The forbidden words chronicles: Failure


I have a confession to make, I am a lousy loser. I get mad and frustrated , try to analyze every single detail of what went wrong and I failed or lost while thinking what I could have done otherwise and prevent the failure, obsess about it for days, even weeks but I tend to do something positive amidst this ‘’storm’’ of negativity. I learn from my failures and I fundamentally change what I think was the sore spot in the failing process.


But what is failure anyway, how is it connected with fear and why is it affecting women entrepreneurs so much?


Failure is the omission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action,a state of inability to perform a normal function, an abrupt cessation of normal functioning, a fracturing or giving way under stress, lack of success or a failing in business. Just reading the definition and especially the last part regarding the business failure, is intimidating enough, let alone experiencing it. Why are women entrepreneurs so daunted by career failure then?


5 reasons why women fear career failure

According to Julie Zeilinger (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/career-failure-women_n_3690668.html), ‘’female entrepreneurs face plenty of obstacles, but, the biggest roadblock they face may be self-created.Fox Business News reported that while fear of failure is a major concern for all entrepreneurs, researchers found that it disproportionately impacts women and are more likely to have lower perceptions of their entrepreneurial abilities than male business owners.But female entrepreneurs are hardly the only women who fear failure. Sheryl Sandberg identified the fear of failure as a major obstacle for women in Lean In and many women suffer from “imposter syndrome,” perpetually feeling like they don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.


These are five reasons why women across career fields fear failure — and why we need to put a stop to that fear — right from the mouths of women who have been there:

1. Women’s unique history of exclusion adds pressure not to fail.

A lot of women interpret our foremothers’ success in fighting for women to enter the workforce as an edict that we have to do everything — and do it perfectly. Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Valerie Jarrett recently revealed that she was one of those people. “We felt that the women before us, the trailblazers and the people who broke glass ceilings and the ones that demonstrated and litigated and everything — we thought that they did that in order that we would be able to compete with men and do everything that women traditionally did,” Jarrett revealed at The Huffington Post’s Third Metric Conference.

But the idea that because our ability to succeed at all is so relatively new means we can’t do anything but succeed is misguided, Jarrett said. “That wasn’t the lesson from the women before us. That’s not what they were fighting for. They were really fighting for us to make our own choices.”

2. Women define success differently — and thus what works for us may look like “failing.”

“We’ve all bought into this male definition of success, money and power, and it’s not working,” Arianna Huffington said on the “Today” show in June. “It’s not working for men, and it’s not working for women. It’s not working for anyone.”

Linda Descano, President and CEO of Citi’s Women & Co, agrees. In a June blog for the Huffington Post, Descano wrote about a study conducted by Citi and LinkedIn that showed that when asked how they define “having it all,” “money and power took a back seat to a strong, loving relationship, which 94 percent of respondents selected as a key component of their version of success.” Furthermore, 66 percent reported that having a job where their work was enjoyable and valued was also crucial. Only one in six of the female respondents identified reaching the top of their field — a generally identified proxy for success — as important.

Because women define success differently from men, what may look like “failing” based on a traditional, male-dominated model may really just be what’s right for an individual woman. In our eyes, personal fulfillment is exactly what we should see as success.


3. We’re taught to view success as a linear progression — and anything that deviates from that progression as failure.

At the Third Metric conference, Valerie Jarrett offered more words of wisdom, suggesting that career moves that might look like a step backward can actually be a step forward for women. Jarrett herself went from being a successful lawyer to a city government employee. “It took a lot of courage to basically walk away from the conventional knowledge of the track I should be on and go work for city government,” she told Huffington and Brzezinski at the conference.


4. We believe failure is permanent.

We all tend to view failure as a permanent experience, as something that ends one’s future, when in reality failure doesn’t have to define us, but can offer valuable lessons that lead us to success. In fact, plenty of successful women experienced failure before they went on to achieve incredible things.

5. When women do experience failure, they try to hide rather than acknowledge it. This silence creates the myth that they are the only ones who have failed.

In June, Mika Brzezinski talked about how women have to stop trying to appear as if they are succeeding with ease at all times on HuffPost Live. She said:

Women, one of the things we do is make everything look so easy. We’re supposed to be perfect. We’re supposed to be beautiful. We’re supposed to be thin. And it’s all supposed to come easy. And it isn’t. On every level. Trying to work, balance a family, succeed, make money, which should be as fundamentally important as everything else we do, it isn’t easy.We all need to have a true, honest conversation about not only the challenges we face but how we can help each other.’’

Perceiving failure

Failure should not a process affected by gender but a learning experience from which women (and men for that matter) would be benefit. Let’s be honest, we need to fail, and we need to it often and with great intensity too. It may sound cruel and somewhat contradictory but women seem keen to ignore or overcome failure quickly, fearing that coming to terms with the failing process would affect them permanently.

Women are qualified, willing to put the time and effort in a business venture but are dealing with the fear of judgment in case of failure. At a recent video posted by BrightSide Me, they had people rate their success on a scale of 1 to 10. But when they asked their loved ones to do the same, their answers told a different story (http://brightside.me/video/people-rated-each-other-from-1-to-10-and-the-result-was-really-emotional-14555/).


Success vs Failure

According to Lynne Parker (http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/nov/02/are-women-more-afraid-of-success-than-failure), many women suffer from the imposter syndrome, ‘’with success frightening women because, they have a lot more to lose. We sacrifice relationships and family or, at best, develop a complex juggling routine where our personal and professional lives are balanced precariously between career success and “quality time” with our partners and children. We are conditioned to think that we cannot have it all without paying some sort of price.There is also a certain “male-ness” to shouting about your achievements from the treetops. Women often perceive other women who promote their own success with suspicion and (dare I say it) a little bit of envy. On the other hand, winning something would be an amazing affirmation of everything I have been through to keep my business going, although I am far more comfortable giving than receiving. There is a fine line between “award” and “reward” and I am finally learning that there is nothing to fear and a lot to gain from celebrating your success.’’

If we want women to take on bigger challenges and achieve more, we have to tolerate their failures. Women need the chance to prove their worth without having it weighed at half due to their gender. Then perhaps, a failure can be more tolerable.

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