For a really successful guy, Foundry Group VC Brad Feld has seen a lot of failure, including two companies of his own going bust, as well as plenty of trouble at the startups he has invested in. But maybe that's not as shocking as it first appears.
It's a mantra among experts on entrepreneurship that a willingness to fail is key to success. But that doesn't make it pleasant... or easy to overcome psychologically. Even if you believe that failing is almost always a necessary precursor to winning, you still need tools and techniques to manage the inevitable disappointment of falling short of your goals. Thankfully, all Feld's failures have taught him a thing of two about handling your pain and disappointment.
Fail Fast and Get Over It Fast Too
In a recent post on his consistently interesting blog, Feld shares his constructive approach to handling failure, which he's developed over years of his own entrepreneurial ups and downs, as well as those of founders he works with. The basic principle, he writes, was well captured by Jeremy Bloom, the CEO of Integrate, a company Feld invested in. Before starting up Bloom happens to have been an Olympic-level skier.
Bloom competed at the 2006 Winter Games but despite being a favorite to win, he made a serious mistake and ended up placing sixth in his event. The way he handled this massive disappointment has served as a model for Feld.
"He gave himself 24 hours to be angry, depressed, upset, furious, frustrated, confused, and despondent," he writes of Bloom. "I imagine him in his room in the Olympic Village systematically destroying all the furniture. One minute after 24 hours, he was on to the next thing, with the failure solidly in his rear view mirror." This 24-hours-and-you're-done approach has also been endorsed by no less an entrepreneurial icon than Richard Branson.
Of course, not all of us have Olympic (or Branson) level determination, so for many mere mortals, 24-hours will be too short a time to digest a failure. But the principle still holds even if you allow yourself a bit more than a day to sulk. "24 hours is a short amount of time. I've often carried my failures around for longer, but never much longer than a couple of days. I separate how I feel from failure from how I feel about life and what I'm doing," Feld writes before also recommending talking openly about your feelings with your loved ones.
The Case for a Good Wallow
Feld isn't t the only fan of a good wallow out there. Giving yourself a short period of time to really experience your negative emotions following failure and to examine your fears and missteps has also been recommended by psychotherapists. Crying over spilled milk, it turns out, isn't useless after all but a natural part of the healing and learning process.
So next time you fail (if you have big ambitions, it's an inevitability), consider giving yourself a day or so to stomp around and sulk. You're not being a big baby. You're doing exactly what the experts recommend.
What's your best advice on how to bounce back after a serious setback?