I am always amazed by how people react when I’m telling them what I do for a living: “I run a personal development blog”. Aside the usual eye rolling when it comes to put “blog” and “make a living” on the same level, they’re all having a sort of a chill. And a little step back. Like they want to have a better look at me.
From now on, they’re either totally ignoring me, putting a permanent “idiot” label on my forehead, either start to treat me like I’m Superman or something. The total opposite of failure, if you know what I mean. (I can’t tell you the exact proportion, though. I’d lean more towards the Superman thing, but the “idiot” team is also pretty strong). Anyway, fact is that once they learn I’m running a personal development blog, they somehow treat me as some sort of a guru.
Which I’m so totally not.
You’re Really Not Superman?
You may be disappointed, but I’ll say it again: no, I’m not Superman. Wrong blog, sorry. I don’t have a magic wand, hitting your heads gracefully and healing your life, your relationships or your finances. I’m not the ultimate carrier of the universal truth. I’m not the last beholder of the light of knowledge. Not even the best productivity guy around.
Then why the heck have I started a personal development blog?
Now take a deep breath and relax: the answer will puzzle you. Ready? Ok: I started a personal development blog because I know every imaginable thing about failure. I’ve been there so many times, I can’t even remember. I had failures in business, I had failures in personal and social relationships, in school, in my job (back when I had one) and, generally speaking, wherever you’ll find a consistent life niche, you can bet all your money that I had at least one major failure there. And you’ll win big time.
Yes, I had an online business for 10 years, but I’ve been on the verge of bankruptcy more than once. At some point, I had to sell my home (at that time a small studio I was living in) and move my entire company from the office I was renting to a small apartment, where I also had to sleep, just to pay my debt.
My first major personal relationship was also a complete fiasco. After my first child was born, I couldn’t manage to keep my relationship with his mother going on and had to split up. After that, I courageously entered a hasty marriage, only to end it up in a few years, with the same bitter taste in my mouth.
I can go on like this for hours. I mean, I really can.
But that’s not the point. The point is that all those failures, through a subtle but powerful process, made me stronger. And some of them made me even smarter, if you really wanna know.
The Anatomy Of A Failure
If you do something often enough, you’ll start to see some patterns. If you fail enough, you’ll start to discern the hidden structure of a failure. And this what I’m going to talk about for the rest of this post. In my experience, failure comes in 6 stages, each of equal importance.
1. The Experiment
That’s the first stage and also the most alive and most pleasant of all, so to speak. This is the part where you start something new, exciting, interesting. You take a risk. Start a business. Fall in love. Embark on an unexpected travel. This is the stage where you actually dive in without really knowing what’s going to happen. The experiment is the most intense part of a failure, because it releases our inner guardians. We act free of inhibitions, jumping around and being in the moment.
Unfortunately, this is also the stage we use to blame the most. We somehow associate the thrill, exhilaration and enthusiasm of this stage with the actual failure. Which is not entirely true.
For example, when you fall in love with the “wrong” person, this is the romantic phase. The phase in which you’re totally blind and helpless, enjoying every second with your new partner. You don’t really care if he or she is married, if he or she is an honest person. You just don’t want to know more, all you want is to feel more, to experiment more. I think we’ve all been there. And I think we’ll all be there too, at some point. But the fact that we felt good shouldn’t make us feel bad after we realize we did a mistake.
2. The Outcome
Something happens after this experiment: there is an outcome. Maybe your business idea wasn’t validated by reality (or, most likely, you did something wrong). Maybe your partner proved to be dishonest (or, most likely, you ignored some very obvious signs that he/she was actually flashing from the very beginning). Maybe the trip turned out to be a fiasco because the budget exploded and now you have to do the dishes in a restaurant to pay for your plane ticket home (or, most likely, you ignored some very common sense rule and it turned out that rule was for real).
The outcome is the part when we pay. When we realize we did something extremely wrong and we have to put up with the consequences. Sometimes we simply call this “the disaster”. If there’s something that could go wrong in the experiment, this is the stage when it actually explodes. Usually, in our faces.
Out of all 6 stages, this is the one we hate the most. This is the one which totally blows out the experiment, uncovering an ugly reality and making us feel miserable.
