Shit Happens. How to Fail Properly and Recover Stronger

 Your wellbeing depends on how fast you bounce back from a failure. Get on with it!


“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

I think it's true everyone experiences failures. It is critical to learn how to recover stronger.


– Lessons from Thomas Tuchel’s “Shit Happens”

– Three Step Process to Fail Properly and Bounce Back Stronger

– Key Takeaways

#BVB. Tuchel is an inspiration. He knows how to recover strongly.

Thomas Tuchel. Never met him. Recently heard him. Especially, when he said, “Shit happens…” after an uncommon failure.

Tuchel is the manager of Borussia Dortmund, or BVB, currently vying for the German League title. They are just behind Bayern Munich.

Munich’s world class goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer reckons that BVB is amongst the five top teams in the world. And, Jurgen Klopp, Tuchel’s predecessor at BVB, and the man who orchestrated this shit agrees.

Klopp is the manager for Liverpool Football Club. They were battling BVB for a place in the semi-final of the Europa League. It would be decided over two legs. Liverpool came home from Germany with a 1-1 draw. A good result but shaky. An away goal was useful but 1-1 meant no margin for error in their home match at Anfield.

All BVB needed to do was to score one and park the bus. And, BVB is one of the five top teams in the world. They have players to die for. Like Hummel, Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan.

And, Tuchel is not a Mourinho. He did not want to win with the bus. “I don’t care too much about the result in the first leg. I don’t think it will be decisive,” said the Dortmund boss in a pre-match interview with the media. He continued, “We are here to attack, we are here to score goals, to take risks and to enjoy the game. We are not here to feel our boundaries. We are here to feel our potential.

We are clear we will have to play our best and we feel ready for it. We don’t want to score one, we want to score two or even more. I am proud to be the coach in this situation.”

Lessons from Shit Happens

In my opinion, a great recent lesson in recovering stronger from a failure.

“We want to score two or even more.” That’s precisely what BVB did. They hit Liverpool with two within 9 minutes, and a third in the 57th. Tuchel clearly had a good plan. He knew the potential of his attackers. And, the flimsiness of the Liverpool defense. They did attack Liverpool ferociously. After the ninth minute goal, Liverpool, also known as ‘the Reds,’ were left for dead. It will be a monumental task to overturn such a deficit against a team like Dortmund.

It seemed that at half time Klopp summoned the spirits. He reminded his players of ‘The Spirit of Istanbul.’  The 2005 Champions League final. Liverpool trailed AC Milan 0-3 at half time and pipped them to the cup.

Klopp also touched the human spirit. He told the players to write a triumphant story for their grandchildren. More, or less.

Tuchel had a plan to kill off Liverpool quickly. It was worked in the first half. The only thingy his team was not prepared. “How do you deal with a resurrection?”

Apparently, Tuchel’s initial reaction was, “there are no words to describe this.” In the second half, within 30 minutes, Liverpool drew level, 3-3. Origi of the Reds scored at 48th. BVB’s Reus regained the margin at 57th. Coutinho, the subject of our Anger post narrowed the gap with a goal at the 66th minute. Then Sakho, who had not scored in almost two years, turned one in with his head. This was the 78th.

It was visible that Dortmund players were shaken by Liverpool’s fight back. They lost their composure. In the face of the rising dead.

The final goal was telling. Even when Sturridge was fumbling, the BVB defender could not regain the ball. Instead their defense, uncharacteristically, opened a big gap for Liverpool skipper, James Milner to dash in for the Sturridge pass.

Milner’s cross connected with the Lovren’s head for a rare goal. One that will make Dejan Lovren famous with many generations of Liverpool players and fans. One that killed Dortmund’s Europa cup dream.

But, Tuchel and his team know how to recover. And to come back stronger. In the next six days after the catastrophic event, BVB went on to beat Hertha Berlin and Hamburg. Both with a 3-0 margin.

In my life, and I am sure in yours, we have experienced failures. Or setbacks, if you will.

It would be unreal to think that we can maintain our level of happiness, if at all, in such difficult circumstances. The fight of the moment centers on how not to allow failure to be our undertaker. And instead, turn the failure into our teacher.

