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Gini Dietrich

Failing In Order to Learn

By: Gini Dietrich | May 24, 2011 | 
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Yesterday I had a very frank conversation with a close friend. He was describing a situation where he felt like he had failed.

You see, he tried this whole entrepreneur thing and he recently had to get a full-time job. He had to go back working for the man; being an employee. And, in his mind, he failed.

We talked about how hard entrepreneurship is: Not having a steady paycheck, never having a day off, lying in bed wondering how you’re going to be able to make the mortgage.

I know the grass is always greener, but some days working for the man doesn’t sound so bad!

Failing In Order to Learn

We’ve talked a lot on Spin Sucks about failure and how you don’t learn if you don’t make mistakes. And some of you may have already heard this story, but bear with me…there is a point.

In October 2008, the bank called and said that they not only were no longer going to do business with professional services firms, but that they were shutting down our line of credit.

Our payroll, at the time, was $110,000 per pay period. And clients never paid within 30 days so we used the line to carry through the first payroll of the month, paying it back when invoices were paid.

But, suddenly, I was sitting with trying to figure out how to make that 15th payroll without a cushion.

Then the economy really tanked and we lost some clients and we had to let people go. I had no choice.

That. Sucked.

I found myself sitting at home after work, wallowing in self-pity, and wondering if this world wouldn’t be better off without me. I thought about how my former colleagues must feel about me. I thought about how we hit the pinnacle of success and then bombed it in a serious way.

There were so many things I could have/should have done differently. I never should have relied so heavily on our line of credit. I should have required all employees were fully utilized. I should have hired for skill and not for personality.

I was beating myself up daily and I was spiraling into a deep depression.

And then I found this quote by Confucius:

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.

I promptly wrote that down and taped it to my wall, where I have to see it every day. It knocked some sense into me and I began to think about how I would pick myself up and, essentially, start over.

The Lesson

When I asked my friend what he learned in the past couple of years, working for himself, he listed about 15 different things. When I asked him how he could apply those lessons to his new job, to his family, and to his friends, he readily had answers that were well thought-out and clear.

So, you see, it’s not in that you never fall, but in how you pick yourself up after you do.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

119 comments
BarbaraMcKinney
BarbaraMcKinney

Mistakes and Failures are our greatest teacher in life. All of us will encounter failure/s in our life.  What matters most is how we get up and learn from those failures. Thanks Gini.

DianaBaur
DianaBaur

Hi, Gini. I know. It's true. You have captured, in essence, why people often don't even try to make it on their own. The fear of effing it up in the first place.

it's hard to sometimes face the things that haven't worked and gulp the responsibility Kool-Aid. I often joke that buying the farm on the hill and the events that followed led me to one day run down my very long, very dusty driveway, arms flailing, hair flying, eyes wide, mouth gaped screaming "I JUST WANT TO WORK AT THE MALL!" And I did. I just wanted to have someone tell me when to show up, and snivel about not getting my fifteen minute break.

Mistakes? Yeah. Like trusting people that, had I really listened to what was going on in my head, I would have blown off with something like, "In your wildest dreams would I ever sign a document that includes your name anywhere in it, because you suck." But insecurity and trying new things sometimes render us deaf to the sound of our own common sense. Or like thinking that if I wasn't doing something (anything) relating to this project that I was going to end up under a bridge with a shopping cart and a doggie bag from the dumpster (neurotic but true). I worked myself to the point where panic and anxiety threatened to shut everything down.

I learned from the bad judgement, the misspent money, the exhaustion. I knew one thing: whatever we were doing, we were getting the guest experience right. And we used that as our guide. I don't suffer fools and bad construction dudes lightly. I know that if I am tired and edgy, it will spill over to my guests. I get my sleep, even if breakfast is ten minutes late. That's life. The guests would rather see me happy. And while there is nothing wrong with working at the mall, I'll take the hill in Italy for myself, thanks.

All of that learning has opened my eyes to the fact that the bed and breakfast and my pottery and my blog are just the beginning. The best is yet to come.

KimDavies
KimDavies

Hi, Gini.

I have always admired you from afar. Reading all your comments in such blogs like Nitty Griddy's and Danny Brown's, among others. I gathered from these comments, from the compliments they give you and from your site that you are one cool lady and I enjoy learning from you.

This is my favorite of your site's posts so far, because I've always believed that it does not matter how hard you fall, as long as you pick yourself right back up and made the best out of things. I have faced so many failures in my life including having to give up a career in journalism because of an illness, but I am proud to say that even if I may have gone in a different direction, I am still living out my passion and that is writing.

Thanks for this, Gini. I needed it. While it made me remember about what could have been, it also made me embrace what is yet to come.

Cheers!

Kim

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

Good stuff. Ya gotta get up and get going again. Although I don't think that "experience is the best teacher" cos it teaches you to repeat your mistakes.

I had to say something a bit serious because my real reason for commenting was to congtaulate you for emulating President Obama.

He too, used the words of Dorothy Fields..... in his inauguration speech.

A touch of class that.

Regards

Leon

Marcus_Sheridan
Marcus_Sheridan

Gini, I know I'm late to this but when attending a crappy class at blog world, it's great to at least catch awesomeness somewhere on the web-- which is exactly what this article was. I very much hope your friend will look back on this time with a smile.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

The key is getting back up, dusting yourself off and swinging away once again. That truly is one of the biggest secrets of success... well, it's not really a secret now is it..?

Just get back up and stay in the game. Always play to win. Those folks who don't quit always get the ring. Always.

A big fan and cheering you on Gini - you're a championship player!

JohnnyRusso
JohnnyRusso

Gini,I truly believe in what you say. We all make mistakes. If we learn nothing from them, then that is failing. If we learn and come back better, stronger, smarter, then we are one step closer to achieving our goals.

And your post can be translated to other aspects of our lives, like relationships, sports, etc.

Thanks for sharing your early struggles. Continue building that PR empire. You’re well on your way!

delwilliams
delwilliams

Awesome sauce Gini and wise. I tweeted yesterday we need to eliminate the word "fail" from the books, because some things that APPEAR that way are not.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Gini,

This post really spoke to me, and it’s actually one of those posts that I have had a hard time commenting on because I had too much to say. So, I’ll pick the one thing that really stood out: What is truly great about failure is HOW you learn the lessons it teaches. Take your comment:

“There were so many things I could have/should have done differently. I never should have relied so heavily on our line of credit. I should have required all employees were fully utilized. I should have hired for skill and not for personality.”

It is the inherent self-doubt created by failure that inspires nay, forces a level of introspection and analysis that one rarely attains at any other time. You can’t get it by going on a strategy retreat, and you can’t get it from a book. It is the pain of failure that makes the questions cut deep and that makes the answers resonate over time.

When times were good, you may have spoken with someone who said relying on credit was too risky or who told you that you should be more efficient with staff utilization. Maybe you didn’t, but the point is that the lessons were already there; it took failure to help you see them.

Now comes the hardest part, not forgetting them when the good times return. :)

AnnieAndreHacks
AnnieAndreHacks

oooh ooh me too. this happened to me too.

I can laugh now but A few years ago when i got laid off i thought i should feel like a failure but what i felt was relief.

My husband on the other hand has had a heck of a hard time finding a job. We lived in silicon valley and worked for high tech softward companies. It was so bad that we had to leave the bay area and stay in montreal with my family. He eventually gave up and decided to have a go at software QA consulting last March and ow does freelance work.

We have learned so much over the last few years about ourselves about forgotten passions about our families that we have decided to take our life into a new direction. We're just figuring things out but if it weren't for losing our jobs and almost hitting rock bottom we probably would have been bound by our golden handcuffs pretending to be happy with all of pretty stuff and house packed with expensive things... :)

bdorman264
bdorman264

No, that didn't suck; That. sucked. BIG. TIME.

My industry (commercial insurance) is a direct reflection of the economy. You have $50 mil in revenues; 150 employees; 75 vehicles; life is good for both of us. Fast forward to 2008, 2009, 2010, you have $2.3 mil in revenues; 19 employees; 5 vehicles; hey, who moved my cheese?

The good news is, your doors are at least still open.

