Guest Post

It’s Okay to Fail

by Gini Dietrich

I'm a perfectionist. I've never really failed at anything. So when I do something that is not perfect, I make a big mistake, or I do something I think people will perceive as failure, I'm REALLY hard on myself. I make mistakes every day. Sometimes they're little. Sometimes they're huge. And I beat myself up every time.

One year ago, my company had a couple of "life-changing" events. Each of them, alone, could have put us out of business. They both happened within six weeks of each other. I went into a pretty deep depression. I beat myself up. Why didn't I pay attention to the signs? How did I not know our industry is a key leading indicator of the economy? Why did I do some things my gut told me not to do? Were people going to think that I had a good three year run, but I couldn't grow a business beyond that? How was I going to tell my staff we had to close? How was I going to tell our clients? How was I going to pay our outstanding vendor bills? Why had I built a business only to have nothing to show for it?

And then I happened across a Confucius quote that shook me and brought me out of my self-doubt. "It's not in that we fail, but in how we pick ourselves up when we do."

I learned that it's okay to fail. It's how human beings learn. I went back to the office on January 5, 2009, ready to kick butt and take names! We ventured on a new path and shook up our business model. We had to do some lay-offs in January. We had to reorganize the business. I had to make some very hard, personal decisions. But the business is back in the black, every single team member is a rock star, we're doing the work we love to do, and our culture now embodies everything I've envisioned for the past four years. I wouldn't have done this had I not made some pretty big mistakes last year, had the economy not tanked, and had I accepted the status quo.

Gini Dietrich is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., a boutique public relations firm that specializes in marrying traditional and new communication.

  1. My Grandma used to tell me you only fail when you stop trying. Good advice. It is hard to accept that we might have made a mistake, but if we learn from it and take the experience and make something better from it, then perhaps, just maybe, it wasn’t a mistake at all…

    Comment by Abbie S. Fink — 11/03/2009 @ 9:52 AM

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by EconomyHeroes: It’s OK to Fail by @ginidietrich via @whengrowthstall

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  3. When I work with people who are out in the job market because they have been laid off or let go one of the many things that we (notice that I say we because it really is about the job seeker realising their true worth) have to deal with is the sense of failure that follows.

    In these times I share with people that there are so many things in our lives that are beyond our scope of control and that failing at something may not be attributed to anything that we did or didn’t do. What we can control however is how we react to the situations that we do find ourselves in and that a persons true strenghts come from the way they handle themselves, particularly in difficult or adverse times.

    As humans, we try so desperately to control as much of our lives as we possibly can, when in reality there are so many things that are beyond our control. The one thing that is not beyond our control is how we act. Though the message may seem simple it is truly powerful and I thank you for sharing your experience with us.


    Comment by Ljuba — 11/03/2009 @ 11:16 AM

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  5. Great post, Gini!

    I’ve found the best thing about failure is that you get to see the real person underneath all of the trappings of politeness, political etiquette, and general niceties.

    Anyone can be calm and successful when the cards are falling their way. When the going becomes unbearable is when you find out who they really are and how they handle it.

    When you fail, it’s an opportunity to take a look at how you handled the adversity, how you treated those around you, and what direction you’re heading afterward.

    It’s never too late to correct your own behavior and make certain that next time you fail that you learn from it and become a better person.

    Comment by Harry Brumleve — 11/03/2009 @ 12:24 PM

  6. it’s interesting how many posts are tweeted about overcoming failure these days.

    hopefully, here is a new slant: where did we acquire fear of failure? it’s not intrinsic– toddlers learning to walk have no fear of failing (or climbing a counter to get a cookie), they just focus on getting what they want til they get it.

