The Importance of Embracing Failure, Rather Than Avoiding It

Cover detail from Work It by Carrie Kerpen

Editor's Note:

Carrie Kerpen is the co-founder and CEO of Likeable Media, a global content studio that was named Crain’s sixth Best Place to Work in NYC. She is the author of WORK IT: Secrets for Success From the Boldest Women in Business and a columnist for Inc. and Forbes.

It’s quite an amazing thing when you’re friends with someone, and you watch them catapult into superstardom. For my friend Reshma Saujani, that trip to entrepreneur superstardom didn’t come without a few hiccups along the way.

In 2016, Reshma, then founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, gave a speech titled “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.” To date, it has over three million views. In it, she tells the story of her first run for Congress – a race she was pegged to win. Instead, she received just 19 percent of the votes, roughly six thousand voters. She spent $1.3 million on the campaign. It was an epic failure by any account. Reshma tells us in her speech that we need to stop raising our girls to be perfect and avoid failure at all costs. Instead, we need to teach our girls to be brave.

Reshma’s speech was primarily focused on the future – on today’s girls who would be tomorrow’s leaders and what we need to do for them. I remember watching her and thinking, Gosh, Reshma failed and bounced back, and now she wants others to feel okay doing the same. I need to get comfortable failing, too. But, as Reshma reminds us, we are conditioned from an early age to avoid failure. I needed to get over that. So I called my dear friend, and asked her some follow-up questions about what happens after you fail.

For Reshma, it was all about setting a finite time to grieve. The day after her loss in her Congressional run was awful. She had zero intention of losing -wouldn’t even let the thought enter her mind. So, when she did, she wasn’t ready to just pick up and move forward. She needed to grieve. “I picked a finite amount of time to grieve. And then, I moved forward.” Reshma lost in September – and it took her until December to be able to take a meeting again. She was okay with that, of course, because she allowed her- self that time.

Because “you can’t run a campaign thinking about a backup plan,” Reshma had no idea what she wanted to do next. So when December came around, she took lots of meetings, and figured out what was next by process of elimination. She knew that she didn’t want to work in the private sector again. She knew that eventually she wanted to run again, but maybe not today. She knew that, above all, she wanted to do some good. That’s when she founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, which has since taught over forty thousand girls coding skills.

Reshma’s Tips

  • After a failure, allow yourself a fixed amount of time to wallow. When that time is up, #workit.
  • Practicing the art of failure builds bravery and ultimately success. Think about how you can eliminate the need for perfection from your life today, and take steps to do so.

Excerpted with permission from Work It by Carrie Kerpen, published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Carrie Kerpen.