Having to lay people off is one of the hardest things to do; especially when they are good employees. However, the buck stops with you; you have to make the tough decisions; you are the one tossing and turning at night with your stomach in knots wondering not only who has to go, but are we going to make payroll.

I think I know who you are talking about in the story and I admire him and I admire you tremendously for having enough of an entrepreneurial spirit to at least jump out there and take the chance. Yes, you are going to get beat up and it might not work, but at least you tried. At the end of the day you were able to still get up; maybe some very tough lessons along the way but you did learn.

I don't know if I qualify as 'the man' or working for 'the man'. I am an owner but they never give me the keys to the car, what's up with that?

Good post and hope you are having a good time in NY if that is where you are.

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

Been there, done that ! And what's worse is that it can happen again and again when you run your own business! I think partly you have to be crazy to do it, but crazy if you don't. I think the motto that keeps me going in the tough times is: "while I have breath I have hope."

janbeery
janbeery

I've had to make some pretty serious decisions in my life both personal and professional. I am confident I'll continue to have to make more as we just did a relaunch of @kbkcomm

It's never easy, there's no clear cut map. You gather knowledge and experience from you support systems and the pieces fall in the best places for you and your situation. No right or wrong answer, just the absolute determination to continue moving forward.

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

I've been in both of your shoes. Technically, this is my third freelance career. Nothing is forever. Thanks for the wisdom.

WeissDesigns
WeissDesigns

Wow! I love it and so very true. Keep picking yourself up. That's all that matters in the end.

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Gini, this post so resonates with my month! You have no idea. I alluded to this last week when you so graciously featured me in your #FF. At that very point, I was standing at the cross roads of entrepreneurship and wondering if I should continue on and fight the good fight or say, "you know what, I may have to take another path and have an entrepreneurial spirit while working for someone else." NOT. KIDDING. Not to hijack your post, I just want to say, that I too have found ENORMOUS wisdom in the process of failing and am quite happy to say that I'm ok with whatever path I take because I'll still be doing an awesome job at what I do.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I have this conversation with friends and have blogged about it many times. I hate failing. I hate, hate, hate, hate it. But i have failed and will do so again.

As a father one of the most important things I have done is tried to teach my children how to fail. When we play games I don't just let them win. Sometimes I make a point of winning because they have to learn coping skills. They have to learn what to do when things go wrong.

I am cautious not to crush their spirit or kill their self esteem, but it is so important. On Thursday we have open house and my 4th grader has a science project that will be displayed. He has done the majority of the work himself and has received some help from us.

I guarantee that we will see projects at the science fair that look better and more professional. In virtually every case it will be because parents did the work. I won't have it. I will always help my children, but I don't do the work because they have to learn how to do it.

Circling back to the business world I'll share again that I hate failure but it is important. And within the blogosphere we have tremendous opportunity that not everyone recognizes because there are resources here that we can draw upon.

There are people here who will help, but that is really sort of a different post.

Anyway, I better wrap this up because I could go on for a thousand more words.

KDillabough
KDillabough

@Mark_Harai Stay in the game: play to win: never quit. Words to live by, my friend. Cheers! Kaarina

PJWright
PJWright

@delwilliams I'm going to disagree here. I think part of where we have gone wrong is in eliminating the "bad" words and using words that make us feel better. Kids no longer fail in school because that makes them feel bad. We don't measure ourselves against success, we measure ourselves against the mediocre because they don't fail. The word Fail isn't bad, it's what we do after we fail that may be bad. If we don't pull ourselves up and try again, that's bad. Let's celebrate failure as a means to improve and succeed.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Adam | Customer Experience You're absolutely right, Adam. We can be given all the advice in the world, but don't tend to listen unless we have perspective to help us make our decisions. And that's also why innovation comes out of crisis. We're forced to change.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@AnnieAndreHacks I. Love. This. There is a blog post in this, if you ever want to share. We'd be happy to house it.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@bdorman264 Bill, I can get you those car keys. Just tell me where you want them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bdorman264 I am in NY! I've already seen a few Spin Sucks commenters. I hope to see tomorrow when @dannybrown and I speak. And there was a time I didn't think I'd get up and keep going. But you're right. I did.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janbeery I love that you already have a new Twitter handle! I know today is a hard one for you personally. Thinking about you! xoxo

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@wagnerwrites It's like running a marathon. You finish one, take notes on what you can do better, and do it again.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EricaAllison When I started the business, I used to think, "When is the other shoe going to drop?" And then it didn't. So then I started to think, "When the other shoe drops, I'll just go work at a big agency." And then the other shoe dropped. And I didn't go get a job. I picked myself up (it took a few months), dusted myself off, and set about starting again. I say this not to say you have to stay on the entrepreneurship path, but to figure out what makes most sense for YOU. Then do it. It's not easy. You're going to cry. A lot. And, when you do, you're going to call me and I'm going to talk you off the ledge.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

@TheJackB Ugh, this makes me think about little league baseball. In our little league, they dont keep score until they are 8...and then only in the "playoffs". No 3 outs, you bat your whole order until you are 8! What does that teach kids about winning and losing or the rules of the game?

In our house, Mom & Dad never take it easy on the kids! Our lesson to the is life is not fair, there are winners & losers and Mom & Dad cant change things in life for you.

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

@TheJackB Jack, I do the same thing when playing games with my oldest. He HATES to lose. I despise the thought of him never knowing how to cope with losing *more* than I dislike his sadness when he loses; therefore, I make sure we play fairly and if I win, I win. Well done.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB I don't have kids, but I agree with you in that you can't do things for kids...including letting them win. The parents who do things for their kids, like their science projects, are the same ones who call the boss (me) and ask for a raise for their kid or negotiate their starting package. That's the fastest way to not get the job...and it happens all the time.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

@ginidietrich @EricaAllison If you need me, I am hear Erica! Sorry to hear you are having a rough ride!! Gini has some great words of wisdom to offer here, and I am sure plenty of us in this great community we are part of here, could help!

janbeery
janbeery

@ginidietrich @EricaAllison I'll be there with Gini, Erica. You've got what ever support you need. Decisions like this are never easy. Don't be bashful about tapping into your support system.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@sydcon_mktg I have coached soccer and baseball. When the kids are relatively young I don't like keeping score because I want them to learn to love the game. But you are right, it is important to cut that off and start teaching them that the world doesn't give such gifts.

It is hard sometimes to find that balance.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@EricaAllison My son used to have a much bigger issue with losing than he does now. I remember the tears and how it hurt to see him so upset. Eventually I managed to convince him that it was worth learning how to beat me. I think if we keep at it, they get better about it.

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

@EricaAllison @TheJackB Curious, what do you display when YOU lose? It is REALLY easy to point out to the defeated how to act. I've found it a bigger lesson learner for them to see me and how I react after they have beaten me (usually at video games). Sometimes I have to fight back being a sore loser...

TheJackB
TheJackB

@ginidietrich Those parents don't like me very much because my curmudgeonly nature makes me tell them to stop cheating.

PJWright
PJWright

@ginidietrich @TheJackB Really??? Mom or Dad negotiates the package???? And here I thought you were supposed to do that stuff yourself. Unbelievable.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@ginidietrich a few years back I had a father talk to me about his son's review. I told him that if he wanted to support his son he should keep talking.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@EricaAllison My son doesn't understand how proud I am when he wins. If he knew how badly I hate to lose he would appreciate it more. But that is ok, he knows I love him.@faybiz

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

@faybiz @TheJackB I usually do what Jack mentions and focus on the 'good game' part and having fun. I also think it's really stinking cool when he wins and I let him know that, too! :)

TheJackB
TheJackB

@faybiz I think you are right. My son has beaten me three times now in Connect Four. How said is it that I can tell you how many times it has happened. ;) Anyway, I have actually found that I get so excited for him that it makes losing easier. On the video game front it has be harder, I would be lying if I said that I didn't get irritated sometimes when I lose.

But most of the time if I smile and say good game it works for both of us. I have definitely noticed a difference in his behavior over the last 3 years or so. He has matured and it has become much easier for all of us.

@EricaAllison

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@FocusedWords Oh it's true. I once had a parent call and tell me he didn't think the raise his son got was fair. Kind of like@TheJackB story about the review.

Trackbacks

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