lessons in failure

I enjoyed Fred Wilson’s post this morning on failure (inspired by Obama’s speech to students a few days ago).  He wrote this, quoting from Obama:

you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time

He goes on to talk about how when he first started in the VC business, he was so afraid of failure that he worked overly hard to prevent any failures. But  failures were unavoidable in the VC business in 2001 – 2003, and during that time Fred and his firm had a lot of them.  He doesn’t hide from those failures and he doesn’t deny them, he embraces them.

I think embracing failure is one of the things that makes this country such a great place to do business in. In many parts of the world, if you fail once, you are done. People won’t touch you with a ten foot pole. But here in the US, it’s almost a badge of honor. And our President explains why.

We’ve of course heard this all before.  I think most people if you asked them would tell you that they embrace failure and its lessons, but I think what people say and what they feel are very different here.  We all have this fear.

With that said, I do feel so much differently about failure now than I did even a few years ago.  When I look back at my “careerography,” which was written right before I moved to NYC at the end of 2006, my strong fear of failure and my equally strong fear of other’s perceptions of my failures are very evident.  I guess for me the worst part of failing was not so much of what might go wrong, but more so of what others might think of me when things go wrong.  I do feel different now.  That’s not to say I’m not afraid to fail, I still feel that fear.  But I am no longer afraid to openly discuss my failures…in fact as Fred says, I wear them like badges of courage.

Everyone has failures.  What distinguishes us is how we deal with them.

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Wearing pants in the summer

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Image via Wikipedia

It gets really, really hot in NYC in the summer, particularly in July and August.  It’s the kind of hot where you’re sweating the moment you open the door, and all you want to do is stay inside in the A/C.  I really feel for those who have to head out everyday in this heat wearing a suit, and I really feel for those who have to wear a suit everyday AND ride the subway.  The subway stations are literally like an oven this time of year.  Ugh.  I’ve been fortunate to work generally in a “virtual” environment, and don’t really have to ever dress up except for a few meetings here and there.  But despite this freedom, I have continually worn jeans and a nice shirt when I head out during the week.  It’s one of my rules (I’ve written many times about my rules.), and I finally broke it this summer (without even noticing it until today).

We all have rules, some of them make a lot of sense, and some are just bizarre.  Forcing myself to wear jeans when it’s 90 and 80% humidity is a stupid rule (note: if you’re one of those people who just likes to dress up to feel good, then go for it).  Why did I do it?  Because I wanted to convince myself and others (who don’t really care) that I was indeed a working professional, not just some bum with a computer.  Why?  I don’t really know, but it was one of those things I didn’t even notice I was living by until someone pointed it out to me one day. It’s hard to notice the rules we hold ourselves too, but we all have them.  The key is figuring out which ones need to be broken.

Today as I was walking in the scorching NYC streets, I was thankful to be in my shorts.  I feel for those poor people that make themselves wear pants in the summer.

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