Every successful industry mogul, from Jack Welch to Sara Blakely, has faced failure. Sara Blakely, creator of Spanx and self-made female billionaire, told CNBC in an interview that her father would often ask her and her brother the same question at dinner: “What have you failed at this week?” The exercise was not one of self-flagellation and wallowing in disappointment but to one that pointed out that there is no failure without trying—and that not trying is a worse alternative than failure.
As an entrepreneur I have faced my share of failures, too. In fact, because my process is all about trial and error, I have many opportunities to fail, but when I do I try not to get discouraged. When I first started Jennie Lyon Virtual Assistant Services, I lost a big client who ended up wanting a local assistant instead of a virtual one. As a new business owner, I mistakenly interpreted her decision as a direct reflection of my work and of me personally, despite her saying she just needed someone local—something I had no control over. This was a tough obstacle and I even thought of giving up on my business, but kept reminding myself that because she chose me in the first place—before she realized her needs required someone local—and that probably meant that others would want to work with me, too. Not giving up turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made because it pushed me to try harder, network more, and really focus in on building my business.
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Failure can teach us a lot if we let it, but the first step is embracing and owning our failures and shortcomings. The worst responses to failure are avoidance and blame; by disowning the failure you rob yourself of the opportunity to be accountable for doing it better or smarter next time, and instead place the reigns in someone else’s hands. Own what happened without making excuses or passing the buck—and also learn to recognize when a setback really is out of your control (like the big client I lost because I wasn’t local). Doing so brings a sense of empowerment and you won’t be weighed down by the yucky feelings that lying to yourself and others brings.
When embracing failure, it’s also important not to be to hard on yourself. We all do better when we know better, and in the small business game much of our knowledge comes from the oft-painstaking process of trial and error. Like I said, even business greats like Jack Welch and Bill Gates have failed fantastically. If they aren’t exempt from failure, why would the rest of us be? Resist the urge to “should” yourself. Instead, own up, forgive yourself, and ask yourself what the failure has taught you, what you can resolve to do better next time, and what unexpected gifts and opportunities it brought.
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Finally, failing well is about keeping your eyes on the prize—staying optimistically dedicated to the success of your mission despite all obstacles and challenges you face. This does not mean adhering rigidly to your original idea about how you wanted things to work out. On the contrary, maintaining dedication to your business’ vision often means that your approach must change; you may find yourself back at square one after learning that the way you were doing things simply won’t get you where you want to be. Flexibility allows for the malleability and tenacity required in order to not give up.
Let’s face it: if everyone succeeded at everything they tried the first time, we’d all be rich, famous, and beautiful! The truth is that most people are so afraid of failure that they don’t bother to try, which is a failure in itself. We can fulfill our missions and achieve our goals in this lifetime if we are willing to fail and learn from your failures.
If you are willing to face the many forms of discomfort that failure brings, you will find in yourself a sense of strength, confidence, and power you never knew you had. When you are no longer afraid to fail, failure becomes just another step towards success.
Setting short term and long term goals is a way to take a step towards success! Check in with your goals with this workbook and keep your accomplishments outweighing your failures.