2017 In Review: Failure

Failure is fascinating.

At the moment, it is destructive. You are emotionally crushed, feeling, well, like a failure.

Sometimes, the best disinfectant of that feeling is making that failure public. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment because most of our socialization points to people being “after us.” The truth is, most of us are good, and discovery of each other, especially in good faith, are stepping stones for all of us to grow.

So being vulnerable in the moment and exposing what you failed at, and the lessons you learned doesn’t just help you. It helps the community to which you belong.

All it takes is a moment to forgive yourself and the courage to show yourself for who you are.

Here are my three most significant failures of 2017, and how I plan on growing at this point.

Failure One

Protecting myself at Philosophie. At a certain point, I stopped looking for improvements in the name of self-preservation. Instead of trying to solve problems I saw that did not concern me, I let them rot, covered in my resentment from not feeling heard. The result was a somewhat more protected Adam externally, some lingering bitterness internally, and a company that isn’t that much better from when they hired me.

Improvement: Find small things I can improve over the next six months, look for places of ownership, and being honest about my reservations with leadership. Action and communication win out in the end.

Failure Two

My weight loss plateaued. Instead of losing the weight I set out on, I stopped around mid-year. This plateau even continued when I ratcheted up my workouts to 6x a week because I ate whatever I wanted.

Improvement: A renewed focus on what I eat. Rebalancing a meal plan, making a promise to be more public with what I eat (feel free to reach out if you want to keep me accountable for this)

Failure Three

I didn’t ship enough work. I started the year with a goal to write twelve essays. I ended up with two. The feedback on both has been fantastic, which tell me I need to do more, including more outreach. The basis of all of what I do requires the work as the foundation, and I didn’t hit the targets I set.

Improvement: Set concrete, public deadlines for essays. Connect with media outlets on medium and pitch something at least once a month (external accountability). Do podcasts around the ideas of those pieces (Q&A and critique)

Failure Comes With The Job

Are you trying something new?

Say it with me: “failure comes with the job. ”

Maybe you know that already. Perhaps you spent your career taking risks and capitalizing on other people being risk averse.

Other people haven’t. In fact, they have watched people who take risk get fired, dismissed, or something worse. The moment they look at a potential failure, they remember that. No one wants to end up like Bob, packing up his cubicle, because he decided to ship something that didn’t work.

It’s painful.

Therefore, it is worth reminding people who when they are trying something new and creative that “failure is a part of the job.” If you are leading a team, it’s important to hammer that message home, because the negative self-talk that hinders progress comes quick.

So remind the team around you that: “failure comes with the job.”

In doing that, you’ll remind yourself, too.

Embrace the Pain of Failure

Failure is a checklist

Losing doesn’t feel good.

I don’t care how you spin it when you lose and you give a damn, it hurts.

Emotional pain is real.

The difference, though, and what distinguishes a leader from anything else, is the ability to take that failure and turn it into a teachable moment.

This idea goes against most of our instincts. It’s easier to blame others.


Use the failure as a checklist and “do the work” of figuring out just what went wrong and how did it happen.

The payoff? You’ll be much more efficient because the things that hurt you in the past will scab and toughen up, and you’ll be ready to fight something new.

Rather a Few Failures than a Never Was…

The project graveyard is better than a speech

Don’t be that guy.

You know, the one that is always at the meetup.

He knows everyone, he sees every blog post, he understands every reference you throw at him.

That conference? He’s there! You have 18 mutual connections on LinkedIn, amazing!

Fantastic, until you ask about the work, he’s doing.

Then, it is silent.

That guy doesn’t make an impact – it’s nothing but hot air.

Be the person who tries. There are far more lessons in understanding failure and far better mentors available for those who can discuss what went wrong and wonder why.

The guy that talks too much is too busy talking to notice, though.

2016 in Review: Failure

At the end of the year, I take the time to reflect. This post, and the others like it, are my lessons for 2016. My hope is by reading them; you get a sense of what my overall lessons were. My hope is by writing them; I’ll have a place to archive my memories. In the future, they are quickly sorted and filed when someone looks for insight.

Failure sucks.

Even so, it is a bridge to our future. There are lessons with our failure that inform our growth if we decide to listen to them.

To listen, here are my top 10 failures for 2016.

