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Weekend Project: Learning to Fail

This weekend, we’re taking a different approach with our weekend project, and touching on a topic that I think is overlooked a lot in blogging.

Escape key

Image courtesy stock.xchng user michaelaw

And that’s failure.

In a world like this, where it’s so easy to try new things out—new social networks, new product ideas, and so on—it’s also very, very easy to fail.

Gone are the days when we’d get a standard education before we went out to work in a particular field. In fact, as I explained at a recent careers night, my Marketing degree was the first big thing I failed in!

…but it wasn’t the last. As I explain in that interview, I spent my early years in a kind of “chaos” as I pursued all kinds of different interests. Many of them didn’t end in great “achievements”, which I guess you could take to mean that I failed in them, too.

At the time, my parents were eager for me to settle down—to pick something and stick with it. We’ve probably all heard this advice at some point, and in some ways it seems very closely related to this idea of not “failing.” For a lot of people, simply following through with something—whether it’s working, or whether you enjoy it or not—is better than “failing” by dropping it. Dropping something is often seen as giving up, even when it makes perfectly good sense to do so.

So there’s a lot of baggage around failure. And this weekend, we aim to clear some of it out, so you have room to fail—and learn—in your blogging journey.

The half-full glass

It sounds patronizing, but I’ve found that when it comes to failing at something, a good way to stop yourself from focusing on the negatives is to look at what you’ve learned.

I know that can sound trite‚ especially if the thing that hasn’t worked out is something you’re heavily invested in—financially or personally.

But it’s true. I’ve started more than 20 blogs now, and obviously most of them haven’t lasted. Does that mean they’re failures? To you, maybe. To me, they were part of the proving ground that helped me develop the skills to become better at some things, and even have some successes later. In this way, blogging’s kind of like being employed—each job you take on helps you build skills that lead to the next job, and over time, help you develop a career.

Of course, within each job—or each blogging task—there are plenty of opportunities not to succeed, and as they say, you can’t win them all. If you did, you wouldn’t be learning anything.

Now, you might be thinking, “That’d be great—I’d love to know it all!” But we all have to start somewhere, and the only way to progress is through good old trial and error.

The important thing, though, is to learn from those errors, and to feed back those learnings into what you do next—or next time.

Surf the learning curve

It can be tough to handle failure—and in blogging, failure can be a very public thing. Even if your failures aren’t major show-stoppers, it can be really hard to persist when you seem to be faced with little failure after little failure. Sometimes we go through phases where nothing we try seems to work. And if we don’t know why, that can be very disheartening.

That’s why it’s so important to learn to manage failure as a blogger. At any one time, you might have several fronts to fail on—you might be trying a new ad network or a different post style, tweaking your social media strategy, floating a new product idea with your audience, trying to grow your subscription rates—the list goes on.

My approach is always to try to learn something from the failure. Even if I can’t work out what went wrong, I try to use the failure to direct my future efforts. So maybe I’ll try a different approach to using the same process or tool next time—or maybe I’ll decide to try a different approach or tool altogether, in the hopes of finding one that works for me and my blog.

I think taking the time to reflect on the failure is important, too. Otherwise, you can easily fall into the trap of just banging your head up against a brick wall, rather than thinking creatively about other ways you could achieve your goals.

There’s certainly a lot to think about when it comes to blogging failure, so I hope you’ll enjoy this weekend’s posts. In them, we’ll cover:

But first up, I’d love to hear how you handle failure as a blogger. Be honest—we’ve all done it, and we can all learn from each other. So we’d love to hear your stories and secrets for learning to fail.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Hey Darren!

    The hardest thing to realize is that failure is our best teacher. As you said, it isn’t easy to fail, but we aren’t perfect. No one starts something and becomes an immediate expert. You have to try new things, some of them work and others don’t. It is a part of blogging; it is a part of life!

    I started blogging in the fall of 2011. I thought it would be fun to cover sports, mainly football. I was passionate about it and it was fun for 3-4 months. Until I realized that it was providing no value to readers. I couldn’t give breaking news because I didn’t have sources. My opinion just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t getting traffic and my bounce rate was through the roof. So I quit that blog. The biggest thing I learned from my first blog? Provide people value. Case and point. I have had my current blog for a month now and I already have made more connections. On top of that I get more views and more comments. It is a great feeling!

    I also went with a simpler route structure wise. Because I am a programmer, I challenged myself to build my first blog from scratch. I did it, everything worked. The big problem was that it wasn’t efficient and it wasn’t pretty. I now use the WordPress platform. There are plugins for everything and makes blogging so much simpler. Not to mention the SEO is much, much better!

    I look forward to this weekend project!

    Thanks Darren!

  2. Tony Moly says:

    Another great post, Darren. I myself always believe that success make people happy, but failure give us more experience and knowledge. And another important thing: Failure itself is not worth to call failure; Real failure is when we fail and don’t stand up to move forward.

    Again, thank you for your post. It give me some inspirational ideas :)

    • Naveen Kar says:

      Yes Darren, you are right in saying that how we see at life as half full or half empty. Moreover, you don’t get to know the taste of success unless we have seen the failure. Success and failure must go hand in hand to and that process can only make our lives interesting.
      Anyways, Thanks once again.

    • Brian says:

      I agree a thousand percent. Failure never moves forward and keeps its senses stranded in the days of mediocrity and blame. We fail a thousand times to learn a golden rule, to cross from the struggling abiss into light for which we rule. The only way to climb a mountain is to move up until we reach its peak, and if or when we fall in struggle may it be blessed to bring the courage to climb greater heights the next time its tempted. I guess you could say I was in the mood for dead poet society in this comment.

  3. Kathryn says:

    I absolutely believe in the necessity of failure as a stepping stone to growth.

    When something fails for me as a blogger I tend to go through a process of seeing that it’s failing, continuing it for a little while anyway, reworking it to try it in a new way, reassessing … and if it’s still failing letting it go and then retreating to lick my wounds for a little bit before coming back to figure out why it didn’t work so I can start anew with the next thing having learned something from the process.

  4. Matt Degree says:

    Darren, thanks for the post. All great points and I have to agree with the overall consensus that it has been my failures were I have gained the experience and generally I learned what went wrong and how to modify future actions accordingly. Granted, I have most certainly made the same mistake twice. Overall, I think it is as simple as: You can’t know what success unless you know what failure as well.

  5. You learn more from failure then you do from success. Live and learn, life is a constant lesson.

  6. Hi Darren, great idea for a weekend project. I haven’t been blogging for long but so far, I’ve written every 5th or so post about my “blogging impressions” including things to pay attention to in the next few posts. This way my readers can track my progress (I hope) and try out anything I’m trying for themselves. And I learn by thinking about the process of blogging every now and then.

  7. Kari Scare says:

    My approach to failure is to learn from it and move on. When I was a teenager, my mom encouraged me to kearn from her mistakes. I foolishly told her, “I want to learn from my own mistskes.” I now realize that learning from the mistakes of others, whether in blogging or any other area of life, is immensely valuable. So now, I read a lot about what others do or did, and I use it as guidance for my own plans. I also keep things simple and move forward simply.

  8. I am a new blogger and I feel the constant stare of failure just around the corner but I believe that so long as you don’t quit, you cannot fail.

  9. Thanks for posting again Darren! You always surprise us with your fascinating and inspiring tips… Failure is what can make one learn to be successful too. You are right and I agree with you that it is easy very cheap to fail than to be successful… I really loved your interview story and I’m sure it teaches you a lot and made you who you are. I really felt so encouraged and inspired with that. Thank you.

  10. I am so loving your posts Darren! They are quite encouraging and this one on how to counter failing is quite inspiring! Thank you.

  11. I think that the best way to overcome failure is to let go of anything that’s bringing you down. Don’t let negative circumstances deter you from the wonderful things blogging has to offer. If it’s not uplifting it’s not worth it. You should consider such failures as a challenges that are meant to make you stronger in the blogging industry. This is quite inspiring! Thanks!

  12. Shelby Roth says:

    There you are again Darren. I so much love your contents, they are indeed inspirational and educational. You are absolutely right about learning to fail. You cannot fro sure know what achievements are unless you learn to fail sometimes. It is a common thing and we always learn to become successful writers from our failure! Very amazing and great points and I have gained the experience and generally learned how to modify my mistakes on the spot. Thanks a lot.

    Shelby.

  13. Hi,

    Excellent post. Those who wants to learn new things they have to fail in start. If you have never failed in any thing then it means that you have never tried some thing new !

    Thank you

    Zane

  14. Taran says:

    Darren you have written a great post.This post is really inspiring, I learned some great lessons from this post, its a great sharing.