Embracing Failure

If you are a small business owner, you've undoubtedly experienced failure at some point on your journey.  Heck, if you are human, you have likely experienced that feeling of being sucker punched after not performing to expectations (self-imposed or otherwise), or not achieving your goals as planned. Then if you are like me, you label yourself a failure, or deem that you have failed.

Ugh...I really don't like that word.  


It's negative. It's ugly. And in most cases doesn't tell the whole story. 

Even so, I use it all the time....especially when referring to myself.  "I failed to do this".  "It was a great idea, but an utter failure".  "If only I would have done this...it wouldn't have failed" Yup, I'm my worst critic as most of us are. 

In the past, if I was ever self-loathing over my failures, I'd turn to Abe Lincoln for guidance.  I'm not a history scholar so I don't know if his list of failures is longer and more significant than any other great achiever/leader (I suspect not). But, I love Honest Abe for everything he's given our country and, of course, for his love of cats.  Since his list is everywhere (thanks Google), he's my go to inspiration.

But recently, while out walking Clooney, it dawned on me....Abe has nothing on a dog.  Or at least my dog.

Clooney, bless his little soul, believes in his heart of hearts that he WILL someday catch and conquer that squirrel that has been taunting him for 5.5 years now. Somehow, this critter shows up on each and every walk, no matter where we are. Clooney's confidence in his abilities to eradicate the nuisance (his words not mine) is incredible.  

In business school and in my previous career, I was taught that motivation requires periodic successes and rewards. Lincoln had some successes to keep him going, and even my cats succeed in squashing bugs every once in awhile. Not Clooney.  Sadly for him, there's always an obstacle in his way.  A leash. A tree. A bush. A hole in a log. 

So, why does Clooney keep at it, failure after failure?  I'm sure my animal behaviorist friends have an elaborate biological and scientific explanation, which includes instinctual prey drive. But seriously. Why doesn't Clooney get discouraged or disappointed?  He has never ONCE succeeded in his squirrel eradication pursuits.

Yet, he doesn't despair. He simply moves on. He doesn't wallow. He just trots off until the next squirrel, chipmunk, or (holy cow!) a bunny crosses his path.  In fact, rather than experiencing regret from each unsuccessful encounter, he seems more and more proud of his accomplishment (or lack thereof) after each instance.

Maybe he doesn't care about the end result and just loves the journey and the chase? Or maybe he truly believes he will succeed at some point, and that's his motivation.  Or he doesn't get distracted by the human concept of "failure"? 

I don't know.  Whatever the case, I love his perspective and attitude.  It's simplistic and positive. He happily keeps at it, believing someday he will succeed.

Heck, he's even endured public humiliation from his failed pursuits when he ran head first into a tree.  No joke. He saw a squirrel and while his body kept moving forward, to keep up with me, his head twisted with laser focus on that tail twitching varmint. Then BAM. A tree. Thank goodness he has poofy hair.

Did he care?  Nope. He simply shook it off, and looked at me with huge pupils, as if saying "Did you see that?  It was a SQUIRREL.  Next time, I'll GET it.  I KNOW I will."  He could care less that others witnessed and ridiculed his failure. Oh and we ridiculed him. We laughed and we laughed hard.  

Ah my boy. Dare I tell him, it's a losing battle?

Nah. Why crush his little spirit?

Instead, if I'm ever self-loathing about lack of progress on any life or business goal, I take Clooney for a walk and hope to see a squirrel (while holding onto his leash for dear life). He reminds me that wallowing in my failures is simply unproductive and not fun.  Enjoying the journey, and believing that good things will happen, is where it's at.  

The fact is...good things do happen.  They may not manifest in the way we originally hoped, but if you look hard enough, you will see good in little things along the way.  

More importantly, if you've failed, you've tried. 

And, the simple act of trying is worth celebrating.

Oh, to all those squirrels, chipmunks and bunnies out there...thank you for helping Clooney believe in himself. Kudos to you for successfully showing him your tiny, little backsides on each and every encounter.