Episode 3 – How to handle failure?
These are spontaneous, un-scripted conversations on topics related to career success, entrepreneurship, mentoring, life, work, failure and anything and everything, for listeners to get a taste of who Ravi and Rajesh are, the books they have read, the people they have met in their journey as co-founders of MentorCloud
Rajesh: This is Rajesh Setty, a very good friend of Ravi and I am a serial entrepreneur. Ravi, what are we talking about now?
Ravi: I think we just picked a topic that I think is a very important one. It’s about how to handle failure. And to the audience, we just picked the topic, literally, 30 seconds ago.
Rajesh: I think it has to be a spontaneous conversation. So where do we start? Let me start first. I always tell people when they’re really feeling bad about something, that they’ve attempted but they failed and if I want to lift them up, I always tell them, “Let’s assume that, for the next 30 days, every single decision you make is a successful one.
Ravi: Is it possible?”
Rajesh: “No way.” “Maybe some decisions will be right, some decisions will be wrong, right?” People will say, “Yeah.” “Just for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that 50% of the decisions will be right, 50% of the decisions will be wrong. Because neither of us are Albert Einstein or Mme. Curie or something, let’s assume that we’re normal people [inaudible 00:01:26].” People say, “Yeah, that sounds like a plan.” I tell them, “That means you just agreed to me that 50% of the time you will fail.” They say, “Yes.” “So how much time do you spend on the failure when you can just lift yourself up and focus on the other 50% where you are going to succeed?”
Ravi: I want to take us one step back to just define failure. Just because you didn’t catch the plane, that’s not a failure. I think it’s very important for people to simplify the definition is when the outcome is not you expected, most people think, “I failed,” but one thing to realize, an outcome of any event in life is not just the effort that you put in. A bunch of things have to come together for the outcome to be what it is. Take the example of an Olympic athlete. They might be practicing for three years, 3 1/2 years, but in the food that they are eating that day, for some reason, knocks them out. It’s nothing to do with their effort for the last 3 1/2 years; it is the circumstance that cannot give the outcome they’re expecting.
The first thing I want people to get grounded is an outcome is not completely dependent on what you do. It is a function of many, many other things. Just realizing that will make you feel, “It’s not me,” and that, I think, is the realization that I would like to bring up. Then you say, “Everything is not a failure; it’s a different outcome that you are expecting.”
Rajesh: I totally agree with you. In fact, the only caveat that I always tell is people should not take it to another extreme level and put not enough effort and say, “You know what, Ravi? The outcome is not based on effort; every single thing has to come together. It has timing and food and other people have to participate.” This should not be the reason for them to get a license for not putting enough effort.
Ravi: Yes, I think that’s an excellent correction. I’m sure that everybody listening to this conversation are the people that are really putting in their effort because, however talented you are, however smart you are, effort is what gives you results. That’s a baseline. We are saying you’ve got to put your best foot forward, but if the outcome is not what you expect, don’t take it all on yourself because there are other contributing factors. If you are a startup entrepreneur, it could be the market that’s tanked, it could be the house mortgage crisis. What does that got to do with your own abilities? It could be a huge snowstorm that canceled all kinds of things. Many things can happen, but the fundamental baseline, like you said, is these are the people who are really working hard and they’re giving their best and using their talents to create an outcome. Every outcome can always be positive because experience is what you get when you don’t get what you’re looking for.
Rajesh: That’s nicely said. Go back to the fundamentals of what Gita says, attach yourself to the effort and detach yourself from the outcome. Whether you believe or subscribe to the Gita or something, but the fundamental knowledge is sound. Put in your effort, put your heart into it as if you’re going to win and if you don’t win, you will learn.
Ravi: Correct. In fact, Stephen Covey also, in The 7 Habits, he says “begin with the end in mind.” If you translate that into the Bhagavad Gita, a lot of people think that means you should not look at the end result. Both are saying the same thing. You have to have a goal, you have to have an idea of the outcome, but don’t get attached to the outcome is really what Stephen Covey, in the Western world, is saying and Bhagavad Gita, in the Eastern world, are saying.
Rajesh: Very nice. One more point I want to bring, Ravi, is there is a common misconception that when you fail in a project, people suddenly start taking it personally. Rather than think, “I failed in this project, this topic I failed,” they start attributing that everything is wrong with them. When they do that, all of a sudden, their self-esteem goes down because they don’t treat this as a project failure; they treat this as a personal failure.
Ravi: Yes. In fact, we’re all engaged in events. We are individuals, we are engaged in different contexts, different projects, different situations, so we should always separate out to the individual from the situation. It’s never individual failure. The person, at that moment, outcome was different. I think if you can separate out the situation and the individual, half the stress is gone.
Rajesh: Correct. We started off by saying how to handle failure and everything. We first defined what is failure and then we should not take things personally because it’s a project failure or an event failure or it’s not your failure. We talked about the perspective and the mindset that effort is in your hands; the outcome is not in your hands, so attach yourself to the effort; detach from the outcome. What else can they do to handle failure?
Ravi: I think the number one thing is you should definitely reflect. Reflect on exactly what happened. Failure is not easy. I’ve had a situation, when I was doing a PhD, the first time I took my qualifiers, I don’t think anybody in the world knows this, I actually failed my qualifiers. I was the first in many years to fail the qualifiers. It was such a devastating experience because I have been topper everywhere, so how do I deal with it? The first thing is I said there must be something different in the way I approached this versus everything else I did up until that point. Maybe I had underestimated how difficult this is, many I have taken on too much on my plate at that time, maybe I did not study what this exam expects of me. People should always reflect on everything that is an influence on the outcome. I felt really good after that even though some friends said, “Oh my God, this guy must be like whoa,” but, believe me, after four months, I topped the university. Same exam, same everything, same Ravi. Nothing happened, but what was the difference is that I changed, because I reflected on what happened, I changed the way I studied, I removed all the noise so that I could focus on it, and I exactly brought the 100% Ravi to this context.
Rajesh: Beautifully said. What I took away from there, first of all, I think everybody will know that you failed in the qualifier. The whole world will know it. At least the world that we’re dealing with.
Ravi: Yes, and I want them to know. It’s okay.
Rajesh: The second I took away from this was how you responded to failure. You could have said, “I was a topper and I don’t know how I was a topper. If I am feeling a qualifier exam, how did I do it?” and then start doubting your own capability. That could have been one path and that’s a path to disaster. Sooner than later, more failures will come when you will amplify the failures and, all of a sudden, you will think you are a failure. In your terms, what you did was you said, “I was a topper. I did a few things that made me become a topper. Some things I did did not get me that kind of an outcome, something else happened. Not a very desirable for a topper. What should I do differently?” The lessons learned and you applied it; not just say, “I reflected on it, I put it in my journal,” and then do nothing. You changed the activities that you were doing, how you look at it. And that, for me, Ravi, is the classic case of bouncing back. There was a comeback for you with so strong that you became a topper again.
Ravi: Absolutely, and they say that… you used the word bouncing back. That resilience, it actually comes from what I call as a very deep character. That’s why we have to encourage people to have their strong character. People with a weak character, they fall like a ball of mud. They just fall and they never get up. For successful people, you talked about Einstein in an earlier episode, these guys also have had things that they didn’t expect. Marie Curie had issues, Thomas Edison had issues, Newton had issues, everybody had issues. The people who invented the airplane, the Wright brothers, they failed so many times, but they never took it upon themselves as failures; they took it upon the effort. They said, “I’ve got to change the calculations a little bit.” Because, as long as you don’t take it personally, such people, I call, have a strong character and that character helps you bounce back.
Rajesh: Very nicely said. One of the things that I ask people to reflect upon, you said we have to reflect on failure and why did it lead, I’m going to say what should they reflect upon, what exactly? What is their actions that made that? And the second one is their attitude that led them there.
Ravi: Actions, attitude.
Rajesh: The third one is assumptions that they made.
Ravi: That’s where many people fail, actually. They make wrong assumptions.
Rajesh: Especially in the startup world, assumptions are everything. But even in general because, first of all, they have to have a good attitude. If they are lackadaisical and say, “Yeah, I will try this,” but really, I’m not trying it. And then putting in their actions, like put their heart into it. The last one, like you said, they don’t test the assumptions along the way. If they’re writing a story for example, if they’re writing a novel or anything, one assumption is does the novel hold water? One easy way to test an assumption is to come to your friend and say, “This is the storyline. What do you think?” People say, “I don’t know. It might work maybe,” and you know, from their responses, that the assumption is flawed, that it’s not going to be that. As they work through the assumptions and check their attitude and refine their actions, even if they fail this time because of market conditions and so many other things, they’ve become better as people because they have grown because of the experience.
Ravi: Correct. I think that’s a very… Just to summarize – actions, attitude, assumptions. I think assumption is the key where most people think, “I know it all. I’m invincible.” Especially for entrepreneurs listening to this, if you had a fantastic, stellar career in the corporate world, do not assume that the entrepreneurship world will just be a cakewalk. It’s a totally new… It’s like walking in China versus walking in Africa – totally different. Different people, different environment, different temperatures, different goals. You are the same person. You may have been successful in a career in corporate America, in entrepreneurship, you cannot just sustain that energy. So it’s very important to test the assumptions to really see your attitude and are you ready for it. You can actually prevent failure by testing assumptions and avoiding the contexts that can end up being a failure.
Rajesh: Beautiful. I think we should get some closing comment and we should move on to the next episode. What do you think?
Ravi: Absolutely. Failure is part of life, it happens. Everybody who has succeeded has failed and the more you fail, the more you’re learning. Failure will make a better you only if you reflect. If you don’t take the time to reflect and talk to mentors, like we talked about in an earlier episode. Talking to a mentor, if 20 people say they’ve all failed, that’s like, “Whoa, it’s not me.” That, “It’s not me,” is the most critical thing I think people should take away.
Rajesh: Very nice. My closing comment is everybody knows the difference between a deadline and a detour. For me, failure is like a detour. If somebody thinks it’s like a deadline, then they are losing out big time. If they think it’s a detour, it will make them open to new possibilities because that road got closed and some other road got opened.
Ravi: Exactly. I want to take a few more seconds. If you view the world as abundant, then every obstacle is a detour because there’s so much to achieve. If you view the world as scarce, “There’s only so much and I could not get that little of something,” then life becomes very… Have an attitude of abundance. There’s plenty to do in this world, capabilities, in terms of resources, so the sky is the limit.
Rajesh: Beautiful. With that, this is Rajesh; you can read more about me on my blog, rajeshsetty.com.
Ravi: And more about Ravi and our company at mentorcloud.com
Subscribe to Podcast Updates