Not everything in life goes according to plan. That fact alone keeps life interesting. We all (or at least most of us) have had a goal we worked hard to achieve. It could've been a DIY project. It could've been landing a sale. It could've been a client deliverable. It could've been a fitness goal. We all have had times where we've worked hard to achieve some type of result - and failed.
At least for me, I liked to use those times of failure to take a look back at the whole process and do a brief post-mortum:
Where did things start to unravel?
What steps could've been taken to turn everything around?
Was there a way to prevent this from failing?
What mistakes did I make that disrupted the process?
I think this is where failing fast comes into play. We don't dwell on the failure itself. Instead, we quickly find answers to questions like the above, learn where things didn't work, and move on.
Sometimes, your failure isn't formulaic. You can't always take a look back and pinpoint exactly what you could've done to prevent things. 1 + 1 doesn't always equal 2. Sometimes, 1+1 = what the heck just happened?
We don't always have control of what happens
Learning from our mistakes is super important. I don't undervalue that at all. That said, I think believing that we always could've found a way to prevent a failure from happening is believing a lie that we have control over everything. We don't.
Sometimes crap just happens. You can't control it. It just happens.
I can think of two occasions (there are more...trust me) where this held true for me.
When I was still living in Chicago a few years back, I trained vigorously for the Chicago Marathon. I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon and had a goal time of 2:55. Realistically, I figured I could break 3 hours based on my training runs, conditioning and what my training partners and Fleet Feet racing team coach told me. My 20-24 mile runs earlier in the summer were around 7 minute pace with relative ease. I was in shape, I ate well and rested properly. Race day came and I started conservatively, hit my half marathon pace on the nose, and was diligent about taking my gels and water stops along the way.
Then I bonked. I felt my body shutting down around mile 16 and responded accordingly. At mile 22, my entire body cramped up - fortunately near a medic tent. I had to be carried off the course and pumped with Gatorade and massaged down. I asked the medics what went wrong - I had done everything to the letter that my coaches, training partners and marathon vet friends had told me to do. They responded "the temperature has shot up to 87 degrees with a high heat index - there's nothing you could've done." The temperature had gotten unseasonably high for a Chicago October and disrupted race plans and times for many. It had risen 25 degrees since the gun went off. I historically run terrible in the heat - so there was nothing I could really do. The only thing I could do was make the best of a horrible situation by finishing the day - no matter how long it took me.
More recently, I had a huge client project I was working to get off the ground. It was something we had never done as a firm and charted new territory for our client. As development was about to take off and push the whole project on the home stretch, it abruptly got called off and postponed for at least another year.
I went back in my mind and tried to find where I could've done things differently. I discussed it with colleagues. At the end of the day, we did everything we could've done to make things run smoothly. We didn't do anything wrong nor did our partner developer. The chips simply just didn't fall into place this go around.
Your circumstances don't define you
Bad luck hits all of us at some point or another. Things just don't fall into place or go the way we intended. Those circumstances - our failures - don't define us. How we respond to those failures and bounce back speaks just as much, if not more, than our successes. Resiliency and a lack of cynicism speak volumes.
In my situations, I signed a medical release saying I wouldn't sue the Chicago Marathon sponsors if I died and crawled my way to the finish line to complete the whole course, even if it wasn't under 3 hours. In my work situation, even though the project fell through today, we still have an open door to pursue something similar several months from now. Who knows? As fast as technology changes, it could create an opportunity for a much cooler and more effective project than originally planned.
Sometimes what we learn from failure is nothing more than a simple lesson on how to fail graciously.
Life's not about avoiding lemons at all cost. It's about making lemonade when necessary. And lemonade is darn tasty.
Forrest Gump has some wisdom on the subject...
...along with Conan O'Brien: