I enjoyed Fred Wilson’s post this morning on failure (inspired by Obama’s speech to students a few days ago). He wrote this, quoting from Obama:
you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time
He goes on to talk about how when he first started in the VC business, he was so afraid of failure that he worked overly hard to prevent any failures. But failures were unavoidable in the VC business in 2001 – 2003, and during that time Fred and his firm had a lot of them. He doesn’t hide from those failures and he doesn’t deny them, he embraces them.
I think embracing failure is one of the things that makes this country such a great place to do business in. In many parts of the world, if you fail once, you are done. People won’t touch you with a ten foot pole. But here in the US, it’s almost a badge of honor. And our President explains why.
We’ve of course heard this all before. I think most people if you asked them would tell you that they embrace failure and its lessons, but I think what people say and what they feel are very different here. We all have this fear.
With that said, I do feel so much differently about failure now than I did even a few years ago. When I look back at my “careerography,” which was written right before I moved to NYC at the end of 2006, my strong fear of failure and my equally strong fear of other’s perceptions of my failures are very evident. I guess for me the worst part of failing was not so much of what might go wrong, but more so of what others might think of me when things go wrong. I do feel different now. That’s not to say I’m not afraid to fail, I still feel that fear. But I am no longer afraid to openly discuss my failures…in fact as Fred says, I wear them like badges of courage.
Everyone has failures. What distinguishes us is how we deal with them.
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