By Kristoffer Carter
How can we process a perceived failure, integrate its lessons, and then move the hell on as gracefully as possible?
“There is no failure here, sweetheart. Just when you quit.”
– U2, Miracle Drug
Last year, on a Sunday, I made a painful, but necessary decision. I bowed out of running a program I had launched, advertised, and ran a couple webinars for. I notified the participants that night. My decision affected a lot of people’s schedules, finances, and expectations. My own included. That was the only aspect that made the decision easy: taking my girls camping and knocking out a regional training tour should be more than enough for October.
One would think.
In my heart, it was the right decision. That didn’t make it easier for my ego to process the wounds. There was passing embarrassment, fear, disappointment, and all sorts of strange residual attachments to sever: The revenue I was going to use to up-level the experience, (and our kitchen). The opportunity to work closely with people on creating their impact. The strange obsession I created around sticking to a timeline I put in place months ago, even though my schedule is tighter than ever with new opportunities.
Gratefully, my closest allies were giving me counsel. I just couldn’t tell if their POV’s were reflections of my own resistance, or Absolute Truth. Even they were divided on whether to proceed or pull the plug. Was my static creating theirs? I wavered on whether to launch it for months, but always kinda knew I would. What the hell was that about? Why couldn’t I have made a firm decision, I don’t know, maybe the day before I invested in the Facebook ads and ramped up the full-scale launch?
That’s probably what my ego was most bruised by: the idea of wasting anyone’s time or energy. My heart knows I worked hard to add a ton of free value along the way. But there was something deeper and a bit more sinister in play.
The way in which I was launching, and had launched it previously wasn’t from a place of Right Action. It felt like more of a hustle. Inspired content and intention for sure, but also a bit jittery and manic. My wife always notices this well before I do.
A mentor reminded me last Summer: “…you can’t read the label from inside the jar.”
There was something about the whole project that felt like less-than-sober thinking. I couldn’t put my finger on it until the morning after. I don’t label canceling the program as the failure. The launch worked beautifully, but why did it happen at all? My own failure was in proceeding as far as I did without recognizing my deeper motives. They were mostly in the spirit of serving others, but there was a lot of weird ego bullshit too. My need to show that I know what I’m doing, that I can launch and summon revenue from the ether, that all my students will thrive… That my curriculum & experience design is other level. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Just because we are pure potentiality doesn’t give us license to blast people’s faces off with it. Meditation deepens the self-knowledge it takes to discern (true) signals from static. But what happens you realize you’ve been operating from delusive thinking? It feels like something (or someone) failed. Everyone seemed to accept my apologies, except for me.
My ego demanded to finish the dance we started. While in a cab Monday morning I ranted in an email:
“I have a short fuse today. I’m pissed off for no good reason and hurt in other ways. I just get used to doing whatever I feel driven to do. I know this is my ego working on me, telling me I’m failing to deliver. While somewhere the guru laughs and shakes his head.
I’m realizing that at times I get impatient with my heroes and mentors: People that live to inject soul in business. People who teach me how to do the same. My ego gets impatient because they are only ever willing to move at a pace where no one gets hurt or feels unloved. What a gift to be in vibrational proximity to THAT!!
Honestly realize now that my program wasn’t capable of moving at the calm and steady, where The Soul resides. It used the “sense of urgency” of my mission to warp it into something that served me, like an ATM or whatever. Applications and interest keep pouring in… What a f***ing clusterf*** F***!!!!!!!!!!”
I can tell that wasn’t me ranting. It was my ego attachment, the hustler.
It’s important to own that anger and pain. As soon as I did, I felt a breath of fresh air blow open new, better doors of opportunity.
I’m proud of how the communication was handled. I ended up giving away some of my favorite pieces of content from the course to everyone who applied. It was way harder to unplug the ego and admit I was blinded by delusion than it was to move forward and strain some of my closest relationships in the process.
No amount of money, or even massive waves of impact are worth it.
8 quick steps to quickly pivot out of fail-mode:
1. Let it go, Elsa. When receiving direct feedback that what you are doing is wrong, either from a close adviser or your gut, drop the turkey. Don’t wrassle with the turkey in the bushes like some crazy hillbilly. Completely let it go and give up the need to be “right”. Pivot to curiosity and try to completely hear the feedback as if it’s truth. The ego wants you to say “screw it” and assume everyone else is wrong. The Soul has a longterm perspective, and only thinks win-win.
2. Tell her about it, Billy Joel. Over communicate to everyone. Don’t go down alone. Tell your partner why you think you may be crazy and be open to confirmation. Get it out of your head. Let them know you’re awake, and listening. Apologize if feelings are hurt anywhere. One, authentic apology is better than leaving it on repeat.
3. Practice loving-kindness, and self-compassion. You’re gonna need it. I should’ve better prepared for the ego backlash. My awareness helped process it quickly though. I meditated an hour before catching my flight Monday and realized I had apparently worn my Bitchy Pants to travel in. And they were ILL-fitting, let me tell you! TSA in CLE airport can back me up here.
4. Vent or rant. Release the venom, ideally in private. If the perceived failure is eating you alive you gotta get it out. Repeat step #2. Share with your peeps what’s going on with you. Don’t be an emotional black box, cloaked in a conundrum at the far end of a labyrinth. People who love you will understand that you’re working through it. It’s the compounding feelings of failure that become debilitating. Your job is to trick yourself into feeling resilient, so you can hopefully become resilient. Sometimes that means weaving a tapestry of obscenity so perverse, and then crying your eyes out. Release the emotions. They aren’t YOU. The screw up isn’t YOU, but you gotta own it.
5. Ask yourself what you learned. Be genuinely curious. Ask other people too. Tell them your perceived failure and ask them what it means. It has an odd way of strengthening your relationships. They will teach you even more. We live in an age where too many of us merchandise only the triumphant wins, and never speak of our face-palming fails. Myself included. I only ever wanted to pitch the situation comedy of Pursuing Continuous Improvement, but it gets easy to guard your social posts like some BS corporate communication strategy. Drop the masks, I say.
This just in: I failed this quarter. This also just in: I learned a ton about myself, my business, and was reminded of how much love there is in my life in the process.
6. Apply the lesson(s) as quickly as possible. Since I didn’t feel my actions were 100% what our company’s conscious leadership coach calls “Above the Line“, I needed to turn it into an opportunity to give. I communicated with each participant who received the cancellation email, and shared whatever resources I could.
7. Focus your attention into the void the ego left behind. Project some light into that space. Consider the possibility that you’ve gotten what you really wanted. You just can’t see the whole Grand Scheme. This is where I reconciled knowing I was never going to launch it. There was some lesson to learn, or conversations that needed to happen that would create a better alternative.
8. Give, and receive more hugs. People want to love you up and make sure you’re OK. Don’t deprive them that opportunity. Answer the messages, reply to the comments, but most of all: Hug real live humans in your proximity.
Any good fails you feel like sharing? I’ll go first. Oh wait, I just did.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life: BS-Free Wisdom to Ignite Your Inner Badass and Live the Life You Deserve.