Constructive Failure vs. Constrictive Success


After weeks of feeling like I had 27 simultaneous hamster wheels racing in my mind, and I couldn’t channel a clear sense of focus into any one of them, yesterday I finally experienced the swoosh that comes when we convene back into flow. Ahhh… and once again I realized that I should trust/surrender to the seasonality of my entrepreneurial spirit, and yet the hamster wheeling never offers up access to this sense of trust when all spins are set on high. So be it. That’s work for the next magic yoga mat ride. This particular buzz of flow took place while working in the butter-laden East Asheville haunt, Filo, and I was cranking. When I returned to linear time a couple of hours later, someone who shares a community circle with me that I value, and yet we have had little chance to connect much one-on-one, caught my attention with his smile, and said, “hey there, I have seen you sitting there for a good while and was wanting to say hello but you were so focused. And when I say focused, I mean really focused. It was awesome.” I told him I was glad he witnessed this because it was focus fresh off the shelf and it felt goooood but I simultaneously needed to honor its elusivity. We synced up in a moment in which I was able to be fully present and an hour of listening-reflecting-connecting followed. While there was a collection of juicy points in the conversation, one comment he made in reflecting on a recent intense experience that he had prepared greatly for was that he views it as a “constructive failure” and now views it as a pivotal moment. I have heard this term “constructive failure” before and am clear on what he means. In the moment, it sucked. Bad. But he knows powerful learning took place for him, and others, at that edge.  Those of us who hang out in the entrepreneurial worlds hear and use these adages often: “you are gonna fail, so fail fast”, “the only real failure is not trying”, or one that I hold true, “failure sucks, but instructs”.

But this honest conversation led me to be able to put words to something that I am currently facing fear around, which I haven’t been able to name until now, constrictive success. You can picture it in metaphorical form, rising up and slowly constricting the throat/heart/guts of our world’s potentially great leaders and entrepreneurs, on stages or in boardrooms, but also in our bathroom mirrors. Constrictive success is when you operate your venture and life under the directives of a definition of success imposed upon you, not one of your own formulation. Complacency, comfort, isolation, and fear serve as its ushers. Step one when I work with new folks is defining what success means to them, otherwise I can end up wasting valuable time and money aligning our action with a “what” versus a “why” and when we achieve that “what” we realize it wasn’t really what they actually wanted in the first place. It ended up being more headaches, less time with loved ones, more waste, less innovation, more money, less meaning than they envisioned. As I am taking a reprieve from working in my business to work on my business over the coming weeks, I am grateful for this serendipitous encounter with a trailblazing 27 year old in the coffee shop to tune me back into the sense of connection that can arise after a “constructive failure” versus the sense of isolation that can arise when I limit myself to a constricted definition of success. Thanks Taylor. I am certain you have spacious success waiting for you around the corner. I hope to meet you there. Till then, keep on blazing.

Annie Price