Forget about success vs failure, focus on the data

A friend recently posted something on her Facebook about dealing with feelings of failure, and it spawned a bit of a soapbox moment for me.

I’m going to share what I said here as well, because I think this is super important stuff.

I think the whole “failure/success” thing is bullshit. I prefer to think in terms of experiments, which provide data for further experimentation. I mean, it’s not like you only get ONE shot, which will either succeed or fail, and then that’s it, game over.

So yeah, having an experiment not pan out the way you were hoping definitely sucks, but it doesn’t mean you “failed” – it just means there were probably variables you hadn’t accounted for. And now you know.

Having an “experimental mindset”

Any time you embark on a new venture, or even just start a new project, there’s going to be an element of uncertainty. One of the most common thoughts to run through your mind is usually, “will I succeed?”

There’s no way for you to know if the answer will be yes or no – and the fear of “failing” can often be enough to keep you from even getting started.

After all, if you never start, you can’t ever fail. Right?

But if you approach your new project as an experiment, it changes the game.

Instead of saying, “I’m going to try X (and hope I succeed/don’t fail),” you say, “I think that if I do X, Y will happen.”

Formulate your theory, identify the important variables, determine how you’ll measure the results. Treat it like an experiment.

Remember, you aren’t in it to succeed, you’re simply trying something out, and seeing what happens. And then you can take the data you gain from that project, and apply it to the next one… and the next, and the next, and the next!

Answers come through doing, not through thinking about it.

Years ago, when I was first looking at starting a coaching business, I spent forever worrying over who I would serve, what I would help them with, how I would position myself in the market, what I would call myself… and on and on and on.

I thought about it day and night, and all the while I was avoiding actually working with anyone. I wanted to get the “right answers” before announcing my new Thing.

The thing is, there’s no way to know what will work best – or at all – simply by thinking about it. In order to move forward, you have to take action.

At one point, I thought I had the answers – right up until I actually started working with people, and realized that many of my theories didn’t hold up to the experience.

  • The people I thought I wanted to work with turned out to be a bad fit.
  • The way I thought I wanted to work turned out to be exhausting and unrewarding.
  • The way I thought I should position myself in the market turned out to be too constraining for my Multi-Passionate personality.
  • The way I thought I would talk about myself ended up feeling fake and far too “markety” for my Introverted self.

But I couldn’t possibly have known that until I started playing with it; working with people, talking to people, sharing my Thing and seeing how people reacted – and how I felt in the process.

That doesn’t mean the previous way of doing it was a “failure” – the way I did it before gained me valuable data that allowed me to redesign my business in a way that is much better suited to me, and my clients!

And as I play with this new way of working with people, I’ll continue gathering data, so that I can continue to make tweaks and improve my results.

As long as I’m experimenting, I can never fail

Success and failure are all about coming to an end. Experimentation is an ongoing thing.

When you reach the end of a thing, you can choose to call it a success or a failure. Or you can choose to see it as one part of a continuous story, and the end as nothing more – or less – than a transition to the next thing.

The power of this is that you never fail – you simply become smarter and more capable of tackling the next part of the story.

I could say more, but I’m curious to know what you think.

How do you feel about success vs failure?

Do you apply an experimental mindset to your endeavors? If not, how do you think doing so would change your approach?


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  1. Steph on April 1, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    The conclusion I’ve recently come to, which you mentioned in your FB post, is that the success/failure mindset creates this illusion that each endeavor is “all or nothing”. It gives us a narrow perspective that basically puts our self-worth on the line with each and every new project or goal. No wonder we fear taking action!

    I’m finding that when I place each situation into a bigger context–it’s just one step along a bigger path–I can find value in every outcome. Thus, no failure is possible, and I can stay connected to my wholeness no matter what happens.

    • Heidi Hauck on April 1, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Yes! This is it exactly Steph 🙂