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Handling Failure: Don’t Be A Liar. Be A Gopher

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As the economy starts to reopen, I can feel old anxieties surface. Old fears of inadequacy and wary of “charging the hill” to seek opportunities because failure is ever-present. Handling failure at all feels out of the question. You in the same boat? Well here’s our pep talk: keep getting up and know everyone fails all the time. In fact, if you haven’t failed, you’re a novice, boring, or a liar.

Handling Failure: Perception vs. Reality

My husband and I often quote the romantic comedy “Couples Retreat.” In it, Vince Vaughn and Malin Åkerman travel to a tropical island to receive relationship counseling from Jean Reno. In hilarious style, Jean Reno assigns Vince Vaughn and Malin Åkerman a relationship spirit animal. Vince Vaughn is hoping for a lion or a tiger to symbolize the prowess of their decade-long marriage, but Jean Reno assigns the couple the ass.

“Stubborn and immovable,” Jean Reno says, “The mighty ass tirelessly bears the heavy burden of others, but once on the move, nothing can stop the ass. So be an ass for your marriage. Be an ass for your children. And be an ass for your love.” 

This scene always cracks me up because it humorously gets you to see and identify with the non-public side of what it means to be in a relationship. We think we are supposed to be the lion, but the reality is different.

The perception vs. reality deviation is similar in our work and personal lives. We may think we’re supposed to be the caveman who goes out into the work world, kills something, and drags it home. In reality, the caveman ideal is a myth.  Most Paleolithic humans croaked by 35 with predators and starvation being significant factors. The caveman’s prowess of killing and dragging something home is more of the exception rather than the rule.

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How To Be A Gopher

When clients are canceling and prospects are dim, networking events are canceled or feel ineffective online, and it is impossible to balance work and family life while literally on top of one another—in times like these, remember: no caveman.  Be a gopher. 

Gophers keep popping up. This hole doesn’t have some food? Okay, what about this hole? What about this hole? Gophers try one thing, it fails, and without hurt or hesitation, they try another opportunity in maddening repetition. A client canceled her contract? Get her on your email nurture sequence. That job was offered to someone else? Well, guess who just made the Christmas card list. Your product or service can’t be delivered like it did in a pre-COVID world? Don’t settle for subpar, innovate. Fail. Repeat.

Being a gopher is hard. Like really hard. It’s especially hard because of ego. When I operate with a hurt ego, I will shy away from seeking out opportunities, put time between failure and trying again, or be vindictive in my actions. None of which is positive.

handling failure gopher

Handling Failure: Make Failure A Habit

The key to popping up sans ego is knowing everyone fails, and the most successful people fail all the time. Successful people aren’t successful because of luck or skill. Their success is built on a mountain of gopher holes that didn’t work.

So, now that we’re starting this new normal, take the time to make failure a habit. Try something, be okay with its failure, try again. I’ll do it too. And when we feel like maybe we shouldn’t reach so far, try so hard, hope for so much—remember that the only people who haven’t failed are novices, boring, or liars.

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