Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Failure Schmooze Recap...Which Charlie & Karol FAILED to Post Until Now

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better."
–Samuel Beckett T Shirt

Failure.  Finally, a topic Charlie and Karol don’t have to research! They failed to alert people in a timely fashion that the Failure Schmooze date had changed, and some folks showed up the wrong week.  They failed to get this blog post up in a timely fashion (seriously, this recap is for the January Schmooze, and it’s nearly freakin’ May). And they failed to realize how often the horrific words “timely fashion” would come back to haunt them (particularly in regard to these blog posts). What they did not fail to do, however, was to have a terrific Failure Schmooze.

Joking aside, your trusty co-coordinators did, of course, research this, if only as a fail-safe against the Schmooze consisting of listening to Charlie whine about his lack of success for two hours. It turned out that there was a goldmine of information out there. So much so, in fact, that the focus of this particular blog post will not be the usual “hilarious” chatty blather about the Schmooze and how great Charlie and Karol are (though they are great, of course), but a more sober and outward looking journey into what they found on the topic of failure. They hope it doesn’t fail to enlighten and – yes – amuse you, dear Schmoozers.

Failure, it seems, is a hugely popular and studied subject, not just in the self-obsessed, arty world of writers, but in the cold, hard, nuts-and-bolts world of business and non-profits, too. There’s a terrific website, for instance, called Admitting Failure where regular folks, non-profits, and companies publish their most horrific stories of hubris and failure in the hopes of educating others on the mistakes that one can make. They are not only often hilarious, but they seem to relate directly to the struggles faced by artists. For one thing, almost all of the stories start with Grand Intentions and Inspiring Thoughts. 

One of the key things Charlie and Karol learned was that failure is not necessarily a negative thing. Steve Jobs says failing publicly in the most humiliating fashion when he was kicked out of Apple was an opportunity in disguise. It allowed him to “be a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Read more here:

Of course, if you’re not already super wealthy and successful like Steve Jobs, failure can be a bit harder to take. So how do you deal with it? One of the best answers came from an article in Business Insider, the gist of which is: Think of failure as a data-point – one more bit of information you can use on your way to success.

Malcolm Gladwell says to simply ignore failure and just keep working. The outcome, he says, is not as important as the amount of time you spend trying (he’s the guy who came up with the idea that you have to work 10,000 hours at something to gain true expertise). “…The people at the top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder,” Gladwell said in “Outliers: The Story of Success.” Stumbling upon this in their research, both Charlie and Karol felt this was a very depressing thought and took to their beds to recover. 

More enticing was Gladwell’s essay in The New Yorker encouraging us all to “embrace doubt,” because it “allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency.” Charlie found this particularly revelatory as he had no idea “self-feeding despondency” was a bad thing.

But the most useful words of wisdom Karol and Charlie discovered in their Google journey through the universe of defeat was in an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson about the need to give ourselves permission to screw up. She cited studies showing that “people approach any task with one of two mindsets: what I call the “Be-Good” mindset, where your focus is on proving that you have a lot of ability… and the “Get-Better” mindset, where your focus is on developing ability.  You can think of it as the difference between wanting to prove that you are smart, and wanting to get smarter.”

Apparently, those who approached challenges focusing on getting better rather than succeeding outright both enjoyed the challenges more and, ultimately, succeeded much more often. It’s not that they failed less; they just tried more. Failure doesn’t register as anything personal with them, so it doesn’t slow them down. Improving is the only thing that matters to folks with this mindset.

Of course, Charlie and Karol did research artistic failure as well. The odd thing was, though, that there were many more warnings about success ruining artists than failure. As Joyce Carol Oates said in her essay NotesOn Failure, “early commercial success can actually stunt a writer’s progress just as early ‘failure’ can contribute to a writer’s success. “

All of this led up to the fascinating notion, put out by Paul Schoemaker and the late Robert Gunther in Screwing Up On Purpose in the Harvard Business Review, that one of the most reliable ways to succeed was to deliberately fail! To attack projects and make choices that are expected to fail… If such a project succeeds, they argue, its success is likely to be large and ground breaking. Examples of this abound: South Park, Breaking Bad, A Wrinkle In Time, Harry Potter…”

Finally, dear Schmoozers, if all this seems a bit too touchy-feely for you and what you really want is practical tips to help you recover from failure, here’s 12, courtesy of Psychology Today and Business Insider:

12 Tips about recovering from failure!  (Full text HERE)

1)    Recognize you’re suffering from a serotonin drop-off.
2)    You may also be suffering from a Oxytocin (love hormone) drop-off.
3)    Most who recover well have a good sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.
4)    People who think intelligence is fixed at birth are more afraid of failure and find it harder to cope. (Nothing you can do if game is fixed)
5)    Over-shielding a child from failure makes him or her more prone to getting an anxiety disorder.
6)    Don’t blame everything on yourself, but don’t blame everything on outside forces either.
7)    Accept the factors that are out of your control.
8)    Don’t be afraid to reach out to others—support groups give you a place to vent and ask for help.
9)    Try keeping a journal to make sense of your personal story.
10) Sometimes you shouldn’t get back on the horse.  Sometimes you have moved on, and it’s time to make a change in your life because you no longer care the same things you used to.
11) Crisis opens doors you never saw as an option. 
12) It can be just as hard to recover from success.  (After dopamine fires when you have success, it dips back to regular levels and leaves you wanting more and feeling bad.

Charlie and Karol would love to end this blog post with a commitment to get current on all the 2014 Schmooze recap blog posts and never, EVER get behind again…but that would just be setting themselves up for failure.  So instead, they’ll give you a couple more fun links...

...And a wimpy, “We’ll try our best…we promise!”

Keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol


  1. This was such a revelatory Schmooze, and this recap made me live it all over again! So helpful to read. I'm off to delve deeper into the provided links now. Thanks, Charlie and Karol!!

    My personal favorite takeaway was the reminder to approach things as if a beginner, always focusing on learning. There's nothing to lose when you're a beginner. This is something I know, but I forget. :)

    Thanks and thanks,

  2. I love your post and am sad I will fail to be at the next schmooze cause I will be flitting around. See you on June I hope
    Thanks for mentioning pen and Ink