Failures You Should Either Release or Keep Pursuing

Almost every detailed task, topic, or report is harder than it initially exposes itself to be. It always takes more time and more effort. This happens because our thoughts are fluid. We imagine ourselves working hard and everything magically coming together, when in reality we come across many obstacles that suck away our energy and creativity.

Our energy is what fools us into trying for the impossible. No one wants to be viewed as a fool. We look at those first couple of weeks of American Idol and we wonder why most of them even try. They wait in line for hours only to be laughed at.

By understanding our strengths and weaknesses, we can maximize our success. Do those awful singers really know how bad they are? I believe that most of them are fooled by what they want to see. They only listen to the people that praise every note they sing. They are tricking themselves into believing their talent will take them to great fame and fortune.

It’s Easier to Believe a Dream than the Truth

If we are going to enjoy what we do and make a living at it, we will need to understand which are real dead ends and which look like dead ends. We must separate the impossible illusions from achievable reality to make success easier. This concept has been a thorn in many people’s sides. We’ll explore why many of us, myself included, keep failing and trying something new over and over again, but never break through to real success. We will then learn how to avoid this trap and excel at what we love to do.

Where is Your Motivation?

Everyone fails, whether it be your hard working father or Bill Gates. They fail in small ways every day, but they put it behind them and try a little harder the next day. They know that there is a learning curve to every new thing. The smarter they work the more successful they become. They are able to align their talents with their passions.

Let’s say you have tried to write a book. If you are like most people you’ve probably started one and never finished it. (If you haven’t, you can substitute book for some other very difficult creative project.) You probably had a brilliant idea and got all excited. Then you hit your first wall. You put it aside and never came back.

If you ever tried writing a novel your motivation probably got stuck when trying to tie the character’s first adventure into the next. The scene becomes a story and you have to account for character synthesis, plot, and story line. The difficulty level increases exponentially. This is a common problem. Then you try to get yourself to sit back down and continue writing, but you just never can find the desire to make it happen. Maybe it’s a significant other or another grand project that demands your attention. Whatever it is, that initial excitement fades.

When you finally have some time to really think about the book you wanted to write, you decide your time is better spent somewhere else. Maybe it’s that good book that you always wanted to read or the fear of getting stuck again that distracts you from your initial burst of creative energy. It doesn’t matter. You make a conscious decision to fail because the project isn’t worth your time.

How To Let Go Of Your Expectations

Failure is such a harsh word, so we’ll call it a release. You released that project because the motivation was gone. This is a good thing. I’ve started hundreds of projects in my life and probably finished 10% of them. Not every project should be finished; actually most should be released. If you are anything like me (ADD gifted) you probably have many interests, and although it’s fun to dabble, it is usually when a project gets more difficult that it pushes you to give up.

Most of us couldn’t fathom training to climb Mount Everest for a year or two then taking the risk to reach the summit. Why would someone do this?

It doesn’t pay out gobs of money; in fact it costs a lot of money and time to make it all happen. I believe a person does this for two main reasons.

  1. They want to challenge themselves in ways that will help them understand who they are.
  2. Social status – If I’m honest and understand that it’s okay to appease the ego for the right reasons then I admit that it probably does feel good to tell people the story of climbing one of the most treacherous mountains in the world.

When we push ourselves past our comfort threshold we become stronger. This can lead to happiness. Not because of the obvious accomplishment, reaching the peak, but because it changes our outlook. We see life differently after we write a book or climb Mount Everest. It gives us a glimpse into our greatness. We all know that we are great, but we don’t believe it until we do something so difficult and exciting that it changes us forever. The problem that occurs when we fail is that our ego takes a hit. We become afraid.

Fear dictates our future choices. We don’t want to be perceived as the William Hung of what we love to do. We want to succeed. We want to succeed so bad that it holds us down. The difficult part is understanding when to let go and when to dig deeper and go for it all.

