This column is by Srinivas Rao, Founder, unmistakablecreative.com
A few weeks ago I was sitting at a diner in Portland with my friend Matthew Monroe outlining some thoughts for a project on developing habits that maximizing creativity. One of the topics he mentioned was recovering from failure. He asked, “who do you know that could talk about recovering from failure?” I ran through the list in my head and realized I myself had plenty to say on this subject.
- Rejected from the Northwestern School of Music in high school
- Rejected from the Haas School of Business while I was an undergraduate at Berkeley
- Graduated Berkeley with a 2.7
- Fired from my first job after college at age 23.
- Fired from my next job at a startup that made wireless routers on the morning of my 25th birthday
- Forced to leave a job at a major market research company before I was going to be fired
- Rejected by or waitlisted at all of the business schools I applied to
- Almost fired from my next job, which prompted me to apply to Pepperdine in a last ditch effort
- Didn’t get an offer at the end of my internship at Intuit
- Graduated Pepperdine with no job in site
- Fired from my very last job at online travel company at age 32
- Almost ran my own company into the ground in 2014
- Too many other debacles to list
Needless to say, it’s not exactly a list that inspires confidence. It wouldn’t indicate that I’d go on to do anything of significance. But all of those failures were the catalyst for the most interesting work I’ve done and the most significant things I’ve accomplished. Not only that, they forced me to seriously question everything about my life. Because of that, something good always came from something bad.
Here’s the other list (most of which took place between ages 32 and 38)
- Wrote more than a million words
- Built the Unmistakable Creative with a microphone and a laptop, where I’ve interviewed close to 700 people.
- Paid more for a speaking gig than my monthly salary at any of the jobs I was fired from
- Became a published author with Penguin at 38
What you might notice is that the list of my failures, many of which I have not even included is far bigger than the list of my successes. But those successes have effectively wiped out the significance of my failures.
As my business partner Brian said: “nobody gives a shit what you did 10 years ago.”
Failure is a representation of who you once were, not who you are today or who you will be tomorrow. I could tell you my story with two sets of facts, the second or the first. And both stories would be true. So then how exactly do you recover from failure?
1. Experience Failure
Failure sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. When you get fired, dumped, etc it shatters your self-esteem, sends you into a tailspin and in the darkest of moments makes you wonder if life is worth living. It is.
Sidenote: If you are questioning the value of your life after a significant failure, please don’t try to go it alone. Seek help. Call the suicide prevention hotline. See a therapist. People seem to have no shame about hiring a coach to help them, but they seem totally ashamed to admit that they see a therapist.
One of the questions I’ve frequently asked people on the Unmistakable Creative is if the resilience they’ve developed is a result of the difficult things they’ve gone through. The answer is always yes. It’s hard to develop the grit required to recover from failure without ever experiencing, failure, adversity, and setbacks.
One of my oldest and smartest friends from college told me that he has never failed at anything in his life. The truth is that he hasn’t. You could easily categorize him as an outlier. But never having failed isn’t a good thing. If you have had the world handed to you on a silver platter your whole life, and fail for the first time, it’s going to have a more significant impact on you than it does on somebody who has experienced a lot of allure.
2. Learn From It
The first key to recovering from failure is to actually experience it so you can build a tolerance for it. I can honestly say that I’ve learned far more from my failures than I have from my successes. Failure forces you to reflect, reconsider, and question your own actions. It causes you to ask the question “what could I do differently next time?” Some of our greatest life lessons come from some of our greatest failures. As Ryan Holiday once said “the only way to not benefit from failure is not to learn from it.
3. Focus on Today
When I was going through a difficult time and it seemed like I was experiencing one failure after another, one of the books I returned to frequently was The Obstacle is The Way. While it’s filled with important lessons, one of the underlying themes in the book is presence. It’s a constant reminder to focus on the process instead of the prize. Most of our suffering occurs when we dwell on the past and worry about the future. Focusing on today lifts the weight of the world off your shoulders.
4. Focus on What’s Next
When you’re in a crisis or survival or perplexed or fix it mode, you simultaneously must create, have, and be working on a more exciting plan to do something big. -Dan Kennedy
On the flip side of today, if you can shift your focus to what’s next, without carrying the baggage and bullshit of the past into your next chapter, you’ll move from feeling paralyzed to a place of power. Failure is often the gateway to something greater even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
5. Let go of Expectations
Expectations are a killer of joy — Seth Godin
It’s human nature to layer expectations on anything. But often things in life fall short of our expectations.
- The book doesn’t sell a million copies
- The girl or guy doesn’t end up being the love of your life
- The company goes bust
If there’s anything that truly teaches you how to quickly and easily recover from failure, it’s to be detached from the outcome. In most cases, we don’t have any control over the outcomes. Focus on what you control, and let go of what you don’t.
6. See your Failure as a Forcing Function
When I got fired from my first job after college five days before Christmas , I thought it was the end of the world. Christmas songs, wrapping paper, holiday cheer. All of it made me want to gag. But after a few weeks of wallowing in self-pity, I realized that if I hadn’t been fired I might have never looked for another job, even though I hated working there with a passion. Not only that, my health was deteriorating because of that job.
Sadly it’s quite easy to become comfortable, while at the same time being miserable. When I asked Salim Ismail about what it takes to experience exponential personal and professional growth, he said “you have to have some sort of forcing function” And in some cases, failure is the forcing function that causes you to actually change.
7. Do Something That Has Nothing to Do with the Failure
This seems like odd advice about dealing with failure. But sometimes it’s exactly what we need. If it hadn’t been for all my failures, I would have never started surfing. It was my bliss, and it following it revealed a calling. It reduced the sting of not having a job lined up after graduate school. And it also became the foundation of my first traditionally published book Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best.
Failure can be a gift, and one of our greatest teachers if we choose to recover and learn from it rather than be defined by it.
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Image Credit – Huffington Post