How to Respond to Failure: Embrace, Learn, ‘Bother,’ and Ask

Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff
If at first you don’t succeed, then dust yourself off and try again. Aaliyah, “Try Again”

We all face rejection and failure. Dead-ends, polite no-thank-yous, and (of course) the always wonderful … no response.

And, yes, rejection and failure hurt. A lot.

But the question is: what do you do when rejection and failure come your way?

How do you respond?

More importantly, how do you still — with tenacity, enthusiasm, and (dare I say) ferocity — respond to failure?

Today I want to be as practical as I can and offer you four tips to get back up and go after it … again, and again, and again.

1. Embrace Failure

This is more than a platitude.

Failure breeds success. It’s a prerequisite; not a hindrance. In fact, that’s exactly what the cold, hard numbers tell us.

According to Bloomberg Business:

“Of the first-time entrepreneurs whose businesses closed quickly, the overwhelming majority—71 percent—didn’t bother to try again. But the tenacious 29 percent who did were more likely to be successful the second, third, and even tenth time around.”

Somewhat paradoxically, their success rate increased with their number of past failures.

Arm yourself with the knowledge that failure is inevitable.

2. Learn from Your Failures

Easier said than done.

In fact, Eric Ries stresses this point beautifully in The Lean Startup by calling it “validated learning”:

Validated learning is not an after-the-fact realization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is the principle antidote to the lethal problem of achieving failure: successfully executing a plan that leads nowhere.

For Ries, this antidote comes down to one skill: the ability to adapt.

What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and they adapt their strategies accordingly.

Your failures are by far your most valuable resource. Don’t let them go to waste.

3. Bother People (A Lot)

Okay, so I kind of mean this one tongue-in-cheek.

But, if you want to be a success, you not only have to embrace and learn from your failure, you have be willing to bug people … a lot.

My favorite story of being a “bother” was my first guest post at Entrepreneur: The Mindy Kaling Guide to Entrepreneurial Domination.

Not only did I send the article to just about every major online business outlet — Fast Company, Inc., Business Insider, Forbes, etc. — I also sent it to every individual person I could find at those outlets.

Basically, I “spammed” anyone on Entrepreneur’s contact page with the words “web” and “editor” in their title.

Seven separate emails, all to Entrepreneur.

And what happened?

First, they jumped on it.

Second, I got this awesome email back from the person who eventually became my contact:

Hi Aaron,

Thank you so much for the piece. I am planning on running it tomorrow at noon or 12:30 EST. It was a little bit long, so I trimmed it a bit. But I did really enjoy it. I would love to have you continue to write for us. If interested, please send me some pitches.

Also, please just send one pitch to Entrepreneur in the future. You can send directly to me — or [anonymous]. We just don’t want to receive multiple and have our communication get crossed. Thanks!

I had to smile when I read that second paragraph.

4. Ask for Help

Again, I’ve written about this before …

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

And … it’s who the people you know, know.

Five degrees of separation and all that.

Back when I was trying to get my first piece on Content Marketing Institute, I sent this Tweet to the always amazing Demian Farnworth:

Not only did CMI get back to me almost immediately (even before Demian did), they also followed me and eventually published the post I was shopping around: “Delete This Email!” Why Mobile Email Matters to Your Business.

I do this kind of thing with every new engagement … although I try not to tap the same people too often.

Right now I’m hoping to get connected to Mashable for a new article — The Jimmy Fallon Guide to Customer Love — the exact same way.

Sure, I’ve submitted the post online, officially. But what I’m really banking on is the personal touch.

And the only way to get it … is to ask.

So what keeps us from asking? Simply put: fear.

We’re scared to look weak, to be a bother, or simply to hear, “No.”

But, as researchers Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake from Columbia University, reveal:

We find that people generally underestimate the likelihood of compliance in making a direct request for help, in part, because they fail to fully appreciate that although it is difficult for help seekers to risk rejection, it is also difficult for potential helpers to offer rejection.

After you hurdle over fear, the real key to asking for help is being specific.

What’s the one thing — just one — you’re asking the other person to do?

  • Make an introduction?
  • Read your pitch?
  • Tweet your link?
  • Recommend you for a job?

Don’t be afraid. Whatever it is, just spit out.

Respond to Failure

Rejection and failure are tough. But they’re not the end of the road.

In fact, rejection and failure are your best indicators that you’re on the right road. Just remember …

  1. Embrace Failure.
  2. Learn from Your Failure.
  3. Bother People (A lot)
  4. Ask for Help

I’d love to hear about your own getting-back-up story in the comments.

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