Let’s talk about the “F” word

10/20/2016     

That four letter F word. You know the one. It elicits fear and can make even the most unabashed of us cringe.

Fail.

Failure.

Failing.

What is it about this word that gets the best of us?

In my almost 7 year journey here at Zappos, I can safely say that I have failed. Numerous times. Sometimes publicly. Sometimes alone, with only myself to bear witness to that feeling of shame, regret, and wondering if I was the only person in the history of Zappos-dom (if that’s not already a thing, it should be…Zappos-dom, all things Zappos. You read it here first). Of course, I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve truly felt like I could conquer the world, but those failures still hang over me. Even at my best, the possibility of failing and failing hard is something that, for me, can be hard to shake.

So what is it about failure that keeps us from reaching our full potential?I believe it’s when we don’t take the time to revel in it. Think about the last time you celebrated a win, whether for your self or for your circle. Now take time to think about the last time you celebrated failure. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

In my experience, we tend to sweep these failures under the rug, hiding them before we quickly move on and never speak of said failure again. It’s like that black sheep family member that you know is there but you pretend doesn’t exist until you’re face to face with them at Thanksgiving dinner. Or in failure’s case, when you’re faced with the consequences. I’ll never forget my New Hiring Training experience. I caught on to most of the concepts pretty quickly, but still the thought of navigating a new system while engaging with customers seemed a bit nerve wracking. What if I messed it up? What if I broke the website? The answer to that and many of my class’ worst-case scenario questions were met with a now familiar, Zappos-esque response of, “there’s nothing you can mess up, that we can’t fix.” It’s something I often repeated in my Leadership journey to brand new team members hoping to reassure them that everything would be ok. If they failed, we’d be there to help make it right. Deep down, it’s just something I never believed for myself. I couldn’t fail. I couldn’t let people down. I wouldn’t.

That fear, kept me from truly taking risks for the better part of my time here at Zappos. I knew what I was good at and stuck with it. A comfort zone is damn comfortable for a reason.

Fast forward to today. In the past year, I’ve taken numerous risks. Some without much success. I’ve joined circles with little to no experience. Spoke on stage at an All Hands (my biggest fear!). I’ve been removed from roles. I’ve received tough feedback. I’ve “failed” more times than I’m even comfortable admitting. You know what? The growth I’ve experienced through these failures has been incredible. I’ve done my share of what I call “movie reeling”. You know where you mentally replay every stupid thing you’ve ever said or done and play it in your head over and over until you want to quit your job, sell your house, and move to another country to get a fresh start? Oh wait, maybe that’s just me. Although that may sound a little extreme, through those replays I’ve been able to break down the reasons for my failures, how to pick up the pieces, and move on. More importantly, I’ve been able to discover strengths I didn’t know I had and have learned what works and what doesn’t.

As a company, we can easily think of a dozen things that have gone wrong or “failed”. Bringing up these things is usually met with a laugh and some reminiscence while we quickly change the subject. What if instead, we look fondly at these lows and really reflect on what those experiences taught us? As a company and as people. Can we reflect on these publicly and admit where we went wrong? In the spirit of transparency, let’s share these moments and make them teachable, outlining what went wrong, what the impact was, and what we’ve learned for the next time a situation like that arises.

My name is Melissa and I’m a failure. I challenge you to do the same and share your story.

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