Failure Fireside Potluck

Photo via Kevin Adler from a Fireside Potluck

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Fireside Potluck, hosted by my StartingBloc friend and founder of inthis, Kevin Adler. The topic was one familiar to this blog–failure. (You may remember that Kevin participated in SocialStory’s Celebrating Failure series.)

With nearly 40 strangers cramped into a lovely San Francisco living room, we had a two-hour, open, honest, and insightful discussion on what failure means personally, professionally, and in society. Here are some highlights from our discussion:

Failure is:

  • Not doing what you should have done and losing a bit of yourself in the process
  • Taking too long to learn how to fail
  • Not taking a risk or opportunity you thought you would fail at

“A lot of us are afraid of success–of biting off more than we can chew and not being able to attain our goal. Maybe it’s not that we are afraid of failure, but we’re afraid of success.”

  • Failing to think of a failure because you live in a comfort zone
  • Defined by what success means to you, because without failure you wouldn’t know what success is
  • Not moving on after a failure
  • Failing to deal with failure

Someone asked for raised hands from people who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and feel like they have to change the world–that if they don’t fix a problem, then they’ve failed. A lot of hands in the room shot up.

Reactions to failure: 

  • Failure can dampen your ambitions
  • Some people take failure very personally and as a reflection of their self-worth
  • Failure is more accepted in the Bay Area, where entrepreneurial failures are common, and even encouraged

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K. Rowling

  • If you view failure in a self-focused way–oriented towards your goal and as a statement about you–then that’s when failure becomes painful

Learning from failure:

  • Learning how to fail and push yourself further is important, as is learning how to fail at the beginning of your life and career

Some in the room believe we should learn to fail and fail fast–a common concept in the start-up world; others wish that people would stop failing so fast and stop celebrating it so much, and instead commit more thought to something.

  • Learn that you are not your work
  • It’s okay to take failure personally, as many do, but also learn that you need to let go
  • Fail on a regular basis in small ways to become more comfortable with failure

The bottom line at the end of the conversation was that failure is all about how you define it, and it will mean something different to everyone. We also noted the position of privilege we had to have this type of discussion in the first place.

While failure was the topic of conversation for the evening, everyone agreed that the discussion was a success!


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