Skip to content

On being a failure

A story about the fear of failing the people who believed in me.

Ondrej Markus
Ondrej Markus
2 min read
On being a failure

Five years ago, I co-founded a startup in nutrition. We've grown fast in the first year despite not really knowing what we're doing.

Profits were soaring, we gave interviews to magazines, and people started congratulating us: "What a great success, guys."

And I believed it. "We are successful now."

But during all this, my non-existent skills in financial planning brought us on the verge of a disaster. I miscalculated our cash flow.

Suddenly, we were about to go bankrupt in 2-3 weeks. Ups. I felt responsible and wanted to fix it.

So I worked non-stop 18 hours a day, from waking up to falling asleep. I redesigned our website, rewrote every copy, emailed every customer. I had to prevent becoming a failure.

But nothing worked. And I realized with horror: "I have no idea how to fix this."

Then, on the third day of misery, I had a thought: "I'd rather be dead than keep on going like this." And it was like hitting a brick wall.

"HOLY SHIT!" I thought. This is a red fucking flag. Nothing is worth feeling like this.

So I said to myself: "Fuck it. I'll do my best, but I can't control everything that happens."

I stopped caring so much, did my work, and made my peace with whatever comes next. And you know what? The problem solved itself. Sales went up, and we made it through.

Looking back now, I overreacted. I created this agony with my own imagination. I was so afraid of not meeting the expectations of people who believed in me.

I left the startup a year after that. However, I'll never forget this feeling: The dread of becoming a failure with nothing I could do to stop it. Hopelessness. It's the worst feeling I ever experienced.

This was far from depression or other impossible situations people face in life. But it made me taste the moment when people feel like there are no exits left but the one. So they take it.

It doesn't matter the failure exists mostly in our imagination. It feels real. The consequences feel real.

Failing the expectations of others is one of the biggest fears we carry on our backs. We should do whatever we can to make life easier for others and ourselves.

We should stop glorifying success. We should stop forcing our expectations on others. And we should build environments where failing is a synonym for learning and living – where there's no need for the word or the feeling of failure.

We can do better.

Learning

Ondrej Markus

Designer, writer, introvert.