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Budgeting for Failure
In previous posts, I talked about a couple tactics that have helped me deal with failure: turning “what a failure” into “what a useful experiment” and reminding myself that 0 failure means 0 growth. Today, I’ll share my 3rd tactic: budgeting for failure.
This idea came from a friend who, years ago, used to get really irritated when they got a parking ticket. Every day, they would drive to our suburban office, and sometimes get so caught up in the flow of work that they would forget to pay the meter. Even though it was probably a good investment overall — getting many hours of focus at the cost of an occasional not-too-expensive parking ticket — having to pay it made them feel bad and they’d get upset.
One day, they decided to create an “annual budget” for parking tickets that they set aside in advance. The moment they did that, they no longer got upset when they got parking tickets — because they knew they weren’t losing money needlessly, but instead were consciously investing a budget so they could focus more at work.
I was so inspired by this. Now, whenever I’m starting something new, I ask myself: what’s my budget for failure?
If I’m giving a series of talks, I remind myself ahead of time that some of them won’t be as good as others — so if one of them doesn’t go as well as I wanted, I know it’s okay. If I’m taking on a new domain and kicking off a bunch of projects, I ask myself “For what % of these projects would it be okay if they took a little longer than originally planned?” If I’m planning a family vacation, is it okay if not every night is perfect?
I know there will be some failure anytime I’m trying something. Preparing for this from the beginning — and even assigning a budget to it — makes it easier for me to recognize and deal with failure when it happens.
Ways having a budget for failure has helped me:
It helps me recognize faster when something fails. I already know that *something* I’m working on will fail, so I can focus on scanning for *what* the failure is. Then I can quickly shift more attention to it once I recognize it.
It makes it easier for other people to highlight what’s failing. By telling people I expect some things I’m working on to fail, people around me know they won’t offend me by flagging things that aren’t working. Instead, people can proactively join me in scanning for failures so we can address them faster.
Most importantly for me, it makes failures less emotional. When something doesn’t work, I still feel the sting of failure – but then I can think to myself, “Well, that was in the budget.”
But they have made failure less of an emotional burden. That makes it much easier to take risks, because I know I can recover faster from the failures.
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