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I’m failing right now and it’s hard and that’s okay

Hi, my name’s C.C. and I’m a failure. Almost a year ago, I set off on a new journey in my career and decided to go freelance. For pretty much the entirety of my adult life, I have wanted to work for myself and own my own business. My parents were entrepreneurs, and growing up in the family business gave me a sense of what kind of life I wanted for myself. Ever the optimist, I thought I could just put the hard work in, make decent money, and build up my business. I never thought I would be writing about failing.

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I could have the flexibility and the power to take my business where ever I wanted to. No more uneasy business decisions made by others while I was just making money for them, with a constant fear of layoffs. No more asking for raises or feeling like I couldn’t branch out to a new type of role just to learn new skills. Everything would be perfect, right? Wrong.

What I didn’t see when thinking about my parents’ business? All those long hard nights working trying to get the business off the ground and probably, quite frankly, failing. And, as you know if you’re like me and read lots of self-help and business books, failure is okay. You just have to have the right attitude for it.

Failing is the hardest thing I have ever done

Failing is the hardest thing I have ever done. That’s saying a lot considering what I’ve been through. Most of us grew up in environments where failure is not only discouraged but straight-up unacceptable. I’m not blaming my parents or schools or anything, but it’s just part of our culture. It’s funny, however, that many successful people write about how failure helped them get to where they are. It’s all very conflicting. The need for perfection has been seemingly getting worse and worse. There’s a reason many Millennials suffer from many mental health issues, including anxiety.

Why is it so hard? What is hard about it? I’m personally an optimistic person who tries to be a realist. My mindset generally tends to be “if I just work really hard, everything will work out and I’ll be successful.” This, however, is not a helpful mindset for growth or for accepting failure. In general, it’s not very accurate for how businesses work at all. It is very black and white and leaves out so many unknowns, both internal and external. And guess what? I’ve worked hard, but I haven’t been successful. At all.

Failing is so hard because it feels so wrong. We’ve been trained our whole lives to feel bad about failure, so continuing to fail feels awful. Why continue to fail when you could quit and go back to the thing you did before that you didn’t fail at? If you’re someone who has struggled with negative thoughts and self-talk in the past, failing can be especially brutal. Those voices can increase immensely.

Adopting the right mindset for failing

Falling while playing roller derby
Takin’ a little fall in roller derby. Photo by Joe Rollerfan

Failing is a great thing if you have the right mindset for it. To do this, you have to be ready for failure. My problem is that I didn’t set my mindset up properly from the beginning, no matter how many podcasts I listened to or books I read. They all said the same thing: yes, failure is hard, but it’s worth it. I thought I would be ready for the failure, but when the money wasn’t coming in and the clients were getting harder to find, I wasn’t at all and found myself in a bit of a dark space.

In order to get myself out of that space and back into the growth mindset I so dearly want to always have, I had to accept two things: 1. that I was failing and 2. that it was okay. One of the things I thought about a lot was from my roller derby days. A beloved coach of mine once pulled me aside to talk to me for a bit because I wasn’t falling enough in practice. “What?!” You’re probably thinking. Yes, my coach wanted me to fall more. Why? In her words: “If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.” This advice has been invaluable and accurate, because failing > learning > growth > success. Them’s the rules, I don’t make them up.

If you’re not falling, you’re not learning

– a very wise roller derby coach, lawyer, and professor

How to get used to failure

In order to take what lessons and growth you need from failure, you have to get used to it. Like with most things, getting used to failure takes practice. Even stepping away from the negative self-talk about how you should never have even done this takes a while. I still have many days where I, myself, struggle deeply with this mindset, even with everything I know about failure!

How do you practice failure? Do more things that are new and scary! Learning is my favorite thing to do, but I have been paralyzed in the past with actually doing it. Why? Because I knew I would suck at it and I was afraid I would be judged. Guess what – who cares? Once you stop caring about who could be judging you for sucking at something, you stop judging yourself for sucking at something. It’s honestly magical.

I was told I would be terrible at comedy, painting, coding, and a myriad of other things throughout my life. Heck, I have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to home renovations. So what? I still did all those things and sometimes I do really suck at them. I’m much better at them now than when I first started. I got through the failure stage and now I’m in the growth stage. Occasionally, I take risks for each and I meet failure. This year alone, I’ve been rejected by several bookers and a few comedy festivals already. Does it suck? Yes. Does it make me want to keep practicing so I can improve? Absolutely.

Powering through the failure

Successfully climbing a ladder after failing to, a gif
What you see: success. What you don’t see: me clinging to a ladder on a cliffside the day before in tears and afraid to move to the next step

Failing is pointless if you give up or if you learn nothing from it. The best outcomes for failing are:

  • re-evaluating your path and using what you’ve learned to forge a new one (different than quitting)
  • continuing to work on what you’re failing at until you are successful

Those are the two best options. If you’re currently failing like I am, I can’t tell you which option is best for you. That really depends on what you’re failing at (i.e. a hobby vs. what puts food on your table vs. an incredible app idea or something), the amount of stubborn you contain, internal and external factors, your personality, etc. Only you can choose, as long as you choose something.

Failure can absolutely ruin your life if you let it. If you sit back and don’t take action or don’t learn lessons from it, it can cripple you. It’s really easy to get into that mindset, so to power through, take action. Keep learning and growing and failing until you get it right. That’s the only way out. Anything less is truly failure and you will likely go back to the way things were before and that’s no way to go at all.

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