Mailvox: dealing with failure

CA writes about the challenge of responding to repeated failure:

I find your blogs very informative. Your books, TIA and Cuckservatives, were very enjoyable reads.

Some of your postings about failure are interesting but I am not sure that it is always possible to adopt a logical position and carry one’s emotions along.

I failed in three jobs in succession (one of which I was sacked from) in 2011-12. The night of my sacking, I immediately started looking for new work (I’d lacked this resolve after the second job ended badly). I had to claw my way back through unpaid internships. I would like to feel that this was character building. In reality, I’m stuck trying to impose a logical position (What could I have done better?, What did I learn?) onto an emotional one (this is so unfair, why did these things happen to me?)

I’m haunted by the fact that I have failed more than those around me. It is really painful.

Failure can be painful, but it doesn’t have to be. I not only have multiple failures, but I experience failure so regularly that most of you have no idea that they have even happened.

Within the last year alone, one of the three startups I supported went under, one nearly went under, and the third has had to radically change its business model because events haven’t gone according to plan.

Now, for some people, that amount of failure in quick succession would be very painful emotionally. And I’m not going to pretend that I was completely unperturbed, especially because as recently as one year ago, the failed business was doing very well and was even in the process of growing. But the reason I’m not upset about these things is that they were only three of the projects in which I was involved, and since I was not responsible for any of them there was next-to-nothing I could do about it.

I truly don’t even think about them much. Things are what they are, and trying to fix those projects would only harm the other ones that are going rather better. Never reinforce failure.

But rather than trying to impose logic on his emotions, which is always bound to fail sooner or later, I think the correct thing for CA to do is this:

  1. Accept the emotions. Go ahead and be upset. Go for drinks with one of your friends, bitch about the situation, and get it out of your system. Then stop thinking about it, stop dwelling on it, and above all, STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. Nobody cares, not really. It didn’t happen to them, after all, and they don’t want to think about it happening to them.
  2. Don’t waste time trying to analyze and learn from the situation now. It’s too close in time. It’s too raw. The time to analyze it is when you’re already starting to get back on your feet.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others. Their situations are different. Their talents and abilities are different. Their connections are different. Their roll of the dice is different. This doesn’t denigrate their success, it merely puts it in perspective.

Never be haunted by the success of others. Instead, try to learn from them, try to be useful to them, and try to become the sort of connection for them that can be useful to both of you. You can learn from anyone; if I can usefully learn from someone I despise as much as John Scalzi, (and I have) then you can certainly learn from those for whom you merely feel envy.

Don’t be afraid of failure or weighed down by it. Develop cornerback’s memory. Just because you got burned once doesn’t mean you’re going to get burned the next time. It’s a new play. It’s a new game. And constantly replaying the previous one in your head is only going to reduce your chances of success next time.

I don’t care if you’ve been knocked down once, three times, or two hundred times. The answer is always the same. Get back up and get back in the fight.

UPDATE: Someone pointed out in the comments that having only one income stream makes risk-taking all but impossible and failure all the more devastating. That’s correct. And that is why you should always devote at least 10 percent of your productive time to secondary and tertiary potential income streams.