3 Questions You Must Ask Yourself to Understand When to Let Go or Push Through

I designed a three step process to help you understand your fear, release it and make the smart decision to continue with the project or let it go and try something else. First you must find a quiet place to be with your thoughts. Then…

1. Ask yourself, “Why am I really doing this?”

We fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing something because we want to accomplish an audacious goal, but in reality we may be doing it for someone else. You have to do some soul searching and make sure that you really want to accomplish this goal. If you do then move on to step 2. If even the thought of continuing the project makes you cringe then don’t even think another second about it, just release it; it’s not worth your time. Down deep you know that it isn’t in your best interest to tackle the project.

2. Where is the excitement coming from?

Are you working on your project and it gets that little spot in your gut excited, or are you doing it because you have to? When you can honestly answer that it feels good then you move on to step 3. If you aren’t excited about the project then there is no reason to stick with it, but be careful. Don’t throw away two years of work because you are in a grumpy mood. Let these thoughts settle, talk to a close friend or family member, and if the excitement is still gone then release it.

3. How does this project fit into the future you?

Part A: This is the last step that most people leave off. Let’s use the novel example. You may want to write a book, but are you doing it because you have something to say or are you doing it because you want the results of having a published book? More than 90% of books that are published each year fail in the publishers eyes because they don’t make enough money to cover the cost of printing and marketing the book, but it won’t be a failure to the writer that has larger plans. He knows that it will take work to market this book and he does it because he wants to help others. He knows it takes years to build an audience and he isn’t going anywhere any time soon so he may as well work his butt off to get that book up and running. The hard work fits into his goal for his future.

Part B: If you are doing work for someone else, you may not like it but you must ask yourself, “Is this helping the ‘future me’?” So when your boss asks you to do a certain project do you usually feel appreciated after it’s complete and do you also feel like it will help your career? If the answer “yes,” then that’s great, but if you are doing it all for the paycheck then maybe it’s time to drop that dead end job (even if you are making good money). Next week we’ll go into more detail about how your career pursuits affect your future.

Part C: If you like to paint and it’s only a hobby then the stress won’t overwhelm you. The desire to paint isn’t as powerful and you may go weeks without picking up a brush, but you can enjoy each stroke that you create because you are doing it to relax your thoughts. It fits into the “future you” because you want to create in a “stress free” state of mind.

Here’s Where Your Focus Kicks In

Some of you keep starting new websites, jobs, books, and the like because you want to keep that excitement going. As soon as your energy fades you’re jumping to that next thing.

This is where you have to get your emotional weight scales out. If a new idea pops into your head, please jot down a few notes, let the idea come out, but then let it rest for a few days. Then compare your most important project to this new idea and try to feel which one has more potential. This may seem difficult, but the best way to figure this out is to ask yourself which gets you more excited. If it matches with the one that has the most potential then it’s an easy choice. If one of your projects gets you excited, but the other has more potential then you need to go back to question 1 to break the tie. Ask yourself why you are switching from one project to another. If you are doing it because you are bored then switch to the more exciting project, but if you are doing it because you are frustrated then it’s time to dig a little deeper by doing some more research or asking a friend for help so you can get a fresh angle. Finishing a creative project is the most difficult step because there is no finish line. That’s why you must resist doing too many things at once. Your focus must stay close to the project or you’ll lose track of its direction.

One Big Project at a Time

You should only have one big project on your plate at a time. It’s important to get it up and running, let it get some energy underneath it and have a life of its own. Now that this blog has a good base of articles I have split my attention to other areas. I’m constantly coming back to the site, but I can focus on another big project and get that up and running. The hard part for us ADD workers is picking a few projects to juggle and not stretching ourselves too thin, which waters down the value. As soon as you feel this happening then you need to drop the weakest project like a hot potato. Burned fingers and scattered thoughts make for added frustration. Just try to forget about it and concentrate on the one plan that has the most potential. If the weaker idea has enough lasting value, you’ll come back to it, if not, then it’s time to release it.

No project, relationship, or challenge can be considered a failure if it helps the person improve his/her life in some way. I’m on my fourth book and in some people’s eyes these past projects might be failures. They aren’t published, and in many writers’ expectations that’s a failure, but to me they are stepping stones to a smarter and stronger me. I’m building my talents to bring value to people’s lives.

You need to work on projects that will bring a smarter and stronger you into the present. The more you try and fail, the stronger you’ll get. The more you try and succeed, the smarter you’ll get. You put both of those traits together and you’ll be building a successful career that’s going to make you happy.