The first reaction is to deny the whole result. You avoid it altogether. Take refuge, step back, isolate, reject. The third stage is the stage of the blind man. You chose not to see the reality.
If the failure is about a business, you simply ignore the numbers. Act like you still have all the money you lost and their real absence is just a temporary glitch in the matrix. It will be fixed in a moment. Everything is ok. No worries.
Denial is more than often some kind of pain alleviation. The disaster was so big, that we simply couldn’t accept it. Our reality was so drastically challenged, that we can’t recognize it anymore, so we chose to run away and hide in a mental castle. Denial is also, more than often, the stage in which many of us are stuck for ever.
Hopefully, at some point, you’ll get tired of living in denial. You’re going to realize you did a mistake. You’ll start to acknowledge the mess, but you won’t take responsibility. No, it wasn’t me: the market was tough. No, it wasn’t me: my partner lied. It’s the stage of excuses: somebody else did it.
As hard as it would be for you to accept this, I’m going to tell it anyway: this is the stage in which 90% of the people are stopping. They never get out of here. Accepting the mistake give them some sort of a relief, but they lack the power to take responsibility. Personal development is never possible if you blame others for your own failure. Never was and never will be.
What’s interesting at this stage is the enormous amount of creativity people are using in finding excuses. They’re ready to turn the world upside down and claim the rain is going from earth to the sky , just to avoid admitting that they turned on that stupid water hose.
Then, finally, you accept the outcome. Yes, you started that business, nobody forced you to. Yes, you entered that relationship, nobody forced you to. And it was a mistake. And you did it. And that caused a lot of a mess. And you still live in that mess, minute by minute.
That’s the most difficult stage of all. No wonder 90% of the people are stopping at the excuses layer. It’s so difficult to accept a failure. Because acceptance doesn’t only mean a verbal “yes”. It means a lot more. It means taking responsibility for what you’ve done. Accepting you did something that hurt somebody (most of the time, it’s you who is hurt, that’s true).
Acceptance makes things manageable again. When you were in denial, there wasn’t any handle to reality. Denial is a form of rejecting reality. And in the excuses layer, you were giving away your power to somebody else: you did it, not me, please solve it, so I can feel better. But now, if you made it to the acceptance stage, there’s hope.
6. Learning The Lesson
Which means taking some sort of real action. Acceptance in itself will only make you feel better on the inside, but will not change your external surroundings. If you did a major mistake and you accept it, that by itself won’t change the consequences of that mistake. You’re still on the same mess you created. Until you take action and get out.
And that’s the beauty of a lesson. You learn by doing. You see what you did wrong, when and how, and start to fix it. It’s like a DIY session, only it’s for the entire Universe. You broke something in your reality but now you know exactly how you did it. It’s like you have a map on how to re-assemble the pieces, so you pick your tools and start fixing that stuff.
The last stage is the stage in which you’re actually growing. It doesn’t really matter if you’re broke or alone, because now you’re doing stuff. You’re taking action. You’re exercising your powers again. The first and the last stage of a failure have something very subtle in common: enthusiasm. Only this time you’re not sleepwalking on the roof of your house, you’re fixing the roofÂ of your house.
Failure And Personal Development
Now, one may ask the following question (if nobody will do it, I’ll do it for you, I know you’re all thinking at it): if we know the anatomy of a failure so well, why aren’t we avoiding them altogether? Why do we keep making mistakes?
The short answer: because we can’t. The long answer: because this is how we learn. By experimenting, evaluating, accepting and taking action again. That’s the whole personal development process. As you can see, at the core of it it’s no secret of success, but rather the secret of failure. We grow up by identifying each stage of our failures and moving on.
One could argue that if we really know the anatomy of a failure, we could avoid it next time. Partially, this is true. But only partially. We may know a certain type of failure, but that wouldn’t prevent us from bumping into it again. On the contrary: have you noticed that we tend to make the same mistakes again and again?
Because it’s not about knowing the mistake and avoiding it. It’s about putting up with it. It’s about getting square. Learning the lesson. Once you learned the lesson, you won’t be attracted to that failure again. The glue to the failure is the fact that you didn’t consumed it entirely. There is still a very deep need for that specific lesson. You still need a cup of it to quench your thirst.
Once you’re not thirsty again, you’ll finally be free to try another lesson.