Is failure bad?

Nikki Durkin, founder of 99dresses,  had a great post up today on the failure of her start-up. She describes the crazy journey in great detail and talks about her emotions following the failure.

“Most startups fail, and yet this industry doesn’t talk about failure nearly enough. I’d encourage anyone who has failed to write about how it felt, as I can’t tell you how much that would have helped me in those final months & weeks. I just wanted someone to relate to. Instead, I was left feeling isolated and ashamed.”

I was thinking about failure this morning as a few people had commented to one of my teammates on the Real Leaders Project that our “yeah, we quit” post felt negative. That is the exact opposite emotion I felt as I posted that. Somehow, the feeling was one of relief. We tried something, we screwed up, and we felt it was time to move on. Ours was only a weekend project in the grand scheme of things and yet, there was negativity associated with our failure to make it work.

In some ways, I can empathize with how Nikki must feel after 4 years of investment of sweat and tears. I can’t say I understand completely as I haven’t gone through the same experience myself – certainly not nearly at the intensity and magnitude of her experience. I have failed a fair bit though and can feel a part of her pain.

So, is failure good or bad? I think it is neither. At the risk of sounding overly philosophical, it just is. It is an event. It happens to most of us and to some a lot more than to others. Many pay the idea of celebrating failure lip service. They only celebrate failure if/when it leads to eventual success. That’s when you are lauded and celebrated for having persisted.

Me? I take a different view. I think an event can only be termed as a failure if you didn’t grow through the experience. Yes, Nikki’s start-up may have failed but I would term her experience a success – she’s grown through it, learnt a heck of a lot more about herself than many would over a lifetime, and has set herself up for a lot of happiness in the years to come. Joy wouldn’t feel good if it wasn’t for pain after all and it takes a few hard experience to really understand how good a life we lead. It also takes one to know one and I’m sure she’ll be a source of great encouragement and support to entrepreneurs all over the world.

Nikki, thanks for your heartfelt post. It matters. It made me think. And, as you might tell from this slightly scattered collection of thoughts, I’m still thinking. This blog has been built on the belief that you don’t fail, you only learn. And, in that spirit, you’ve made a big difference sharing your story for us all to learn from. And that’s success in my book.