On Failure

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you LOVE.
— Jim Carrey's 2014 MUM commencement speech

In Jim Carrey’s 2014 MUM speech he talked about his father, and how his dad was in the insurance industry for a long time, at a job he greatly disliked, but it paid the bills. He worked and worked at this stable, soul-sucking position, and ended up losing his job. Jim’s point in sharing this story was that his father could have spent that time doing something fulfilling. Meaningful. Or at least something he enjoyed, with the same result.

I think about this a lot. Or did, earlier in my career when I was paralyzed by the fear of failure. After some early failure of my own, and success as well, I started to recognize this concept, and  look at failure in a different way than I had all my life. To think of failure more as a means to an end, a way of trying something even without the certainty of success. I began to appreciate Edison’s 9,999 failures at lightbulb making before he hit it big. And from there I started to think about actively embracing failure. What if failure was awesome? A necessary component of growth? When I looked at it this way, it lost a lot of the negativity and fear that I’d associated with it my whole life. 

I remember my fear of failure in so much of my growing up. In art class, getting to a good place I liked and stopping, instead of really pushing through and getting to a great place. Because there is no “undo” button in painting, and what if I failed later after an early success? I remember trying to play so many musical instruments and, without early success, giving up within weeks. Flute went this way, violin, drums, it wasn’t until I showed a bit of aptitude with piano that I stuck with an instrument for more than eight weeks. If I didn’t succeed early and often, I gave up. Failure was not fun, felt bad, and no one gave me any positive feedback. This all reaffirmed for me that failure was bad. Something to be avoided at all costs.

The truth is, fear of failure is important. It has a critical, functional place in our lives. It keeps us safe. In the early days of humanity it stopped us from eating the poisonous berries in the forest and from jumping off cliffs. Our very survival required a fear of failure. Those instincts kept us alive and are the reason we stand here today. Fear of failure stamped out a lot of dangerous risk-taking. But in today’s world avoiding risks can often do more harm than good, keeping us limited and afraid. 

Unfortunately for us, our reptilian brain doesn’t much differentiate between fear of being hit by a car and fear of failure. They both get first billing in the brain, raise our blood pressure, make us bead up with sweat and encourage us to run in the opposite direction to stay safe. While I hasten to add that avoiding high speed traffic is important, taking risks with career, love and life can be so rewarding and enriching, it’s a shame so much fear surrounds them. What I’ve learned is that even when we fail, even when we don’t get to where we hoped we would, we learn so much. We build resilience and strength and skills to bring forward in life. 

One of the many things I love about Covo is that so many people are facing this fear head-on. This creates a collective sense of endeavor and courage, reducing the fear for others. It normalizes this type of risk and ushers the benefits that failure can bring out into the open, and the rewards become clear for all to see. You also have immediate access to a community of folks who you can pepper with questions, who can level-check your assumptions and test your product/idea/hypothesis. Entrepreneurship can be exciting but without supportive people around you the highs don’t get celebrated and the lows get amplified because you can’t unburden your brain to others. 

I do a lot of mentoring, particularly with entrepreneurial women and people of color, to help individuals think through their ideas and options. I share advice around life, love, balance, and career. These conversations I feel privileged to have, often with a glass of wine (or three) in hand, are some of my most treasured moments. I get way more credit than I deserve for helping to make significant life changes in the lives and businesses of mentees, members, and friends. Through sharing my own experience and ideas I help to either nullify the fear (rare), or help you gather courage to face the fear head-on (common) — the challenge, the uncomfortable conversation, the confrontation, the dread.

In modern society in 2018 I believe we need this more than ever, and it’s the best moment in history to get started. Between the ubiquitous and affordable nature of technology and the plethora of great coworking spaces developing in our communities it’s a great time to throw your entrepreneurial hat in the ring. Combine this with our connectivity to supportive communities all over the world and the global focus on startups and innovation, and we have a golden opportunity to make our impression on the world.

Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back - embrace it.