The Other Fucking F-Word

Failure. The f-word we really hate talking about.

Fear of failure is not a new concept. It’s been well document for a long time. Google it.

There is nothing sage about the wisdom of overcoming failure. It’s an age-old story that is repeated daily. Someone, somewhere fails at something and then gets up, starts over and tries again.

Nothing to see here, move along folks.

But if this is something that occurs on a daily basis then why does the word “failure” still hold so much power over us mere mortals? Like the word “fuck” - the original “F-word” - which still carries immense meaning and anger. How is it possible that fear of failure is still the reason that business never begin or often never succeed? Why is there a crippling fear of not succeeding that is impressed upon us as a cultural norm?

It’s important to explain exactly which culture I am refering to.

I live in South Africa and we have a brutal, sad and downtrodden past filled with many gut-wrenching inequalities and missteps that lasted centuries. We’re still getting over this past. It’s going to take us decades of work to truly overcome what Apartheid did to our country and its people.

In short, there’s a lot of emotional recovery taking place in South Africa. It’s an ongoing battle and one that sneaks through every new generation whether we like to admit it or not.

Why do I explain this? Because I believe that our social, culture and historic background has a lot to do with our existing fear of failure.

It’s something I see less often in entrepreneurs from other countries but I see it every day in South African entrepreneurs.

We believe that we only get one shot.

I know this because I’ve interacted with more entrepreneurs than I can even remember over the past 10 years. All of them have failed at some point and had the awakening that failure isn’t the cultural face-tattoo that we believe it to be.

Failure is a natural and necessary path to success.

Again, I am not stating anything new or revolutionary in these words but I believe the more we repeat these things, the more entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs understand that failure is not something to manage but actually an imperative step in becoming an accomplished business person.

There is an unfortunate and sad second cultural norm that infects the South African masses. We hate success and laugh at failure.

I can’t actually count the number of times I’ve heard people berate successful and young entrepreneurs for driving a nice car or taking a holiday. When a friend of mine purchased his first nice car ever he ended up selling it 6 months later because he couldn’t bare to deal with the remarks he received on a daily basis. That hatred and jealousy needs to stop. If one person succeeds they’re opening a door, not locking down the house.

When people fail we need to start to ask why, how and what could have been done differently. We need to stop pointing fingers and laughing.

The fear of that fucking F-wordbecomes exponentially greater when you believe that those around you are going to laugh you out of the game. Instead we should be picking up entrepreneurs who have tried and failed and helping them to start over. The more of us there are, the more of us there will be to succeed.

If you don’t believe that this level of support and reinvestment takes place then you should read up on the PayPal Maffia members (two of whom are South African) and what they’ve gone on to create after the success of PayPal.

I urge entrepreneurs to start to practice the philosophy of ubuntu. Just in case you aren’t familiar with this philosophy (not the operating system) here’s a brief description:

…a term roughly translating to “human kindness.” It is an idea from the Southern African region which means literally “human-ness,” and is often translated as “humanity toward others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

In short: I am, because we are.

I succeed because we succeed. You fail because I fail. We are all a part of a similar journey and if we continue to berate and belittle people for failing then that fucking F-word will never disappear.


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