    Fear of failure is not fear of the failure itself; if it was, no one would ever do a crossword or sudoku puzzle ever again. what happens is, we learn to be afraid of what other people think of us when we display imperfection. We associate shame with failing to meet some arbitrary standard within a limited time frame. THAT is what we fear. it’s not about the event, it’s about the social consequences.

    failure is always an arbitrary judgment made in the context of arbitrary time limits.

    what’s worse, in school we learn to avoid failure, i.e., the resulting disapproval from authority for not doing tasks perfectly, rather than failure recovery, which would make us more independent. only in sports do we teach a few kids how to recover from failure.

    what is going to happen from this momentous collective economic experience is that a lot of people are going to find inner resources they never knew they had. once inoculated, the fear of failure will leave us, and with that comes new and far greater personal empowerment.

    I’m all for failure. failure is good. people who don’t know failure have never tried to do anything really hard. they exaggerate its power. I love failure, i expect failure, because it is a predictable temporary by-product of doing something really worthwhile.

    I am a successful self-publisher only because i failed miserably at it several times first. now, I look around and see so many people trying to avoid failure in reaching a high goal, but the only way to do avoid failure is to follow a known path, which assures mediocrity . . . and . . . failure.

    congrats to you for your first big failure recovery. it has more meaning to me and my spirit than all the failure avoidance in the world. –jl

    Comment by Justin Locke — 11/03/2009 @ 12:30 PM

  7. Being a perfectionist too I can relate a lot to what you have to say. I make mistakes but I have not had the “big failure” yet and if the day comes I have just learned a lot from what you have said and will keep it close to the heart.

    Comment by Robin Scott — 11/03/2009 @ 12:50 PM

  8. Hi Gini, you already know my stance on this as I’ve written to you about this topic, but the only failure, to me, is not learning from a situation. If you do anything worthwhile in life, you are going to stumble, maybe a little, maybe a lot. That is not necessarily the problem. The problem comes when you don’t pick yourself up and learn from that stumble. You not only didn’t fail (how’s that for double negative?), you learned valuable lessons that will stay with you a long time. I don’t believe you can put a price tag on that type of education, even if it seems painful during the process. This is along the lines of the blog idea I mentioned to you last week related to wake-up calls or events that molded you or changed you in significant ways.


    Comment by kevin — 11/03/2009 @ 1:03 PM

  9. Great post! The worst thing anyone can do when faced with failure or a mistake is to retreat, go dark or otherwise become a victim. I have said “I’ll never do that again” too many times to count but they are rarely as bad as they first appear and often made me stronger, better or wiser. At the very least they make for great story telling once they pass. Thanks for the article.

    Comment by Les — 11/03/2009 @ 3:16 PM

  10. Someone just tweeted this blog post and said, “Read the comments. They’re almost better than the post.” I agree – some really smart things here. Thanks everyone!!

    Comment by Gini Dietrich — 11/03/2009 @ 3:38 PM

  11. Great article. We all make mistakes everyday, that is how we learn. When I help my son on his homework he makes mistakes and want help getting it right because that is how we all learn. From the very beginning until the very end. If we didn’t learn from or mistakes then where would we be today?
    I like what Justin said about if you haven’t failed you haven’t tried hard enough.
    Great blog Gini wish I could write like this. I am writing a book though.

    Comment by Troy Newhouse — 11/03/2009 @ 4:10 PM

  12. I feel ya. Great insight and so glad that you didn’t give in, but changed the game. I like that.

    Comment by Del Williams — 11/03/2009 @ 7:06 PM

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  14. […] at a conference. Since then, we’ve become friends (I just guest blogged for him yesterday at Find Your Nerve) and I love his style, especially because he’s an advertising guy who sees the value in PR. […]

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  15. Saw this quote on today and thought it was the perfect addition to your post:

    “No mistake or failure is as bad as to stop and not try again.”
    -John Wanamaker

    Great job, Gini.

    Comment by Lois Arbogast — 11/04/2009 @ 4:11 PM

  16. Gini,

    You are a Rock Star! Development happens when we are up against it. You took another giant step towards achieving your goals.



    Comment by Bob Berk — 11/09/2009 @ 3:04 PM

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