  • My love for comedy – Last year I wrote about doing more comedy in 2016. This year, not only did I not do more comedy, I did much less.It wasn’t a matter of time, it was want. At the heart of it, I lost my love for it. As a result, my pulse on funny has faded, and I lost a step in public presentation.
    • Change for 2017: I am not sure. I’ve thought about comedy a lot. Was, is escapism or do I love it? Perhaps it is both. Before I go any further, I have to answer this question.
  • My Health – In 2015 I wrote about losing weight at the end of the year. As the new year started, I got even better. Then, I just stopped. I ended up gaining the weight back. When I had the time to invest in my health, I decided to do other things. I regret this. I prioritized anything and everything else, and I paid the price. Physical health influences my mental and spiritual energy.
    • Change for 2017:  The next year of my life is dedicated to my health in many ways. I’ll change my diet and spend more time in the gym. The good thing about this year is I got to pay attention to how I failed and pivoted from there.
  • Using Social Media as a Tool – Like my health and comedy, at the start of the year I had some great experiments going on, like investing in Facebook ads. I stopped. My focus went elsewhere and I missed an opportunity to learn more. I think this is going to be important, and I failed. At some point, I just turned on automation and stopped thinking about it entirely.
    • Change for 2017: I know the importance of this, and might consider outsourcing here. Social media, in particular for this blog, extends its reach.
  • Guest posting / distributing content – I completely whiffed on this. I missed the chance to share some of the posts here through creating fantastic content. Some of this is because I have been scared of distribution. Hearing no makes me defensive. As a result, I miss opportunities.
    • Change for 2017: I came up with a way to change this. I am going to experiment with combining my newsletters and creating guest posts for folks. Once I perfect, I’ll “keep firing,” which is a philosophy I am going to double down on in 2017.
  • Barbershop Books – This didn’t end the way I wanted. I resigned in October because I didn’t feel the engagement of the folks around. I had to make a choice, and I decided to leave.
    • Change for 2017: I’ll support this organization when and where I can. My lesson, though, is in fostering engagement. I learned a lot on this journey and will make that a priority for any leadership position.
  • Delivery of Material – An old mentor told me once “you deliver filet mignon, it’s just you have the tendency to put it on a garbage lid.” I find that in my work on this blog sometimes, and in a world where your attention splinters easily, I can’t afford to lose people because of the presentation. This played into my lack of distribution.
    • Change for 2017: I am working on my presentation for all projects in 2017 as a priority.
  • Money as flexibility – I could spend money in a better way. I could save money in a better way. With wasteful spending, I cut down on my flexibility. Freedom is in flexibility.
    • Change for 2017: Create automated systems where I make sure that I can’t waste money.
  • Arcade School – I created a startup feasibility project in 2016. It was called Arcade School. After four months of work, we realized it wasn’t possible, and the barrier to entry was too high.I put myself in a box.I didn’t put a test early enough and backed myself into a corner.
    • Change for 2017: Having a test to market out faster on all future projects.
  • Distraction – I spent a lot of this year seeking. I also spent a lot of time distracted. Time is one of our only true resources. I rationalized a lot of my distracted time, pretending I was seeking. Distraction is hard to avoid.
    • Change for 2017:  I’ll make space dedicated “seeking” and work to reduce distraction with tools like Pavlok.
  • Online Classes –  I didn’t finish any of the ones I started (outside of altMBA / Harvard Business School CoreX). In a way, it started me down the path to Arcade School, however, I still lost a lot of time. Too many classes and not enough engagement.
    • Change for 2017: Taking the lessons from Arcade School about engagement (adding a partner, raising stakes, being public) to increase my hit rate.


Perfection is a Killer

Don’t let failure to launch beat you

Perfection kills projects and teams.

As a result, expecting things always to succeed is a recipe for destroying morale.

Products fail. Teams fail. We fail.

You can’t stop failure; it’s as natural as breathing. Failure is okay.

However, failure to launch is not. Don’t lose yourself to the siren song of perfection.

No one wins.

Failure Is Better Than Regret

Sometimes failure makes me laugh.

I once made a closet design product. I don’t know much about closets or design. Hell, I don’t even care about them. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I went with it.

Failure helps you grow and learn how to let go,  both of which are for self-awareness.

Regret does the same thing, but I never laugh at it. Regret always hurts.

Doesn’t matter if it’s because of a bad attitude, not enough “time,”  or “righteous indignation.” If I knew I didn’t give a project my all, my memories would leave me with regret.

“What could have been” sucks way worse than “that was a bad idea.”