Fall Down and Get Back Up

Why Failing Teaches Us So Much More than Winning in Life

This is not going to be a shocker. No one likes to fail. We’re all born to compete and excel and be good at something in life. Whether it is playing sports, running a marathon or a random weekend pickup game of basketball with your pals, most of us would likely admit that we certainly like to be on the winning side.

As a business owner that often competes against other firms for business, it’s no different. We put our “all” into a proposal or an idea for a client and sometimes they absolutely love it and sign on the dotted line and that feels really, really good. However, there are times when they say they “are going in a different direction” or that we didn’t hit the mark and that is no fun. I’ve had a longtime philosophy of tell our team to always do our very best and if we didn’t win the business, then it wasn’t meant to be.

Talk show host and actress Ellen DeGeneres has shared some wise words that I agree with about failure that I admire: “When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important. It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.”

However, as I reflect back on more than 25 years in business, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about winning and losing. In fact, I’ve determined that in failure we learn a lot about ourselves.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks: Nearly 17 years ago, I quit my senior VP at a prominent global PR firm to start my own agency in my suburban basement. I had no back up plan, no money or investors. Just a fire in my belly to do something that was going to be in the best interest of my children. I barely made ends meet the first 6 months in business and thought of quitting on numerous occasions but I kept going. Looking back, I recall one of my mentors, Janet Cabot, telling me that I’d be just fine and to keep going and keep just “being me.” I don’t think I’d be where I am today owning a nationally-recognized PR and marketing firm if I didn’t just go for it. Most of the people that have achieved the greatest amounts of success have failed many, many times before they actually “made it.”

When You Fall, Get Back Up: When you hit a roadblock in your personal or professional life or have failed brilliantly in something you put a lot of energy into, there is a natural temptation to go back to your corner and lick your wounds and just hide away from the rest of the world. I recall several years ago, our firm lost a major piece of business that we loved due to a global client merger and agency consolidation and it was going to make a painful dent on the agency’s bottom line. I gave myself one weekend to “mourn” the loss of that beloved account and sulk. Then, on Monday morning I got back to work and empowered my team to start looking for an even bigger and better account to win. And guess what? We not only found awesome new seven-figure business that was fulfilling, but we created multiple new relationships for the firm that were more secure and longer lasting.

Be Vulnerable in Defeat: You certainly don’t need to put a megaphone on and scream to the world you’ve failed, but I have found that I gain more perspective and peace by sharing with my key friends and contacts when I’ve failed. One of the beautiful things in sharing, is hearing others share their own stories or anecdotes.

There are Actually Blessings in Failure: I’ve had my share of ups and downs in the past year and I have learned that sometimes a failure or a loss is actually a disguise for an even better thing that’s coming right around the corner. I’ve witnessed in my own life and the lives of countless others around me that when life hands you lemons, you really should get the sugar out and start making lemonade. I have also found that in my greatest challenges and adversity, bigger and better things have happened for me that wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t experience that “failure” in the firstplace.

The way I look at it, life is an incredible adventure filled with equal amounts of ups and downs. Find a value or belief system to anchor yourself to and just hold on for the ride. There will be bumps and bruises along the way for sure, but your character and life story is being defined by how you handle the turbulence of life. And, take it from me, it’s worth the ride.

Kathleen Kenehan
About the author: 

Kathleen Kenehan is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Henson Consulting, an award-winning public relations and marketing firm based in Chicago – working with some of the biggest and most recognized brands in the world. She is one of nine Chicago “Women of Influence”, as named by Michigan Avenue Magazine and was named the 2014 PR Professional of the Year in Chicago by the Public Relations Society of America.  Her firm was also named PR Firm of the Year nationwide by PR News in 2014.  Henson Consulting was also recognized as a national finalist for “Boutique Agency of the Year” by both PRWeek and The Holmes Report that same year.  She is the 2017 recipient of Purdue University’s prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award and the proud mother of five children ages 18 to 8. Follow her on Twitter at @kathleenkenehan.