A Mindful Approach to Failure

In this TED Talk, author and entrepreneur Leticia Gasca shares three lessons on how to fail mindfully.

Everyone fails at some point. Whether it be in a relationship, at a new job, or even attempting to learn a new skill, like cooking. Yet despite how common failure is, we often do our best to hide it—and in doing so, we inadvertently lose our opportunity to grow from it.

In this TED Talk, Leticia Gasca, author and executive director of the Failure Institute, explains how approaching failure with mindfulness can help us become more resilient. 

Here are three lessons she shares on how to fail mindfully:

1. Everybody fails 

In her talk, Gasca recalls how after her first business failed, she didn’t talk about it for seven years.

“I felt so guilty that I decided to hide this failure from my conversations and my resume for years. I didn’t know other failed entrepreneurs, and I thought I was the only loser in the world,” she says.

Eventually, she decided to share her story with her friends—and was stunned to hear them describe similar tales of their own failure.

“I realized that sharing your failures makes you stronger, not weaker,” Gasca says. “And being open to my vulnerability helped me connect with others in a deeper and more meaningful way, and embrace life lessons I wouldn’t have learned previously.”

I realized that sharing your failures makes you stronger, not weaker, and being open to my vulnerability helped me connect with others in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Realizing how cathartic it felt to finally share her failure experience led Gasca and her friends to create “Fuckup Nights”: an evening for entrepreneurs to tell others how they failed. The initiative has evolved into a global movement and event series active in 80 countries and dedicated to sharing stories of professional failure.  

“[Failing] doesn’t have to be a moment of shame and embarrassment, as it used to be in the past,” Gasca says. “It is an opportunity to share lessons learned and build empathy.”

2. There is no one way to fail

Eventually, Gasca and her colleagues established the Failure Institute, a research center devoted to understanding failure and the influence it has on business, people, and society.

Through different projects, Gasca has come to learn that failure impacts everyone differently, often depending on gender and location.

For example, she found men and women react differently to the failure of a business—men are more likely to start a new business within one year of failure, but women will often postpone starting a new business.

“Our hypothesis is that this happens because women tend to suffer more from the impostor syndrome. We feel that we need something else to be a good entrepreneur,” Gasca says.

Men are more likely to start a new business within one year of failure, but women will often postpone starting a new business.

And in America, failed entrepreneurs of any gender are more likely to go back to school, while in Europe, they tend to seek out a therapist.

Regardless of how you cope with failure, Gasca says the most important thing is to learn from it. 

3. Take the slow road to success

Ultimately, while failure shouldn’t be seen as shameful, you shouldn’t run toward it, either.

“Every time I listen to Silicon Valley types or students bragging about failing fast and often like it’s no big deal, I cringe,” Gasca says.

While “failing fast,” can help people jump into a new project and avoid wasting time, Gasca argues it can also keep you from sticking to a goal, which can result in more failure.

“It is not a cause of humiliation, as it used to be in the past, or a cause of celebration, as some people say,” she explains.

Instead, Gasca advocates that people take a mindful approach to failure.

“It means being aware of the impact, of the consequences of the failure of that business. Being aware of the lessons learned. And being aware of the responsibility to share those learnings with the world,” she says.