So many icons have talked about failure and still it’s the biggest deal there is. Johnny Cash said: “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space”. Icons talked about it, people quoted, maybe even wrote it on Facebook and immediately forgot when they saw someone failing.
Back in 2013, Ekaterina Walter, a contributor for Forbes wrote that “it seems that failure tends to be more public than success.” And she is right, it’s not a matter of perception, when people are successful they’re untouchable, people don’t speak a lot about them out of respect, but when everything goes south people become an easy target, the backlash is totally out of proportion. It looks like everyone who never tried feels free to criticize, to say they’d do better – again, they never tried -, they laugh at their misfortune, but it’s actually hiding something deeper. Their fear of trying.
No one is to blame for this reactions and everyone is to blame for this reactions. For centuries society has condemned failure, if you fail at school you’re no good, you’re not intelligent enough, you’re not going far. Teachers say it, parents say it, friends say it and enemies say it. It’s still a part of our culture, a demanding culture averse to flaws.
According to Marco Ermidas, anthropologist working at Beta-i, “society in general has an extreme difficulty in dealing with what’s negative or isn’t pretty enough, the flaw is always pointed out”, adding that “the future expectations and the need to be an overachiever also helps adding pressure”.
The biggest problem with failure is that not everybody reacts to failure the same way and it can actually take a toll on people. The embarrassment caused by it can lead to depression. But of course no one thinks about that when they’re comfortably sitting on their couches playing judge.
Also, when asked about how society saw women’s failure, Marco said that “it makes a difference to be a woman, men are more easily forgiven and society believes it’s almost certain they’ll succeed again in the future, while women do not have that benefit of the doubt, it’s harder to forgive a woman’s failure”.
The same can be applied to startups. People look at startups as a trend led by a group of entitled kids who have nothing better to do with money so decide to have a startup and not happy get money from the government that could be used on other things. What follows? Backlash.
How to overcome failure?
Even if you don’t fail, but you happen to be on the same business that someone failed recently, you’re going to be a failure, because people will make a general assumption by inferring from a specific case. So, you too should be prepared.
Marco believes that failure is like grieve, you have to go through all different stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Because losing something you’re very fond of is exactly the same as breaking up, for example. You’ve been through break-ups and you know that it takes time.
Never, not even for a second, blame yourself. Something might have failed but that doesn’t make a loser out of you. It’s not a death sentence it’s a bump in the road.
And finally but not less important: face failure, embrace it, admit it, speak about it. Better yet, make fun of it and learn from it. If you need inspiration to do it – let’s hope you never have to – read this farewell post from a startup.