Embracing Failure

Mike Whalen

The Cambridge dictionary defines “augmentation” as the process of increasing the size, value or quality of something by adding to it. Think about the ingredients in your Sunday morning pancakes: flour, milk, baking soda – boring, right? But, when you augment what’s there, substituting honey for sugar, adding fresh berries and drenching each bite in maple syrup, you’ve transformed boring pancakes into a culinary masterpiece!

According to techcrunch.com, since the first of the year, technology firms have lost approximately 168,000 jobs. When I say “lost,” I mean employees were fired or laid off. These are the same people we called teammate, work-husband, or “part of the family.” While the cliché mafia maxim “it wasn’t personal, it was just business” may be accurate, it probably feels very personal to the 168,000 people who lost their means to pay the bills.

Being fired sucks. It’s the emotional equivalent of your girlfriend dumping you, right before prom, and right after she makes fun of your stupid haircut. It’s being forced to sit with another human while they tell you “You’re not good enough.” The event can leave you void of any happiness or joy. It also has the capacity to cast a shadow over the near-and-distant future of your life. How will I make ends meet? Has the last several years of employment been a waste? Have I failed at life?

Did you know that before becoming America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt declared in his journal that “the light had gone out of [his] life,” the evening both his mother (age 47) and his wife (age 22) passed away? Or that Henry Ford was considered a business failure before the Ford Motor Company? Or of Vincent van Gogh’s struggles with undiagnosed mental illness (and self-medication), long before the world would treasure his art?

Angela Duckworth has a word for their abilities to endure and carry on, even in the presence of failure. Grit. “It’s the personality trait that combines passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” As Winston Churchill said “Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.”

Your failures do not define who you are. They are a single ingredient in the recipe, that makes you you. Just like being fired isn’t the end to your life, or even your career. It might hurt now, but it’s merely a pothole enroute to better days. Grit demands that we augment our ingredients: the successes and failures; the good and the bad. Only after we mix, bake and let cool, do we really know what the outcome truly is.

So, how will you augment your failures into success? What new and exciting recipes can you cook up in the kitchen of life? In the end, if you don’t like Sunday morning pancakes, that’s OK, you can always get bagels instead.

Going Solo is a new advice column by Michael Whalen, MBA, for entrepreneurs or corporate employees working remotely out of their homes.

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