The Cloudy Eyes of Failure

I have seen it many times. I call it “the cloudy eyes of failure.” Others may know it as “tunnel vision,” or “shutting down.” No matter what you call it, the symptoms (and the results) are the same. Time after time, I see people who are living in a state of failure, whether in their personal life, job, or business, consistently hone in on the wrong things and give these “things” their full attention. Like a dog chasing their tail, their resolve to spin in circles is resolute.

Of course, when we’re in that state of failure, it is the time in between failing and actually closing the doors. We don’t know we’re spinning in circles. In fact, we believe that we are pushing forward, fixing what is broken, and saving the day. Anyone with an outside perspective can see that we are playing the fiddle while Rome is burning, but to us, it is sweet sweet music.

More times than not, what I have seen (and experienced) is that when in a state of failure, all the little things become extremely important. We focus on small details that hold little hope of saving us, but in our minds, they are things that have been holding us back, the things that must be conquered and subdued. There is a very good reason for this phenomenon. It has to do with control. When our whole world seems to be crashing out of control, we grasp for something to hold onto, anything. We quickly, but subconsciously, realize that little details will still bend to our will. Seduced by the power of our dominion over these little things, we mistakenly feel like we are back in control of everything. The temptation (and we don’t even know we’re being tempted) is to give our full attention to the things that we feel we can control, and thus we ignore everything else. Clouds cover the bigger issues that should be addressed but would take more resources, manpower, or even willpower than we believe we have at the moment.

Breaking Through the Clouds

So how does one pull up from this nosedive into disaster and rise above the clouds to see more clearly? I have found that there are seven steps that can be taken to break out of the tailspin and save our failing business or career. I will not go into detail at this point. Each of the seven points can be a full article by their own right. Instead of cheapening the importance of each, I will simply list them here, and go into more detail about the individual steps in later articles.

  1. Acknowledge that you are failing
  2. Accept the fact that the only way to prevent failure is to make big, tough, sometimes earth-shaking changes
  3. Realize that if you don’t change, failure is imminent
  4. See big change as good and exciting: it will be your savior
  5. Take a critical, big-picture look at what is going wrong
  6. Seek outside help through consultants, professionals, and mentors
  7. Put all the pieces together and formulate an action plan to change the right things at the right moment.

As most lists do, this list can oversimplify a very complex and diverse topic. The truth is that you did not start failing overnight and you won’t rebuild in a day either. It takes time, work, and commitment, but it can be done. Over the next few weeks, I will try my best to address each of the above seven steps in more detail. But, for the purpose of this article, remember: if you are in a state of failure, stop, take a deep breath, look around and be very critical with yourself on how you spend your time. Big problems generally take big solutions to fix. So, if you find your time being too heavily weighted on completing little tasks, it’s time to reevaluate.

It would be a mistake to interpret this article as saying that details and the little things don’t matter. A ship will sink if a tiny hole goes unpatched. Failure may have been caused because little details were missed, but the point is that now you can’t simply go back and patch the hole. Yes, fix the hole, but now you also have to pump the water out, fix the electrical issues, replace the soaked and rotting equipment, and most likely hire a new crew since the old one already abandoned ship. Failure is never about one thing: it is generally the consequences of many things large and small being ignored, missed, or poorly managed. For the same reason, no one remedy will fix all the issues. This is why it is so important to not get tunnel vision when in a state of failure but to force yourself to keep your confidence up, take control, and look out at the whole ship to know which holes to patch up first.