How bankruptcy was the best thing that happened to me

Failures are learning moments, but they still make us feel frustrated, angry, and afraid. How should we
change our perspective towards failure so that we learn how to value it?

5 minute read

I don’t want to do this. 

This can’t be happening. 

My finger hovered on my dark silver MacBook pro’s touchpad like trying to avoid the send button. 

Is this really it? I felt blank. 

I don’t remember when was the last time I’ve been so clueless. I’ve always pulled a rabbit out of a hat like some kind of twisted version of David Copperfield. I am an entrepreneur, for god’s sake. My job is to solve problems, not invent them. 

But my mind was empty. I was empty. 

Then it happened. 

I watched as my finger touched the touchpad’s electric surface and commanded mac’s cursor to activate that snippet of code we call buttons. 

Click. There. 

I just made over 300 thousand euro debt personal. Right now the company I’ve been building for the past years is gone. Right now, I filed for bankruptcy. 

By clicking that tiny button I entered a whole new world where I would be chased after and free-fall through society’s safety nets. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m really on my own.

Why we need failures

Thinking about stopping, thinking about doing, or thinking about going is easy, but when you actually execute it, it’s hard – it’s really hard. 

But why is it so hard? Why do our stomach ache and head feel dizzy? 

It’s because of fear – the fear of failure. 

I once read about an experiment, where scientists wanted to see if they could create a perfect condition to grow trees. 

So, they built this huge glass biodome and planted the seedlings. 

First, everything seemed fine. The saplings got water and sun, so the trees started to grow. But then something strange happened. Before they reached the dome’s glass ceiling, they started to mysteriously topple over. 

Every single one of them. 

Well, long story short, the scientists finally figured out the reason and it was the lack of wind. 

There was no wind in the dome. And without wind, the roots of these trees couldn’t grow as strong and sturdy as needed to carry the tree’s weight. 

So they fell down. 

And this is the thing with failures. Just like trees need wind, we need failures in order to grow and survive.

But I know, it is easier said than done.

How to fall in love with failures

Everyone knows that failures are learning moments. But how can you fall in love with it, you might ask. 

Well, here’s a realization that helped me to fall in love with it some years back. 

It all started with understanding why we actually are afraid of failures in the first place. 

The culprit is our ego. 

Remember all the things you’ve wanted to do, all the ideas that first got you excited, and then what happened. You started to rationalize your dreams and quickly realized how you would be seen if that wouldn’t work after all. You’d be the laughing stock and cautionary tale. You tried something and failed miserably. You left your corporate job and went back to school, or worse, you became a failing entrepreneur. 

Everybody tried to warn you but no, you didn’t listen. And look at you now, you are broke, abandoned, and sad. 

You are an outcast. 

It is no surprise that after those thoughts we are ready to reconsider taking action. So, if the ego is in the way, how could we get rid of it? 

Well, by thinking like a scientist. 

See, in the academic world researchers are expecting repeated failures before success. That’s why they set goals, create hypotheses, run tests, and analyze the results. Then they tweak their tests and run them again. Eventually, the right way will be discovered and the foundings shatter the world. 

A failing scientist is a good scientist. 

The mistake is not in you, but in the way you do things. So, if you apply a scientist’s attitude toward failures, your ego stays safe and you can continue discovering the right way. 

In other words, when you take away all the anger and pain, all the frustrations and shame, and observe failures objectively without feelings, you realize how vital failures actually are. 

In hindsight and observed afar, that sounds obvious, but when you are standing on the cliff of change, looking down to the abyss, you start to create all these excuses why not to jump.

Deep down, in your guts, you know the right thing to do. 

And being deeply in love with failures makes it easier to follow your guts. 

Tough times won’t last forever, but tough people do. But you can’t become tough if you keep avoiding failures.

What did I learn?

I feel shame when I look back on those days. 

I knew far too long that I wasn’t raising a child, but a monster. 

That company and that environment were killing me mentally and physically. I got to the point where my heart didn’t stop racing. I was so stressed that I felt dizzy multiple times a day, I gained a lot of weight, and my jokes became so dark that some of my friends had to pull me aside and tell me to calm down because I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. 

But maybe the worst thing was that I started to have this uneasy feeling that if I continue down this road, my life may end sooner than I thought. 

I knew I had to stop.

In this particular case, luckily, I didn’t have to think about jumping – I was pushed over the ledge. 

But this time, I felt relieved. 

In a strange way, while I was falling, I felt at home again. 

Finally, I was forced to go forward in my life. Finally, I was so broke that I had to sell everything we had and move abroad. Finally, I was learning again. 

Today, my life is actually happy,  I’m almost stress-free, and to my surprise, I am earning more than I have ever earned before. 

My heart stopped racing, and I started to lose some weight. 

I’ve always wanted to live abroad, so now I am. I’ve even become funny again. 

So right now, today, I not only know that I am stronger and I will survive, but I also know that I’m finally on my path to success. 

With love,

Mikael Hugg

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