“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” Jeff Bezos
So, how did you get your start in this whole entrepreneurship thing? Was it your plan from day one, or did you kind of back into it, realizing through adversity, setbacks or maybe even failures, that you were destined to take the wheel of your own dream?
Whether you’ve just arrived and are yet to encounter difficulty, or perhaps you already know far too well what it’s all about, you’ll realize that professional success is about moving forward through challenging periods. The greatest entrepreneurs — and their businesses — have been shaped by setbacks, adversity, mistakes and even failures.
At the onset of any venture, we don’t have to worry about the bright lights shining on us and examining all of our test runs, trial and (many) errors, and certainly not worrying about having these exposed to the public.
And honestly, that’s a good thing. We can mess up, virtually, in private. We can make fools of ourselves, and even laugh at ourselves.
Once you become known all over the world, every move you make is under the microscope. Just ask Elon Musk.
Elon Musk is a successful entrepreneur known for taking audacious chances to do things most people have never even dreamed of. He’s had both successes (Tesla), but also failures (Tesla) — see here. The point is, while his electric car company has been successful, he’s had to power through some embarrassing failures where many would have quit.
Billionaire Sara Blakely dealt with failure throughout her sales career, and even when she first began to pitch the nascent idea of what would become Spanx, to hosiery mills. She was turned away by each person she met with, but eventually, she found someone willing to work with her. It didn’t happen right away, but people did begin to realize the brilliance of her idea.
“My dad encouraged us to fail growing up. He would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome — failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” — Sara Blakely
Had it not been for her foundation in sales, going door-to-door selling fax machines (yes, before digital scanning apps these did exist!), she may have lacked the persistence to keep going. But she knew that every success she had earned was born from failure — from giving things a shot and hoping for the best. Safe to say, Sara Blakely made it to the top after growing from setbacks.
Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and had massive success as an investor in Facebook, but also has the blemish of Clarium Capital to his name. If you don’t know, Clarium amassed more than $7 Billion worth of assets before losing more than 90% of its accumulation due to losses in the stock market, and on oil and currencies.
“You don’t want to be starting a business for the sake of it, but because there is a problem that cannot be solved in existing structures.” — Peter Thiel
But we don’t as much remember Thiel for the latter today, because he simply refused to let such a massive failure stop him. He aggregated his lessons learned from both successes and setbacks and used them to continue building his entrepreneurial structure for future victory.
The way to get to that point is to possess the unique willpower that is unafraid to fail, and determined to always give intelligent effort to try to succeed.
How to Keep Moving Forward
Accepting failure, acknowledging mistakes and withstanding setbacks in a mature, emotionally intelligent way actually seems counter-intuitive. Culturally, failure has always seemed embarrassing. Most of us don’t want to admit it. But the real strength is in owning your story so that you can have greater clarity and confidence, while putting less of the bad, undue kind of pressure on yourself for your next try.
Here are five powerful ways to continue moving forward on your journey:
1. Understand and know going in that everything won’t be a success.
Build and plan for success, but create an emotional awareness that setbacks will happen. It’s imperative to have a game plan in place that prepares you mentally and emotionally for how to efficiently manage that adversity so that you can stay productive while minimizing “down time”
What do I mean by that? If your mind is attuned to a positive, persistent approach, then the setbacks won’t last as long. You can have your “grieving time,” take your step back, learn from what you’ve experienced and then fuel your future growth based off those lessons learned.
2. Use your mental architecture to visualize success
This power of visualization, coupled with positive affirmation, will feed your subconscious and conscious mind and give you the fuel you need to take up the gauntlet each time. Eliminate doubt, anxiety and worry by visualizing yourself accomplishing your goals and connecting together the tasks that you need to satisfy your plan. Then, execute.
3. Celebrate every Win
In the same way that you self-examine, assess and use your setbacks to grow, take time to celebrate your wins, no matter how big or small. So many people simply dismiss “small” successes and take them for granted. Don’t get complacent, but positively affirm what you’ve done by boosting your energy and enthusiasm to propel you forward to the next big win.
4. Boost your expertise — self-learn and learn from the experts
We all need mentors in life. You may want to shield your million-dollar idea from the sharks, but you could certainly benefit from having a mentor that has been there, done that. You will learn so much more about the components of what it truly takes to scale and operate a high-functioning business from a mentor.
I’m talking about the often overlooked mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical daily growth that is required to keep pace with the innovation that you inspire through your work. Re-committing to your personal development — as well as the betterment of your employees — helps create buy-in and sustains energy to move forward from setbacks.
5. Learn a new skill that will make you more well-rounded
You may be the “idea person” at your company who everyone turns to for creativity, yet you haven’t yet mastered the “business-side” of what will make your start-up successful. Pick up a great business book like The Power of Habit or Good to Great and start reading.
Perhaps your thing is product, yet you don’t understand digital marketing. Sign-up for a course on any number of sites like Udemy or Coursera and get the basics. Network in your industry. You don’t have to become the expert, but it helps to have a basic foundation in all areas of your business.
“The very first company I started failed with a great bang. The second one failed a little bit less, but still failed. The third one, you know, proper failed, but it was kind of okay. I recovered quickly. Number four almost didn’t fail. It still didn’t really feel great, but it did okay. Number five was PayPal.” Max Levchin, former PayPal CTO
It’s OK to fail. That’s how we learn. You’ll have the support, as well as sharing the kindred spirit, of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. As you progress, you’ll learn how to refine your approach and minimize future setbacks even as you take on more risk.
Failure should never, ever make you more averse to risk. In fact, it should only embolden you to take bigger chances, as long as they’re well-researched and intelligently planned. Don’t let failure stop you in your tracks. You still have a business to run.
Dr. Rita McGrath writes,
“ In a new business, failure becomes something you really want to be more tolerant of... but you want to create structures which protect and support the smaller, more experimental efforts, from the juggernaut of the ongoing business.” Source: HBR
The great irony in life is that those who succeed the most are the ones who have failed. What makes these entrepreneurs successful is that they refused to give up. Their failures actually strengthened their faith in themselves to persevere and work harder to make the next try an even better one. You have this same power. Let it guide you to greatness.