The fight of the moment centers on how not to allow failure to be our… Click To Tweet

One of the keys to a life of joy and happiness is not that we will not experience unhappiness. That would be unreal. In fact, a famous psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar thinks that it’s psychopathic to expect happiness every moment. One of the distinctions which separates people who lead a happy life and those who do not, is how fast they bounce back from a setback.

Three Step Process to Fail Properly and Bounce Back Stronger

Like Tuchel, we must realize that shit happens. Tuchel and BVB have proven that you can come back stronger, shortly, after a big failure. So, how do you fail properly so that you can bounce back stronger?

Yeah, we should view failures as events to be dealt with. Not a life threatening malaise.

1.Recognize the Event. For every bad experience, to recover, you have to recognize it. However, you have to label it correctly. It is just an event. It’s already happened. It has passed. Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding teaches you how to beat deceptive brain messages in four steps. You can refer to their book, ‘You are not Your Brain.’ 

Do not give it more clout than it really has. 

It’s important to keep calm. Like Tuchel. The Mirror wrote, “Plenty of managers would have been furious in the post-match interview, but Tuchel remained calm despite their shocking result.” Keeping calm allows you to see what it really is. An event. A result which is below expectation. Deal with it. Case closed.

Move on to the next challenge.    

Marcus Reus of BVB confirmed that the loss to Liverpool was read news when he said, “I don’t think Liverpool was in our heads, really.” After the victory over Hertha Berlin. And he was clearly right that the Liverpool loss had been dealt with. Hamburg was on the receiving end of a similar 3-0 victory. Just three days after Hertha Berlin. BVB rebounded. Liverpool was just another event in another week.

After some silly American centric rules were set in place, I had to deal with such failed events more often. I was leading the building and employee services team. For an American multi-national. We had kitchens, buses and civil projects in our portfolio. All of them outsourced.                                                               

One day, they decided on an outcome based contract. And, we were supposed not tell the contractors what to do. The problem was that we were not operating in USA. We were an emerging economy. Our operating standards were different. The quality of our suppliers were not at par. We will get to the US standards. Over time. 

And then, they handed over the contract to a major international contractor. The new big guys contracted the same local suppliers, hired local supervisors with less experience than our team and so forth. Now, we can’t tell this international contractor what to do. Just grit your teeth and cringe.

It was mind numbing.                                        

So, we had to deal with stove fires, slips and falls, minor accidents, safety violations etc. Each service failure had to be contained and dealt with. An event scheduled for case management.In the meantime, we had to get the meals ready for 7000 people every working day. To get the 3000 bus users to work in a timely manner. Also, to focus on the ongoing civil projects. We needed cool heads. We had to take emotion out of the issues. Recognize the incidents as failure events. Focus on service recovery. And, prevent recurrence.  Next thing. We have a job to do.

My experience is when you take accountability, you reagin a sense of control. Good for sense of self worth.

2.Assume Accountability. Besides the famous ‘shit happens’ summary, Tuchel also acknowledged that they lost to Liverpool. He did not complain about the referee, home advantage or the weather. He said they will lose like champions.

A congratulations tweet was sent to Liverpool.                                                                    

The Liverpool players seemed to have taken accountability for their poor first half performance. They looked driven in the second half. Perhaps, by the purpose they bought into. “Do it to tell the grandchildren.”  

In the early days when I was in Human Resources, we were also doing public relations. I wrote press releases. Mooched around reporters. Drinking teas. Or coffees. (I was and am a teetotaler.)

Currying for better hit rates.

One Monday morning there was a hoo-ha in my boss’s office. The site manager was fussing on a newspaper report about our impending warehouse. He wanted to know who leaked. It was supposed to be announced weeks later.

Oops! I remembered. Last Friday evening. I was with a reporter, waiting for him to ask about the company I worked with. In American slang, I was damned proud of the company. Seized every chance to brag about it.

Two things I learned. 1. Brag only about what has been bragged. 2.There is no off the record with certain reporters. I wrote a confession to the site manager. Offering to resign if he so wished.

I was co-opted into the damage control team. They pulled in the announcement. And it did not appear in my performance record.              

Later, I learned that the site manager wanted the loose lips fired. I was saved because I owned up. The slip was not for any personal gain.

The big thing about owning up is about leadership and integrity. I learned the value of the first mover advantage in service failures.  

