Big 'Epic Fails' Can Feel Like a Punch in the Gut. What Should You Do After?

Epic fails are hard to experience and even harder to recover from. Here's your plan to get to the other side even stronger.

learn more about Patti Fletcher

By Patti Fletcher

Hero Images | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Having recently experienced the type of potentially dream-ending epic failures that can easily creep into and take over an otherwise can-do mindset, I decided put all the advice I have received over the past decade to the test. I have written and talked a lot about failure and its significance in the process of disrupting for years. The topic is hard to avoid in the world of innovating new ideas, of pushing the limits to make a dent in something bigger than yourself. And, while it's true what people with entrepreneurial mindsets seem to all know: failure may just be our biggest opportunity to learn and to create something extraordinary.

Related: The Elon Musk Way of Persevering in the Face of Adversity

While this might be true (and I do believe it is), when you create and experience a very public, very exposing epic failure, it might not be so easy to neutralize and learn, at least not right away. Trust me when I say, you can do it. If I can, anyone can. Here's how:

Step 1: Respond to your key stakeholders with sincerity and personal accountability

Whether it's a client, a boss or your team, don't wait to reach out. The key is to learn all of the facts first. Together with your team, iterate a heart-felt and honest response before the end of the day via email or in preparation for a live conversation. It is important not to let more than a few hours pass so that your client and your team can see that you place a heightened yet thoughtful sense of urgency. Blame does not matter and there is no room to take a tit-for-tat approach, nor to overly explain the reasons for the perceived or qualified failure. Instead, take personal accountability for the negative experiences and/or outcomes expressed by your client. Thoughtfully respond with words that explicitly reflect the examples of failure relayed by your clients. Reiterate your company's mission and your personal commitment to ensuring customer delight. If it makes sense, offer to refund a portion of the costs.

Related: How 10 Billionaires Faced Failure (Infographic)

Step 2: Give yourself a set amount of time to grieve

Confusion, embarrassment, fear and sadness of being let down and of letting yourself and others down tend to get in the way. The shoulda, coulda, wouldas tend to be some of the earlier reactions. This reaction is normal and perfectly fine, despite contrary advice. Go ahead and cry. Go ahead and hide in embarrassment and shame if that is what you want to do. If you stay in this state, you can't move on. I decided to give myself three days to go through all the sadness, shame and doubt that I could muster. Of course, times will vary based on the person and situation. My suggestion, don't go past a week. Doom and gloom is harder to get rid of the longer it lingers.

Step 3: Get back to what is important

You experienced the epic fail because you were working to make a dent in living your personal and/or professional mission. It's very easy and probably quite human to spend too much time translating an epic fail into a personal failure and living only inside of your head. Refocus on the world outside of you, on moving the needle of impact toward the direction of your goal. Remember that you are a leader with people counting on you. When you redirect your brain to the world around you, you lay the groundwork to get out of your own way.

Related: Have You Made a Big Mistake? Here's Why That's Good News for Your Company.

Step 4: Commit to learning, break it down, dig deep

Break down the entire experience leading up to the epic failure. Work backwards from the purpose of the engagement or work. With that in mind, break down every step, every conversation, every decision related to the key milestones. Ask yourself what worked in getting your client, your team, and you closer to the agreed upon outcomes. Strive to understand the capacity, people, process and technology components that worked well. Then apply that same method on what led to the failure. Don't look for what is not there, either positive or negative. Ask your team and yourself to reserve judgment and instead practice observation. This is a great step to exercise and strengthen individual and collective emotional intelligence.

Related: How I Transformed My Business Failures Into Strengths

Step 5: Put on the hat and the sneakers of a professional athlete

Today is a new day. It's time to get back in there. Take your lessons learned and incorporate the appropriate changes into how you and your team work. When an Olympic athlete has a bad training or competition day, she does not fold in the towlel. She and her coaching team learn from what works, what does not and use that information to cease behaviors and actions that no longer serve, commence new practices and beliefs needed to not repeat the same failure, and continue doing what is still working. Remember that you are a leader. Optics matter. If you continue to hang onto failure in an emotional way, your internal and external stakeholders will follow suit.

Patti Fletcher

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Leadership Futurist and Gender Equity Advocate

Dr. Patti Fletcher is the author of Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold (Entrepreneur Press 2018). Dr. Patti is an enterprise tech CMO, gender equity expert, board member and keynote speaker who has spent her career at the intersection of technology, business and people.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

This 61-Year-Old Grandma Who Made $35,000 in the Medical Field Now Earns 7 Figures in Retirement
A 'Quiet Promotion' Will Cost You a Lot — Use This Expert's 4-Step Strategy to Avoid It
3 Red Flags on Your LinkedIn Profile That Scare Clients Away
'Everyone Is Freaking Out.' What's Going On With Silicon Valley Bank? Federal Government Takes Control.

How to Detect a Liar in Seconds Using Nonverbal Communication

There are many ways to understand if someone is not honest with you. The following signs do not even require words and are all nonverbal queues.

Business News

Carnival Cruise Wants Passengers to Have Fun in the Sun — But Do This, and You'll Get Burned With a New $500 Fee

The cruise line's updated contract follows a spate of unruly guest behavior across the tourism industry.

Business News

Amtrak Introduces 'Night Owl' Prices With Some Routes As Low As $5

The new discounts apply to some rides between Washington D.C. and New York City.

Business News

Meta Employees Interrogate Mark Zuckerberg in Town Hall Meeting

The CEO fielded tough questions from rattled staffers at an all-hands meeting.

Business Solutions

This Highly Rated App Could Help Business Owners Stay Organized

Get your business in order with this personal organizer app on sale for $60.


8 Things I Discovered While Working With Affluent Clients in New York City

After a decade working with the 1%, I learned that they have common traits.