pieces and starting again. Maybe it’s about evolving what you do, tweaking it, taking the lessons from the mistake and just evolving and tweaking or it may even be that your next best step is to start something new. Drawing out what you’ve learned, identify something that you need to do to keep you moving and if possible include someone else in that conversation, tell someone about that next best step as well.

The last one I want to share with you is going to annoy some of you. This comes from my personality type which I’m told can be quite annoying at times, but that is to be positive. It’s so hard to do it but I always try and look at the bright side. I’m told by Vanessa and her friends that I am eternally an optimist and that can be incredibly annoying, but I am always looking for positive. I think even in those times of incredible failure there are sometimes, there’s almost always some sort of a glimmer of something positive in the midst of that.

Sometimes, it does take a little while for this positive glimmer-y little sparks to emerge but when you see them, grab them and move towards those glimmers, focus upon them. It’s often the small little sparks that fly in the midst of a failure that can become our next big thing. It can actually be the failing, the mistake that we’ve made that shapes us and that becomes a part of who we are and how we move forward. It can actually become a part of your brand in many ways. I can think of many people over the years, who actually through failing that they’ve actually discovered a passion.

They’ve actually discovered out of their own pain a way that they can help other people who go through a similar things as well. Be very aware that in the midst of the gloominess of failure can actually be the seeds, of something really important. Be on the lookout for those things and on the lookout for those small sparks and to be positive about those sort of thing. Celebrate those little things in small ways in the midst of that pain as well.

I know as I’ve gone through this, part of me is cringing if I’m honest with you because I know in the midst of failure sometimes you don’t want to hear this kind of stuff. Hearing things like find the sparks, it sounds a bit corny, but I really hope that somewhere in the midst of those six things is going to be a way forward for different one of us, who are going through different stages of failure at the moment.

Separate your failure from your identity, don’t face it alone, draw other people alongside you to share the stuff that you’re going through. Number three, be transparent with the mistake, with the pain. I think that’s particularly important in the blogging space because many times when we try and hide the issues, the failings, and the mistakes, these things actually come out later. They can actually come back so be transparent. Number four analyze the failings, analyze the mistake, and work out what you can do to do things differently in future. Number five is to keep moving, keep momentum going, get back on the bike. And lastly, find those glimmers, those sparks of opportunity, those sparks of positivity, and focus upon those things.

I really do hope that somewhere in the midst of those six pieces of advice is something that helps you to move through the inevitable failures that will come your way, the inevitable mistakes that we all do, and that will help you to move through those things into exciting times ahead.

You can find today’s show notes over at problogger.com/podcast/190 where you have the opportunity to not only get a transcript of today’s show and find other episodes that relate to the show, but you can also leave a comment. Also, check out the Facebook group problogger.com/group. That will redirect you into that Facebook group.

Lastly, if you’re looking for something else to listen to, check out episode 54 of this podcast. It kind of relates. There’s some overlap in topic. In episode 54, I gave you three questions to ask yourself when you’re facing fear, which is something that I know relates to these times of failure as well. If you want something else, you’re feeling fearful at the moment about those sorts of failures that you go through, go and listen to episode 54 as well. It may help you to move through that, that time as well.

Thanks for listening today. I look forward to chatting with you in episode 191 next week on the ProBlogger podcast.

Before I go, I want to give a big shout out and say thank you to Craig Hewitt and the team at Podcast Motor who’ve been editing all of our podcasts for some time now. Podcast Motor have a great range of services for podcasters at all levels. They can help you to setup your podcast, but also offer a couple of excellent services to help you to edit your shows and get them up with great show notes. Check them out at podcastmotor.com.

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