#Fail, #Fail & #Fail Again

The other day I tweeted, “I work with smart, passionate people.”  That tweet was inspired by a call with my senior team in which I barely needed to speak: they were all well aware of the challenges we face, and their proposed solutions were thoughtful and creative.

But the smarts & passion in the organization are not limited to the top dogs.  Witness this email, posted with permission of the author, who is one of our account managers in San Francisco.  Her team had been running hard for a few weeks and this was her late-night pep talk… It inspired me, maybe even more than it inspired her team…

IStock_000012736008XSmallTeam, I admit it: I’m a hot mess of fail, proudly sporting a scarlet “F” every day of the week (it ain’t just weekend attire, gang). I fail on a weekly basis, and work at an agency that has birthed some of the most impressive fails I’ve ever seen. Bear with me – this is a good thing. These failures are a point of pride.

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried.” It’s cliché as all heck, and it isn’t true. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived (equally cliché, but it has more of an edge). You haven’t crashed and burned mid-pitch while chatting with a reporter, put in a forgettable performance during a new business meeting, had an idea shot down by a client or royally mismanaged a team situation.

There’s truly nothing better than the sting of a belly flop. You learn faster, think smarter, become more critical of your own work and trust your gut more. The sting stays with you like a bad lower back tattoo – it’s always there, a reminder of past missteps.

I was recently chatting with another PR gal and she asked me about the one client campaign I’m most proud of. Rather than rattle off every shiny client case study I could think of, I told her about the time I worked on a project for a big-name client that had truly lackluster results (a few of you bore witness to said failure). It wasn’t an epic, tsunami-inducing flop, but one that struck a nerve and has since shaped the way I approach work day-in, day-out. I learned more from that one fail than I did in four years of college (and I actually went to class).

Considering I’ve got a lot more to learn, I figure I can stand to fail a few more times, dust my knees off and try again – and from what I’ve seen none of you have reached your full fail potential. We’ve all got big footsteps to follow in:

Abraham Lincoln’s “Failure” List
•         Lost job in 1832
•         Defeated for state legislature in 1832
•         Failed in business in 1833
•         Elected to state legislature in 1834
•         Sweetheart died in 1835
•         Had nervous breakdown in 1836
•         Defeated for Speaker in 1838
•         Defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843
•         Elected to Congress in 1846
•         Lost renomination in 1848
•         Rejected for land officer in 1849
•         Defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854
•         Defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856
•         Again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858
•         Elected President in 1860

Any proud fails you’d like to confess to?

Posted on: February 27, 2011 at 9:11 am By Todd Defren
14 Responses to “#Fail, #Fail & #Fail Again”


  • Kimberly ciesla says:

    Biggest #fail moment was getting an award binder back after we lost by ONE point (99/100) – missing half the organizational stuff we put in the front explaining how our chapter runs. The second half of our four-page summary was gone, the SWOT, the organization chart – everything was missing up to our March meeting agenda and minutes. But because I didn’t make a copy, or even take pictures of the final product, we had no way to prove the info was missing after we sent it in completed. Talk about frustrating. Especially since I spent my only two weeks of summer working on it prior to my full-time internship. I will never EVER send anything in without copying, taking photos, etc. #lessonlearned

    Kim Ciesla

  • Very witty and intuitive blog. I digg it.
    It is an important point to make that #failing is sometimes more rewarding in the long-run than #winning. The more times you fail in the beginning, the less likely you are to fail at that task in the future, which I think is why experience is so important in the workplace, and often overlooked by companies. Some of my FAILS: Getting that tattoo over spring break, getting a credit card before paying off student loans, getting the job as a waitress at that dumb hotel, losing my job as a waitress at that dumb hotel, totaling my car, not attaining the President position at my last job… and the list continues. But like you and I both noted, I will not be making these mistakes again anytime soon, and have gained invaluable knowledge as a result.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Very good post. Inspiring and motivational. Abraham Lincoln is a best example. No matter how many times failure comes in his way, he never gave up. Thanks for this good post! :)

  • Leah says:

    This makes a really good point. We have all had several failures before we have “won” anything! I can think of many failures that I have been apart of, and at the time I probably felt like it was the end of the world. But, I am where I am now because of those failures! And, I am sure that there will be many more failures and wins in the future for all of us!

  • Becky Haddican says:

    This is an awesome post. As a journalism student, it can be discouraging when you get back an assignment with a less than an ideal grade. It’s hard to stop to think about how the failures and mistakes are just a part of the whole process.

  • Julia Neff says:

    “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” Awesome post, it is always refreshing to remember that our failures can be good things!

  • We have been swamped with so may success stories and lessons learned from great campaigns (so many are so quick to use the #FAIL mark today) that it’s refreshing to hear you speak of the flops and fails. These truly teach us something. How does this sync up with our schizophrenic business mindset that also teaches us things such as ‘there’s no second shot at first impressions’ and ‘failure is not an option’?

  • Kelli says:

    “The sting stays with you like a bad lower back tattoo – it’s always there, a reminder of past missteps.”
    That is hilarious and oh so true!

  • Thanks, guys. Very inspiring, humbling, and enlightened.

  • Tanner says:

    Our instincts are to avoid any pain or suffering, it’s entirely natural. Going against instincts isn’t easy, but – as you’ve outlined here – taking a risk and failing isn’t really all that bad. That’s what this is all really about, I believe: risk.

    Rather than saying “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived” what we should be saying is: “If you haven’t risked, you haven’t lived.”

  • Shelly Perko says:

    That is a great email! Personally and professionally, failure is uncomfortable but often times, so necessary and worth it!

    One of my favorite discussions on failure is JK Rowling’s Commencement Address to the Harvard Class of 2009. It’s on the TED website now and every so often, I’ll play it while I eat lunch at my desk or need a little boost.

    Great post, great blog.

    • Failures…hmm…let’s see: getting laid off in April 2009 in the middle of a catatonic economy; futilely pursuing how many beautiful women?; rejection letters from literary magazines and presses or no answer at all; writing contests; managing my finances unwisely; forgetting to be a good friend; not speaking the truth; helping to pick a terrible actor for a tv commercial; on and on and on.

      But even as I go back and read that list, and yes, dust off my knees, I realize that I wouldn’t trade any of those mistakes. The bigger the mistake, the more wisdom I gain from the experience.

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