The half-life of a failure

I heard back on 2 project outcomes yesterday – one went really well and one didn’t go so well. Guess which one I woke up thinking about?

The half-life of a failure is much much longer than the half-life of a success. So, the question then becomes – is there a way around it? Here’s how I think about it –

In the short term, I’m not sure there is. Successes and failures are a part of life and we have to learn to accept that failures stay longer with us. We expect negative emotions very intensely. There is no getting around that and you aren’t going to change your response overnight.

In the medium term, there are a few ideas that can help. The first is to develop a coping mechanism. I have developed two coping mechanisms that tend to help me. First, I give myself a certain stretch of time (depending on the size of the failure) to play victim. And I allow myself to kick myself and curse things a bit. Once I’m done with playing victim, I think about I learnt from the process and write about it. This part enables me to look back at the process that led to the outcome, draw my own conclusions about what went wrong and look forward to things that I should do better. The beautiful part of writing a daily blog that talks about seeing failures as learnings is that failures help me keep a steady pipeline of content. That’s not a bad outcome.

And, finally, in the long term, I see it as a part of a quest to become more zen – to accept the things I cannot change and focus intensely on the things I can. Every minute spent on a past result is a minute taken away from a future process, after all. I know this but it doesn’t make executing on it any easier.

As you can tell, I am in the “medium term” bit. This process has taken me about 6 years to internalize. Let’s hope I’ll be writing about the long term part 6 years from now. :-)