The moment I learned of a service failure, I would shoot out an early mail. Even without the full details. I would give notice of the incident, attached a gut feel impact assessment. The mail would also list a schedule of the later reports. The updates stakeholders could expect. When things got clearer.

This initiative showed I was in control. It also prevented opportunists, and there were many, of making souped- up ‘news of the day’ rounds. However, the biggest deal about taking accountability comes from deciding. That it is your responsibility to learn from this (failure) event.

And get better. Stronger.

I think there is always an opportunity in a setback , if you look hard enough. Napoleon Hill said that there is an equal or greater opportunity in every adversity.

3.Find Opportunities. You would have probably heard this a thousand times. The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two words, “danger” and “opportunity.”

I am a Chinese who doesn’t read Chinese. It took an American, Denis Waitley to tell me that. Years ago. In one of his many books I owned. But I remembered it for life.

Drs.Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein, in “The Power of Resilience” talk about dealing effectively with mistakes: “Resilient people tend to view mistakes as experiences for learning and growth. This does not mean they are overjoyed with mistakes, but rather they are not easily discouraged, instead looking for opportunities that might be a by-product of setbacks.”

Tuchel, in his pre-match tee up talked about attacking and taking risks. In the loss, he found opportunities for improvement. “It’s the small details that count, the cross-field passes, the passes into the gaps,” Tuchel noted. He continued, “We were missing the confidence and the presence to calm the game down after they pulled back to 3-2 and to perform against our opponent. At certain point they were completely driven by emotion.” 

He would have probably made a note somewhere, “How do you deal with fright of dead men rising?”

You can almost always find opportunities in setbacks. You would have heard of resilient people who lost their limbs. They developed better artificial limbs.   There are people who have lost their fortunes early. They build bigger fortunes. And learn to hold to it longer.

I am a sucker for this idea. Look for the horse when there is horse shit. Click To Tweet

Out of the stove fires rose case studies that we shared with our other kitchens globally , preventing similar incidents.  Ditto other excursions.

Even in a fatal accident, we managed to secure a win. Our contracted bus was hit by a van which jumped the road divider. The van driver was killed and our employees strewn all over the place from the bus. It was the first time we experienced a fatal incident.  We kept our cool. Viewed it as an incident. Reminded our team to keep emotion out. Huddled and formulated a quick next steps. There was no precedent to refer.

There was no question about accountability. Let the police find who was right or wrong. We owned the wellbeing of our employees. Our focus; “make sure every employee is accounted for, facilitate quick hospital admission, inform their loved ones and inform management.”

When all the intricacies of the matter were dealt with. With everyone back at work, we organized a recovery party. We made employees involved understand that this was an event that had passed. The contractor shared their improvement plan. Finance addressed insurance claims and remuneration. In -house nurses talked about available health services and counselling. And the site manager gave a pep talk.

With the accident determined as a non-administration issue, our recovery party was recognized as an accomplishment.

Keep calm when setbacks happen and recover stronger.

Key Takeaway

Despite the best laid plans, shit happens. Ask Robert Burns, the 18th century poet.                                 

You can prove that failure is fatal by groveling in self-pity and denial. Or, like the most successful industrialist of his time, Henry Ford, you can see it as an opportunity to begin again, more wisely.

You can bounce back like Thomas Tuchel to be even stronger. The difference that makes the difference is your mindset. Being resilient savvy. Make it a habit to look up when you are down.

 Despite the best laid plans, shit happens. Click To Tweet

How to fail properly and recover stronger in three steps:

  1. Recognize the failure as just an event. It has happened. It has passed. You will deal with it. You have to label it right.
  2. Assume Accountability. Own up and take leadership to contain the damage. Demonstrate that you are in control. Reclaim the confidence in you.
  3. Find Opportunities. Identify key learnings from your failure or mistake. Look for gaps in plan and execution. Turn the gaps into opportunities. You have to find ways to bounce back stronger. Your sense of self-worth depends on it.

Remember. Your wellbeing depends on how fast you bounce back from failures. Click To Tweet  


How about you? Have you failed before? What are the steps you took to recover stronger?                                                                                                                                                



Get Free Clarity Worksheet
Enter your email and hit Instant Access button
We respect your privacy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *