Should You Expect Failure?

Isn’t it the worst? You try something new, but the result is less than spectacular.

It’s frustrating because you see others try the same thing and it seems to work flawlessly for them. What’s going on?

Why do things look so easy for everyone else? Are these people just better or smarter than you?

The short answer is no. The long answer is much more complicated. So, let’s talk about firsts.

Learning To Walk And Kindergarten

This week was filled with firsts for my family.

My son Declan celebrated his first birthday. He is learning, with much trial and error, to walk.

declan with first birthday cake

My son Logan had his first day of Kindergarten. With just 2.5 hours a day of kindergarten, he will be expected to read in a few months.

Logans first day of school

When you are a child, you literally fail your way to success.

I can’t tell you how many times Declan fell down after taking a step or two. I have head marks on my hardwood floors.

But he stands right back up or we stand him up. And he falls right back on his face. And two steps turns into three.

Logan will be called in front of the class and asked to read words he doesn’t know. And he will guess wrong in front of his peers. As Mrs. Bear, his teacher, told us…

…learning is a risk. We have to push these kids to take risks.

It would be insane to expect Declan to stroll down the street on his first, tenth, or twentieth try. It would be crazy to think Logan should be able to read Herman Melville after his first day of kindergarten, or even his first day of third grade.

Taking Risks As Adults

But something will happen to Logan and Declan when they get closer to adulthood.

They’ll start to believe they should be able to succeed the first time. They’ll see how easily someone on YouTube can hit that note. And they’ll expect they should be able to hit it too. And if they can’t after the first or second try, they’ll just say…

…”I just suck at singing.”

They’ll see me drive my car and assume they can do it too. You just put your foot on the gas and turn the wheel, right?!? Easy.

But they’ll run over a curb, cut someone off, or bump into something. And they’ll think…

“I’m just a bad driver.”

Somewhere along the line, they’ll completely forget to expect failure. They’ll expect to get it right from the start. And if they don’t, they’ll just assume there is something wrong with them.

I know because I was the same way. I was 6’3 in 7th grade and just assumed I would be Michael Jordon (or at least Manute Bol) on the basketball court. I tried to shoot and play basketball like Mike. But I failed spectacularly.

And the kids who logged countless hours playing basketball while I played videogames were on the court while I rode the bench.

“I guess I just suck at basketball,” I told myself.

And this foolish expectation of immediate success only gets worse as we get older.

Fail, Who Me?

When you are an adult, you don’t expect to fail. You don’t go to a job interview and say, “I’ve never done this before, so I’ll likely blow it the first couple times.”

No, you are expected to come into a new situation and crush it right away. And if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. Right?

And since everybody wants to look successful, 99.9% of people will not volunteer stories of their early failures. They won’t tell you about the hours and hours they spent trying to get it right.

The person interviewing you will not tell you about their struggles. Those are stored in the far recesses of their mind, never to be accessed.

It’s simply an unfortunate mass insanity, a mass delusion, which we have to live with.

You Don’t Have To Accept The Lie

Like I recently told a good friend of mine, the first blog post you write is going to suck. The third, fourth, and fifth blog post is going to suck. Accept that and accept that you are going to get better.

My early blog posts are embarrassing. They sucked.

And it took me years to learn how to write and manage proposals. I learned from my, often disastrous, mistakes.

Don’t Try To Run Before You Can Walk

The mistake I see people make is one I’ve made many times. I tried to run before I could walk.

I focused on shooting the ball behind my back with my tongue out, rather than simply dribbling the ball well.

And when I failed, I just threw my hands up and blamed my perceived limitations (I wasn’t born good at basketball). The difference between me and Jordon is he kept at it. He was cut from his childhood team. Instead of accepting that, he doubled down on identifying where he needed to improve, practicing more, and trying harder.

If you fail, you can accept the lie (and throw up your hands) or you can double down…

…on trying again…

…on learning the skills you need to succeed…

…on getting better with each attempt…

…on learning from each failure.

If you don’t take the time to keep trying and improve the core skills you need to succeed, you’ll never get the chance to take your highlight reel shot.

Now is your turn. Leave a comment and tell us about someone you admire who failed, but kept at it. I’ll read every comment.


  1. Bernie Siben, CPSM says

    Thanks, Matt. This is one of the best A/E marketing “pep talks” I’ve ever read. Instead of recounting the failure of someone I admire, I’m going to recount one of my own failures. It was a proposal for a large civil engineering project for a large city’s utility department. The fee would have been in excess of $1,000,000, and if we had won, it would have been my firm’s first million-dollar contract as a prime. I managed what I thought was as great proposal, and about 30 minutes after the delivery time, someone from the city called to tell our PIC that a form had not been inserted into the document. Our proposal was tossed as being “non-responsive.” My supervisor said, “It was a great proposal. Too bad about the form. Don’t ever do that again.” And that’s when I started making a checklist as the first task of any proposal or SOQ effort.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I needed that bit of perspective today.

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