Embrace the F-Word

failing mindfully
By Yvonne Milosevic

Ahhh, the F-word…you won’t get your mouth washed out with soap for using it, but society generally fears this one on a similar scale. We’re talking about the dirty little word Failure. And the dread is justified. If you think about it, history is full of some pretty demeaning punishments meted out to those who have faltered.

Watch Leticia Gasca’s Ted Talk on failing mindfully, and just try to shake the visual she paints of those failed merchants in ancient Greece, forced to sit in the marketplace with a basket over their heads. Or imagine those insolvent business owners in 17th century France. They had their financial misery aired in the public square and were compelled to wear a green bonnet so that all who saw them knew they were a loser.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days of gleeful public humiliation. Nonetheless, few people take pride in their failings. Better to keep those negative experiences on lock-down and far away from prying eyes.

Gasca is a co-founder of the movement Fuckup Nights and executive director for the Failure Institute—the world’s first think tank devoted to studying business failure and the reasons behind it. It took her seven years to open up and come to terms with her own business disaster. She wants you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

What happens when you admit to failure?

First, remember that the root of any business failure is a result of something you did or didn’t do. In other words, failure stems from your (in)actions—not who you are. And once you admit your failings to other people, you’ll immediately realize that everyone has stumbled on their journey.

As Gasca discovered through her Fuckup Nights, now a global movement in 80 countries, the act of revealing those painful, cringe-worthy details makes you stronger and builds empathy. It’s time to de-stigmatize and normalize failure. Once we make peace with our own defeats, we can begin to shift our mindset into learning mode. That’s when we figure out where we went wrong.

Failing mindfully

What does failing mindfully mean? Basically, it’s taking a step back, becoming aware and accepting of the impact, consequences and responsibilities of that failure. Sometimes the consequences are significant, such as in Gasca’s case. Her business failure affected the lives of the women in rural Mexico she had attempted to lift out of poverty through the sale of their beautiful handmade products. Your own failures, while perhaps not as striking as Gasca’s, may have equally profound repercussions on your self-esteem or motivation to continue.

But failure ultimately has the power to make us a better person if we let it. More empathetic. More creative. More resilient. And definitely wiser. Failure can illuminate your path forward and sharpen your focus on what you truly want to accomplish.

How to bounce back

First, take some time to lick your wounds and nurse those hurts for a spell. If needed, open a bottle of wine and call a friend with a sturdy shoulder to cry on. Then, do a complete autopsy to determine where you went wrong. An unflinching assessment of your mistakes, while ugly, allows you to take away important lessons. Failure can always teach you something valuable if you let it.  Don’t let pride stunt your personal and professional growth.

As Ivy Baker once said, “The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” Embrace the F-word, and you’ll discover that failure is just one more stepping stone on your way to success.