I think the entire world is in agreement when we say that 2016 was not a great year. I mean, I’ve had worse personally, but globally the entire year was just… a failure. A big, terrible failure.
Let’s preface a bit: In school, I excelled in everything. I never studied, I never failed. Good grades just came to me, and I never had to struggle to get ahead. Unfortunately, this meant I never had to learn how to learn.
This wasn’t necessarily a benefit in life. If I didn’t know how to do something, and it looked like it was going to take me more than half an hour to learn, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. Over and over again, passing up opportunities because I didn’t want to have to work in order to succeed. I was terrified of failure, and avoided it at all costs.
One of the biggest failures of my entire life, personal or professional, was having to take the Driver’s Exam seven times to get my license. I wasn’t a bad driver, but it always seemed like I did something wrong. Had trouble parallel parking, didn’t look at railroad crossings, cut somebody off because my instructor was more worried about his iPad than me not getting hit. You know, stupid little things.
I finally passed in October. Of 2016. I’m 22.
But, looking back, failing so many times was actually a benefit.
I failed so many times, and so often, that I had to practice. To study. To put my head down, grit my teeth, and try again and again to get to where I needed to be. Obey the speed limit, look at railroad tracks, parallel park all the cars over and over.
Failure terrified me. I dreaded each and every time I took the test. I wanted to give up at times. But I worked and practiced and honed my driving abilities, and when I finally passed, my exam was flawless. Not a single critique.
And all the practicing and law-abiding driving actually made me a safer driver; since getting my license, I’ve hydroplaned, skidded out on ice and snow, dealt with sick dogs puking in my car, had a lot of stresses while driving, but I’ve managed to keep a clear head each time and everything has turned out okay.
So… how does this apply to my work?
Not Every Project is Going to Work Out
This year, unfortunately, I struggled with work. One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was the idea that just because I had two or three projects this year that never went anywhere – projects that failed – it doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. Some stopped due to lack of communication (on both parties, though a lot of it’s on me), some failed because I had other priorities. And some failed because the client and I just didn’t have a working relationship that was trusting and comfortable – we simply didn’t mesh.
And that’s okay.
Failure because of lack of communication sucks. But it’s taught me that, perhaps, I need to be more open with my clients. Often, I didn’t respond because I didn’t have the time and was feeling overwhelmed. I’ve found that if you communicate that, most clients are more than happy to slow down and stop adding onto the pile. And if they’re not, they better pay fantastically, otherwise they aren’t worth your time.
The working relationship thing is a little bit stickier. Sometimes I just don’t like the client I’m working with, and it affects the project negatively. Maybe they’re too demanding, too annoying, have a weird, unexplicable business, or our personalities just don’t work. Whatever the reason, when this happens, I’ve learned I need to step back and think about everything that’s going on.
Do I want this project? Do I need it? Am I irritated with them because I’m irritated with life and they just happen to be in the crosshairs?
Stepping back and evaluating the entire project, and client relationship, helps put everything into perspective. Maybe I can approach the problem from a different angle. Maybe we need to eliminate the back and forth and just find a time to meet and sort everything out. And maybe, the project just isn’t a good fit.
I’ve found that, if it’s really not going to work, making a clean break and explaining that it’s not going to work may be better than ignoring the client into oblivion.
2016 was a failure in a lot of ways. But it’s taught me that failure is, in itself, not always a bad thing. If you can sit back, reflect, and learn from your failures and your mistakes, it can be an invaluable tool that helps you grow. Learning from your failures is one of the first steps towards a successful business – and a successful life.
What lessons have you taken away from your failures – both professional and personal – and how have you applied those lessons to your business?