Next week I will post about how to apply these feelings to your career. We’ll look at our careers and see why they’ve led us to this position in life and when it’s time to quit, dig deeper or accept our position and find happiness and excitement somewhere else.

What was your most important reason for sticking with a difficult project? When do you know that you’ve hit a dead end on a bad project and it needs to be released? Let’s continue the discussion in the comment section.

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Image courtesy of M Dot

11 thoughts on “Failures You Should Either Release or Keep Pursuing”

  1. “No project, relationship, or challenge can be considered a failure if it helps the person improve his/her life in some way. ” Absolutely, Karl- I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I think that most people try to do too many things at once and then come to realize that they didn’t get as much accomplished as they had hoped- OR they may have accomplished everything but done a less than stellar job.

    Don’t base your definition of success and failure on what other people think or how they may perceive you. Instead, look within yourself and ask the hard questions regarding what you’re doing and how it is or isn’t helping you develop into the person you want to be.

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  3. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    Hey Karl this is nice food for thought. You brought it all together very well and gave us a more personal glimpse into your life.

    “What was your most important reason for sticking with a difficult project?” We have to look deeply into our “why” by questioning our deepest motivations form the beginning. Try these questions. What were we looking to accomplish by completing this project that we couldn’t accomplish otherwise? Why is that important to me? What would that give me that I don’t have now? What else? What else and then what would that give me? By continuing to drill deeper we can often find a why that has meaningful staying power. Only then should we persist.

    “When do you know that you’ve hit a dead end on a bad project and it needs to be released?” When it feels like an obligation to work on it. Once the eagerness is gone we need to step back and re-evaluate. Sometime an adjustment can be made where we don’t have to dump the whole project. Some part of it could still hold excitement and eagerness for us. If not run like hell!

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work’s last blog post..Believe It Or Not

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  5. Hey Tom, you make a great point. When we ask the question “why” we get a better grasp of what we are trying to accomplish. If they answers keep coming back all hazy then it’s a warning sign. If the answers come back making us feel uneasy and lethargic it’s time to run.

    Hey Jesse, being happy when working on a project brings out the love for work. That’s when great things are completed.

  6. Hi Karl,

    I totally agree we need to let go of expectations. Often that which we “expect” is less than what’s actually possible. If we “go with the flow” (for lack of better words), we often are pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

    I also believe that not only should we ask ourselves “why am I really doing this?”, but to keep asking until we get to the “root”. Our first answer is often not the truth.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..How To Get Your Blog Blacklisted

  7. This is my first visit to your site and it’s a definite bookmark! Your comment about how we fail every day just hit me in the head. When books and other sites talk about failing and then getting up and moving forward, I’ve always equated that with failing BIG. Business, exams, life! but we do fail every day and in small ways. One example for me is if I have set myself a task and I fail to do it because I didn’t have enough time or energy then I did actually fail and that’s fine. Just reschedule it for another time. I may fail again! Thanks for that article and great insight and writing.

  8. I thought this piece was extremely thought provoking.

    I recently complete Scott Shane’s “The Illusion of Entrepreneurship.” Professor Shane uncovers a lot myths of business ownership that would certainly be useful for anyone considering quitting on their business dream.

    The most common myth is probably the one that says 90% of all startups fail in the first year. The fact is that out of every 100 businesses that start today, 29 will still be around 10 years for now.

    The statistics are even better for the self-employed: 41 of every hundred employees will still be working on their own 10 years from now.

    One of the factors that plays into the notion of a high level of business failures is that many people fail to take into account the age of the average entrepreneur.

    The person most likely to strike out on his own is not the college graduate or the dropout: the average entrepreneur is 45 or older.

    Most people are likely to start their own business when the job market suffers as it has been for the last four or five years.

    Consider the number of men and women 55 and older who lost their jobs due to downsizing and outsourcing. Just because they choose to retire at 62 and their home business no longer shows up in public business records does not mean that their business was a failure.

    I recently covered 8 factors that are common to all successful businesses. I really believe anyone who knows the realities of business ownership going in can and will be successful–providing, of course, they adhere to these 8 actions.

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