Do you have what it takes to bounce back from failure?
Cass Phillipps, has witnessed more flameouts than an American Idol. The San Francisco entrepreneur started FailCon, the first conference ever to ask successful founders, investors, designers and developers, “What’s gone wrong and how did you fix it?”
It was Phillipps’s own failure that inspired her to start the conference in 2009. When a startup she launched was flailing and she needed advice, she was frustrated by the smiley-faced "if you don’t have something self-promotional to say, don’t say anything at all" startup conferences she was attending. She didn't need to know what to do in the face of success, but what action to take in the face of failure.
Since then at FailCon (which has now gone global), Phillipps has been witness to the confessionals of hundreds of self-professed failures, big fish (some of the biggest names in tech including PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Zynga’s Mark Pincus), small fries, the famous, the infamous and everyone in between. She’s heard these failure testifiers stand up in front of a crowd and share their tales of tragedy and woe, for personal catharsis and the spread of useful knowledge of what to do and what not to do.
So who gets over failure best? Phillipps, who should know, offers Five Fail Survivor Archetypes:
A lot of startup founders have an extreme level of self-assurance to the point of being cocky. And to bounce back from failure quickly you need that. People who are a little more callous to the people around them are the ones who assume that they're put on Earth to be amazing.
They can say, “Okay, I know I’ll fail. I’m not infallible. But I know I'm going to do great things. So whenever I have a failure I know it's just a temporary block and I'm going to get over it and it's going to be fine.” But there is a balance. You don't want to be a jerk to everyone around you because you’re putting yourself first all the time.
Some people are so cocky they can’t critique themselves. If you aren’t a self-critic, you may bounce back from failure, but you’ll never actually learn to look at what you did wrong. So you’ll keep failing, again and again.
There are people who have aced college and everything’s been so easy and then they hit real life and they say, “Oh, wait, this is impossible!” They fail and they don't bounce back. You always hear the stories--it's the C-students who've had these incredibly great ideas. They always knew that there was something for them and high school wasn't it so they just kind of plowed through school and plowed through the trenches of growing up and stayed self-assured despite that. And they’re coming into adulthood--and the startup world--armored and ready. Those are the people who bounce back the best.
People who are better at visualizing their long-term goals see the path of how to get there. So when they fail they still have the aspiration that they're going towards, instead of thinking, “I hit my one goal in life and I don't know what I'm going to do now.” Which, when do you fail, can leave you feeling very lost.
Someone who has a weekly yoga class, goes to a weekly evening dance class, knows that their children need to be picked up at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday or has a circle of friends outside of their business that they get dinner with every Saturday night has variety in their life. They have balance.
So if you’re fired from your job or have to shut down your company you can say, “Okay, I have to go to yoga tomorrow. Okay, I have to go to my dance class tonight. I just have to get out of bed and do it.” That's going to help you get back a lot faster because you’re going to have those other circles that you can turn to for support. Life is still moving forward. There are a lot of people that care about you. There are still things you have to do and so you'll get there. If work is your only thing then when you fail at your job there is nothing else to turn to.
[Image: Flickr user Elliott Brown]