The power in finding your legs after stumbling

Foal standing up and balancing isolated on white

The power in finding your legs after stumbling

I spend most of my professional life helping people move from analysis paralysis to taking concrete action.

It is so fun getting projects out the door, new businesses built, and ideas shipped.

The birthing of new things is intoxicating. It is such a rush, that we often forget an important truth:

Once born, projects have a life of their own.

My friend Tim Berry, founder of the business planning company Palo Alto Software, has been studying business planning for over 30 years.

So you imagine my surprise when I interviewed him in 2008 for Escape from Cubicle Nation and the first thing he told me is “ALL business plans are wrong.”

He followed up by saying “When you start, you take your best shot at plans and document your assumptions. They are going to be all guesses until you get your first 30 days under you, then the next 30 days after that. Keep documenting your assumptions, and update your plan as you go.”

He stressed that it is the process of planning that is the key to success, not creating perfect plans the first go-around.

I never forgot his advice, except the 100 times my results veered from my plans.

It was usually when I was feeling the sting of stumbling on a project, or after I blew a sales opportunity, or after a coaching call when I was not able to target exactly what my client needed.

We want things to work out, and go well.

It sucks to feel unsuccessful, or unprepared or incompetent.

Liberate yourself from being right, and become curious

My friend Mark Otto is working with me right now my long-term business plans. The first thing that we are doing is building some test business models. We are also paying really close attention to my mindset and common behavior patterns, as I learn a new way to run my business.

It is awful.

Just kidding, it is great.

It is sobering to see the repeated patterns I can fall into if I am not being really rigorous with my mindset and daily behaviors.

Mark is encouraging me to be aware and curious about my own patterns, as opposed to judgmental. (He has his work cut out for him!)

A key part of a strong mindset is to not crumble and withdraw if results don’t match your plans.

Instead of shrinking back from the difficulty or stopping altogether, you need to become aware and curious about what is getting in your way. Then, find a different approach or way to solve the problem.

This rigor of problem-solving, marked by some detachment from your ego that wants great results every time, no matter what, is where true strength and innovation develops.

Don’t stop!

If you have started a project and it has not turned out according to plan, if you launched a project and it fizzled out, if you wrote the first draft of your book and you kind of hate it, if you have had some sales calls that ended in a big no, if your client is pissed and you are in a tizzy, if you launched a website and feel it is not quite right, well done!

You have started, and if you continue to work through the problem areas, you are on your way to finding out what is right.

For goodness sakes, do not stop now!

So many people give up the first time something doesn’t work.

Or bail out when a project gets confusing and complicated.

Or throw their hands up in the air if they create a product and no one buys it (yet).

You are right in the middle of finding a better solution

If this is you, then it is time to step back and reframe.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I not seeing?
  • What were my original assumptions, and how have they been proven wrong?
  • What are new assumptions?
  • What if I took a totally different approach?
  • What if I just changed my mindset and had more patience with what I have been doing, so the results can occur?
  • What if I tried the thing everyone told me to do, but I resisted?
  • What if I resist the thing everyone is telling me to do, and do the thing I think will work?
  • What would I do if my ego was not involved?

I don’t know what the right question is for you, but I do know that if your problem is worth solving, it is worth exploring alternative approaches.

The going gets good when the good get creative.

Things are just starting to get interesting. Hang in there!

Reader Interactions


  1. Bridgette says

    Great list! I also think it’s important to take a moment (or in the case of a big stumble, many moments) to feel the feelings. Then, in addition to what you said, you may also have to shift focus entirely for a bit in order to get things hummming again so you can wade back into the fray.

  2. Daryl Gerke says

    One of the best pieces of advice I got on “stumbling” was shared with me almost forty years ago. As a brand new sales engineer (I had pivoted from ten years of design work) my boss sent me to a sales training class. During a break, I asked a a more experienced classmate how he handled losing a sale.

    His reply was “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. ” He went on, “Furthermore, if you’re not failing (stumbling), you are not trying hard enough. Every failure is a learning experience. After twenty years, I still lose sales but I’m doing just fine. ”

    Ten years later, that advice was invaluable when I started my own engineering consulting firm. Actually, I started twice, and the first time I stumbled badly. But I tried again later, and then the first day in business (1987) the stock market crashed. Scary, but I succeeded anyway.

    That same advice sustained me again when my late business partner and I started a training operation in conjunction with the consulting. It took us four times to get that right. We eventually ended training over 12,000 students in hundreds of multi-day classes around the world. What a blast! Glad we didn’t let a few stumbles stop us from that adventure.

    Pam is so right! Don’t stop – just step back and figure out what to do next — and next — and next. It took Thomas Edison hundreds of trials until he got the light bulb right. But when he did, he lit the world.

  3. Becky Blanton says

    I think you said it in the post, rethink, reframe, regroup. I started practicing mindfulness this year re: setbacks and stumbling and outright failure. It was hard at first, but the better I got the easier it got to step back immediately and distance myself from the EMOTION of the failure or stumbling. I was able to see the situation dispassionately, which made it 1,000 times easier to come up, weigh and selection solutions, pivot and fix things. Cannot say enough about the practice. When we remove our fears, anger and negative emotional energy from any situation, it totally changes how we approach a solution.

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