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Monday, January 27, 2014

Moving Past Disappointment and Public Failure: The Resiliency to Bounce Back

'The point isn't to learn to fail it is to learn to bounce back.'   Rosabeth Moss Kanter Harvard Business Review blog
How do you handle Public Failure?

Think about your past moments of 'public failure'--what did you want to do? How did you handle your disappointment? How did you feel about failing in full public view?

Perhaps You:
  • Put yourself out there to a new love interest, but your advances were rebuffed.
  • Worked for an organization for many years and then you were laid off.
  • Let everyone know you really wanted a job you applied for, then you didn't even get an interview.
  • Left your job for another 'better opportunity' but it didn't work out and you ended up unemployed.
  • Were married for years then your relationship ended in divorce.
  • Worked hard to get a contract or grant then you failed to get it.

Public Failure--The Crisis

Failing sucks--especially when we experience it in a personally meaningful area. 

In those moments we experience failure--after we've put everything we have into meeting a goal or achieving a dream--we're left exhausted and disappointed. The natural reaction is to retreat and hide--and never ever stick our neck out like that again.  

Last year I had one of those moments.  After spending two solid days working on a grant application with a very short window to complete and submit on-line I experienced technical difficulties during the submission that resulted in our missing the deadline. I'd failed the team pure and simple.

Ugh. I wanted to hide. I'd let the team down. I screwed it up. But where can you go to hide your head and lick your wounds when your actions are so public?

The Chinese symbol for crisis is two pronged, meaning 'dangerous opportunity'

The Dangerous Opportunity

The Chinese symbol for the word 'crisis' is two pronged--meaning dangerous opportunity. In our moments of crisis--such as a public failure--we always feel the danger but how can we also recognize the opportunity that gives us the resiliency to bounce back?

Anytime we put ourselves out there in a public way we run the risk of feeling vulnerable and exposed. But we also increase our chances of experiencing the thrill of success--and that is the first place the 'dangerous opportunity' lies.

When I told my daughter about my disappointment she repeated a phrase back to me I say to her all the time, 'All things seemingly good or bad work in our favor'

Hearing that from my daughter made me feel really good. Why? Because it isn't about whether we succeed in every situation, its about how we handle failure and put everything to good use--including modeling how to deal with disappointment.

How to Thrive despite Public Failure

According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the difference between those who thrive despite public failures and those who throw in the towel in defeat is how we handle the losing or failure. 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter HBR blog
"The difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing," says Kanter. "That's a key finding from my ongoing research on great companies and effective leaders: no one can completely avoid troubles and potential pitfalls are everywhere, so the real skill is the resilience to climb out of the hole and bounce back."

Kanter goes on to say that even the most successful people face setbacks--and to have the resiliency to bounce back from mistakes or failures we must be willing to learn from our mistakes.

Embrace the Daily Dangerous Opportunities

While we'd all love to succeed without facing public humiliation in the process, it isn't the way it works. 

We must accept the danger as well as the opportunity with each public step we take. The only way we can avoid public failure is by failing to step into life and actively go after things of importance.

To achieve our goals and dreams we must embrace the daily dangerous opportunity inherent in life.

Choose to move past your disappointments and feelings of shame for public failures. Learn to embrace each of your failures as evidence of your active participation in a successful life. Choose to learn from your failures--and as soon as you are able, take the next step to make a contribution, or connection that propels you toward your dreams.

Be brave. 

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." 

Helen Keller


For more than 30 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes changing easier than ever before.

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Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Sue, this is a post that should be a part of every book or manual for entrepreneurs.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Yes, Jean--we can't have a thin skin when working in the public view!