Photo by Ian Kim from Unsplash

What To Do When Your Fears of Failure Come True

It All Started With A Dream

My husband and I decided to start our own cafe.

The dream was to work on a business together and be close to our kids.

We found a place where our family could live above the cafe.

On the surface, it looked great.

In reality, I felt that everything that could go wrong went wrong.

The Dream Turned Into A Nightmare

Initially, we were caught up with all the activities of starting a business.

Registering the company, setting up the cafe, getting the word out, working on the menu, dealing with suppliers etc.

After a while, reality started to sink in.

#1. We were not profitable.

The rental was high, traffic was low.

We compromised on the location because we wanted a more affordable rent for the space we wanted.

We thought we could work harder through networking and marketing to bring in the crowds.

Eventually, we did get good crowds over the weekend. But that was not enough to sustain the business long term.

#2. We couldn’t work with each other.

Both my husband and I are stubborn and have strong opinions.

We each had different ideas about how we wanted to run the cafe.

I was used to calling the shots in my day job.

Not being able to do that with the cafe because I wanted to preserve our relationship meant I constantly had to compromise on how I wanted to run the cafe.

The close proximity resulted in many fights between us.

#3. We got into huge debt.

Like most people, the only loans my husband and I started out with until then was a mortgage and car loan.

But when we couldn’t turn in a profit fast enough, we took up loans upon loans to ease cash flow to keep the business afloat.

I had gone back to full-time work to sustain the family expenses. Because I earned a high salary in my day job, I could get loans easily.

Soon, I started charging daily expenses to my credit card, telling myself that I could earn rebate points to offset future purchases. Since I’d always paid my credit cards in full up to this point, I was confident I could continue to do so.

Before I knew it, I stopped paying my credit card in full. I wasn’t able to anymore.

Our income was insufficient to pay off our monthly expenses and loans for the business.

By this time, the business had accumulated a 6-figure loan. Add in our mortgage and car loans and we were easily sitting on a pile of 7-figure debt.

Breaking Point

My husband and I fought constantly over trying to make the business work and the pressure of making it financially.

Even the kids started seeing the business as the root of why we had to adjust our lifestyle compared to when both my husband and I were in full-time jobs.

I started losing sleep over not being able to repay these debts that were taken out in my name through my credit cards.

Eventually, we decided it was just not worth losing our marriage and finances over this cafe.

We decided not to continue with the cafe when the lease ended 4 years later.

What To Do When You Fail

Sure, we all know, if at first, you don’t succeed, try again, right?

If it were that simple, why do so many people fear failure?

Why do we let that fear stop us from even trying?

Ditch The Shame That Comes With Failure

Of course, my husband and I have learned from this experience.

We learned a lot about each other and about what it takes to run a cafe.

But I think what I learned most of all is ditching the shame that comes with failure.

Whitney Johnson talks about this in her interview on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast.

The idea is about de-linking the shame that comes with failure. Otherwise, we allow that shame to limit our learning.

Instead, every time we try something new and it doesn’t work out, it’s a great opportunity to learn and move forward at a much faster rate — as long as we can pull that shame out of the equation.

I felt shame around my situation because I’d always succeeded at school and in my job.

I wasn’t supposed to be in huge debt, with my marriage at the brink of collapse because of a failed business!

I was also embarrassed because friends and family had not been supportive of our business (ad)venture from the beginning.

The thought of having to face all the unspoken ‘I-told-you-so’s’ was painful.

This was the pinnacle of failure in my life — in my work, with my family and deep in debt.

It hurts when things don’t turn out the way we expect it to. It’s heartbreaking.

But I knew if I let the shame take over, I’d never be able to learn everything I could from this experience and move forward as a stronger person.

I’ve always believed that the secret to overcoming any fear is to give it a voice by talking openly about it. The more we try to hide our fears, the more the fear takes hold of us.

So What? Now What?

I love this quote by Linda Cliatt-Wayman, whose TED talk I watch again and again for inspiration when faced with tough times.

I hear her asking: So what? Now what?

So I failed in the business. So my marriage went through some tough tests. So we are in debt.

Now, I talk about my business failure openly and know what I need to do and what not to do.

Now, my husband and I work on our marriage because we realized what it takes to make a marriage work and endure through tough times.

Now, we have to figure out ways to pay off the debts.

And now, we try again and rebuild.

Originally published at on September 28, 2018.

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