How to Create Your Own Second Chance After a Public Failure
As every entrepreneur knows, our chosen paths are fraught with risk. We often hear that all entrepreneurs will fail at some point, that it's important to "fail fast," and that failure can bring growth. But who among us actually wants to fail?
And what happens when we do?
Here's what happened when I failed.
I sat at my desk, finger on the "send" button, cringing in front of the email I knew I had to send. It would destroy me and my career. But I didn't have a better option. Filled with shame and self-hate, I sent it. What would it be like if you were only known for the worst thing you've ever done? In 2009, I was kicked out of the organization I had founded. I had spent the past five years working with the Texas prison system. I was 31 years old, just divorced, and in 48 hours, I was to become nationally known for a scandal. I was certain that for the rest of my life, I'd be known for what I'd done wrong instead of for the good work I had devoted my life to.
This is how I start my book about second chances, and it's how my journey to find my own second chance began. Today, I lead Defy Ventures, a national prison rehabilitation program that transforms the hustle, and lives, of men, women and youth with criminal histories. But back in 2009, I felt that I had lost everything, and I could never imagine being where I am today.
There's no magic formula for bouncing back from failure, but I have learned a handful of lessons in my journey that can help you find your own second chance.
1. Forgive yourself.
You may think, My mistakes are worse than others' mistakes, but as a fellow human being, your mistakes and bad decisions have probably been made by millions of people before you. Before my resignation, my lack of forgiveness for decisions I regretted caused me to live every day in the past. If I waited to forgive myself until I felt like I earned it, I'd still be waiting around today. Learn from your mistakes, and choose to put one foot in front of the other as you move forward.
2. Forgiveness is a choice.
At Defy, we teach that forgiveness is not a feeling or something we earn, but something we choose. Do those feelings of anger and resentment help us move forward? Or do they make us live in the past? Choosing forgiveness gives us the possibility of a better future.
3. Dance with fear.
One of my mentors has helped me understand that we can't control fear or make it go away. Instead, we can experience fear, but move forward anyway. I founded Defy Ventures after years of therapy, soul searching and boot camps for leaders who screwed up. When I launched Defy, I was nearly as afraid as when I had resigned from my previous organization. In the end, my own judgment was my biggest enemy.
4. Shame thrives in secrecy.
Shame isn't good for anyone. It keeps us locked in a cycle of self-doubt and self-hate and can often lead to more bad choices. At prison events at Defy, we do exercises with our incarcerated Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) and executive volunteers during which both groups share parts of their pasts and bond in their shared humanity. If you've made a decision you regret, don't keep it in the dark. Go to a small group of trusted advisors or mentors and come clean, and come up with a plan to move forward.
5. Own your story.
Control the narrative and tell it on your terms. At Defy, we coach our EITs on how to talk about their criminal pasts in job interviews. Our EITs learn to say, "I wish I could tell you I was always on the straight and narrow, but unfortunately, I made some bad decisions." Then they take ownership, explain what they learned from their experiences, describe the positive steps they've taken to transform and why this makes them a strong candidate for the job.
Running a business means learning from your mistakes and embracing failure. It requires facing our fears, owning our stories and leading from within.
Because don't we all deserve a second chance?