The pandemic touched so many people’s lives, it seems that it has now turned into a failure pandemic.
He had finally made it, after a long path of solo entrepreneurship. Mexican leader of many entrepreneurial communities in LATAM, Alex Santana, got his dream job, a challenging position as a regional manager at an investment fund. Alex spent 2 years launching the operations in a new country, helped several entrepreneurs and opened 5 co-working spaces.
While launching his latest co-working space in Peru, he watched as a virus slowly spread through Asia, then Europe, and then slowly crept through the Americas.
Eventually, he made the decision to postpone several new co-working spaces, close a few others, cancel a bunch of events and, finally, fire his colleagues, the brilliant team he built and hired himself. The situation was overwhelming, he was emotionally drained, he started to miss calls, doubt every decision, and was afraid of turning on his work computer.
Alex learned how to be a true leader the hard way (through thick and thin). Now things are starting to look better, and he even felt confident enough to share his experience with us at our “Pandemic Fuckups” edition of Fuckup Nights. He seems relaxed, at peace and eager to help others learn.
Unlike before 2020, Alex’s story has now become a statistic. According to an article by the National Center of Biotechnology Information:
“The sudden ‘environmental shock’ triggered by COVID-19 has exponentially depleted firms’ financial resources and increased insolvencies, creating financial distress in organizations and weakening the financial position of many large and small businesses.”
But in the midst of such a catastrophic global scenario, it’s not only businesses and economies that are affected, so is mental health.
In this new reality, you, me, everyone has likely already experienced many kinds of loss. From the biggest to the smallest: the death of a loved one, a sick relative, a startup failure that led to bankruptcy, a dream project canceled, a ruined relationship or a stagnated career. The crushing feeling of failure and mental health issues have surely increased. Not to mention that disparities in wellbeing across race, gender and income are expected to increase as well.
In this new context, we can’t help but think about what failure is. The pandemic touched so many people’s lives, it seems that it has now turned into a failure pandemic. We’re experiencing higher rates of failure, it’s becoming so common that in the future our past failure situations might be seen as just part of a process, a simple setback.
Due to the -4.9% of growth estimated by the International Monetary Fund due to the 2020’s pandemic, and an expected increase of anxiety and depression among society in the following years, it seems like our broken hearts and dreams are not uncommon and our failures not outstanding, and there, in a society desperate to carry on and with more things in common than before, lies the importance of sharing our stories.
The shame that came from recognizing our flaws and being vulnerable has faded.
While curating some of our speakers’ failure stories for Fuckup Nights events, it’s common to find them trying to add a humble bragging section into their talks.
And we totally get it. Why would I want to conclude my professional story with a failure? I’m not that kind of high level executive!
Ego is a part of each of us, we’re not taught to question it, and throughout our lives it can easily be fed. Recognizing our own flaws, mistakes and weaknesses requires a level of humility that we’re not accustomed to, and a deep dive into the swamplands of the soul (as Jungian analysts call it) that shame is.
In Brown’s talk about shame, she acknowledges that shame is organized by gender. While women have to cope with unreal expectations and role models, shame creeps in when failing to achieve them. Men, on the other hand, have to deal with shame when they appear weak, when showing fear and vulnerability, shame hits them ruthlessly. This explains a lot about the feeling of shame and the origins of societal expectations and pre-defined roles to be filled.
But now, our same society has gone through a delicate global event that put a lot of things into a different perspective.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to go out and share our failures. In a society that has experienced major losses, disappointments and frustrations in the last months, empathy is out there. With a small and powerful amount of self-compassion, we can gather enough courage to speak from our hearts and maybe, start a virtuous cycle of kindness and compassion.
Professor Shauna explains some of the antidotes to shame:
Self compassion: As it gives a sense of full support to ourselves no matter what, it’s a key mindset for developing resilience and to “rediscover our goodness, dignity, and purpose and help reverse years of self-judgment and shame.”
Kindness: As it does the exact opposite shame, “turns on the motivation and learning centers of the brain, giving us the resources we need to change and grow.”. The potential we see in failure, as an opportunity to learn, not only about external situations but about ourselves.
It’s sometimes hard to see the real psychological effects of this pandemic in others. But as failure, death and loss are ever more present, sharing the failure, telling our stories, and being willing to listen to others with kindness and empathy, can bring us closer to healing rituals. A “me too” or “been there” can be a powerful experience for anyone coping with the aftermath of a crisis.
Beyond the social impact of sharing, There’s an intricate process lying beneath that action, going on within our minds.
Since shame contains fear and frustration, the burden of our failures, emotions and self-deceptive thoughts can be hard to carry through life, and especially right now, while the pandemic and the consequences of it are still with us.
That’s the power of catharsis that comes from sharing. This concept comes from the Greek katharsis, which means “cleansing” or “purification“. Catharsis is an emotional release of sometimes unconscious conflicts, it is an enormous opportunity for shaking off some unnecessary inner conflicts.
According to psychotherapist Amy Morin, we can experience catharsis on a daily basis by talking to a friend, listening to music, creating or viewing art, exercise, psychodrama (or acting out our conflicts) and expressive writing.
Fortunately there are several ways to experience a cathartic moment. And happily, we want you to invite us to let your failure go. Along with StoryPlace, we’ve opened a safe online space for sharing (anonymously, if you wish) your pandemic (or not) failure, a community for sharing, reading and learning from others’ experiences.
So head up to their app, register and #ShareTheFailure, it might be just what you need.
How can I begin? you might ask. Well, here’s…
A quick guide for sharing the failure
Tell a personal story of failure: Don’t talk or philosophize about the concept failure. More “I did this wrong”, “I made this bad decision” and less “failure is good/bad” or “you should do this and that”. Make it personal. Tell your story.
Be vulnerable: Open up and share. How did you feel in the moment? How are you feeling now about it?
Share your curiosity and passion: At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. What are the reasons and motivations behind your actions?
Be yourself, laugh and have FUN: Be yourself, don’t pretend to be someone else. Enjoy your talk as if you were chatting with a good friend. We know not all failures and issues are compatible with comedy, but if applicable, it can definitely put things into perspective and make it easier to share.
Humble bragging: Let your work and success speak for themselves. This is the place to talk about and go deep into failure.
Do you want to spark innovation within your company? Failing forward is needed to find solutions beyond what anyone can originally imagine. As part of The Failure Program, we offer a range of online courses, workshops and private events. We also provide a survey to diagnose how your organization is managing failure and whether innovation is being hindered due to shame or fear. Fill out this form and let's make failure work for you!
Transformemos nuestra percepción del fracaso y utilicémoslo como catalizador del crecimiento.