Failure, part 1

Don’t you remember on earth—there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it—if you will drink the cup to the bottom—you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds. – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

One of the reasons I am not currently an entrepreneur is that I have failed at business in the past, and I have not fully come to grips with that failure. I have succeeded, too, but failure stung me hard.

This isn’t all bad – one of the immediate lessons of failure is that there are consequences to our actions. In my last business failures, I took on more risk than I should have for my life circumstances. Lesson learned. I wish I could have learned that the easy way, but I didn’t.

I’m very good at absorbing abstract knowledge. I’ve been learning everything I can about business and startups over the last five years, and I even just started writing a Startup 101 column in Visual Studio Magazine to help other programmers learn about basic startup stuff.

But failure isn’t abstract – it’s very concrete. It’s messy. It’s emotional. I really hate failing, but you can’t succeed at something great if you aren’t willing to risk failure. And I suspect that it’s difficult to move forward – to truly learn from failure – unless you drink it down to get all the nourishment you can from it.

It’s time to do that work …

8 thoughts on “Failure, part 1

    1. Patrick Foley Post author

      Wow, that was fast! 🙂 It means that I’ve learned abstract knowledge will only take me so far. I have much more to learn … and the most important learning is learning by doing. But before I make that last jump you mention, I need to look back at what I’ve done in the past that hasn’t worked and really learn from that. It’s hard, because it hurts, but I’m doing the work of looking back.

      Reply
  1. JPedal Java PDF Blog (@JavaPDF)

    But what do you mean by failure? (Now that would be a fascinating post)

    If you learnt a lot, spent time with your family or shipped something it was a success. I think the problem with failure is that most people see not being the next google/facebook or making huge amount sof money as failure.

    Reply
    1. Patrick Foley Post author

      You make a good point – and this is a subject I think about a lot, so I will certainly write about it more.

      The failure I’m talking about is more personal than business (as I talked about in the next post). It was a failure to take responsibility for taking care of my family. It was prioritizing my own needs (doing what I want when I want and having fun at work) over the needs of my family (you know – keeping a roof over our head).

      At a higher level, that failure was not permanent – I was able to keep my family, my home, etc. – and I learned from it. I’m certainly a better person now than I was then. But I don’t want to take THAT degree of risk again in my life if I can help it.

      As for the business failures themselves, they don’t bother me too much. We shipped. We didn’t get the results we wanted. We moved on. I know SO MUCH more about business now than I did when I experienced those failures – but those business efforts were tangible and they gave me a kind of knowledge that I can’t get from a book.

      Reply
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