Failure. It may feel like the end of the world. Especially if it’s happening to you. Especially if you haven’t had a lot of it.
But let me tell you it’s not. There are lessons we can learn from failure to get stronger and better!
In my professional life I work with a lot of businesses and business owners about building their business plans. Getting ready for the future of business. And one thing I see over and over again is failure.
You think I’d be sad about all of that failure – theirs and mind. But failure is not always a bad thing. Sometimes failure leads to innovation. The frustration or the learning from not getting your way helps you to get where you really need to go.
Between my businesses and the businesses I’ve consulted with I’ve seen countless business plans – and the execution thereof.
What have I learned about failure from these thousands of businesses I’ve interacted with?
That’s what this article is about. Helping you understand better about failure. Because failure isn’t what it seems on the surface.
1. Failure is Common
Let’s start by understanding that failure is common. Failure happens over and over and over again in life. Even those that we deem to be wildly successful usually have failures along the way. Most successful business owners I’ve encountered had failed projects or failed businesses prior to their current business becoming wildly successful.
Even for the ones that seemed to hit a homerun out of the box, it’s common to have failure along the way. Bill Gates of Microsoft even admitted that he had a hard time meeting deadlines early in the history of the company.
Failures are so common in testing new products that there’s even a word for it now. “Pivot” is the common term you’ll hear in start-up world and in growing company culture, as the companies and the investors seem to understand that it’s natural that they will change course as a company grows and changes.
So for those that are struggling with the concept of failure understanding the fact that failure is common, repeated and pretty normal can help a lot.
2. It’s an Attitude Thing
The biggest thing that determines whether failure defines you or not is your attitude. Some people seem to have the attitude that when they fail they have to hide and be embarrassed. Others take the attitude that failure is normal, they’ve learned and they move on.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t reflect or feel bad about a failure. Especially when that failure has put your personal resources, or especially the resources of your investors, at risk. You should definitely have some moment of pause about losing your money or the money of others.
But those that are the successful take the attitude that they gave it a good try they really invested in the opportunity they put the effort in and it just didn’t work. The attitude is that they’ve learned and that they’re moving on. This is easier to do when everyone knew the risk involved.
What really matters is how long you spend to get over your failure. We all get over our failures, eventually. But those are really successful have a positive attitude about failure and understand it’s part of the process of getting to success.
3. Some Stand Back Up and Some Don’t
The attitude that we talked about in the prior section often drives what somebody does when the failure comes. Some people stand back up and get ready to go again. Others don’t will stop or take a long pause after failure.
Which camp you are in will make a huge difference. Let’s face it, the world around us, especially the business world, is still moving and moving fast even if we are stopped. Those that stand back up after failure and get moving again keep the momentum and learning going. Quite simply their learning compounds more because they have more experiences.
Other people don’t stand back up. They stopped because of failure.
And the difference between the two and outcomes of those that employ one strategy or the other is very obvious over the long-term.
4. It’s Not Easy to Build the Failure Muscle
Most of us are taught in schools and by our upbringing that failure is “bad.” We spent a lot of time avoiding failure. Don’t fail in school, finish what you started and make sure you live up all your commitments – these are all common things we will hear.
And certainly is a lawyer I would tell people to live up to their commitments.
But what most people don’t have is the muscle to say “okay I’m going to walk away from this. I failed and I acknowledge my failure.”
For too many people failure becomes a defining characteristic. Rather than looking at their overall character and accomplishment in life they look at that one single moment.
Those that are successful that do really big things typically have built an acceptance of failure into their being. They understand that failure is part of the process of success and they’re open to it. Quite simply they built a failure muscle. An ability to fail and to keep moving.
5. Openness is a Good Thing
Being open to new opportunities and taking a chance is definitely a good thing in building your business or life. One of the great things about being willing to fail is it means that you are willing to experiment.
And that experimentation is often where Innovation and efficiency comes from. How will you test many things and figure out what really works for you and your situation without trying a lot of things?
Being open to failure and acknowledging it exists and can help you be a game-changer and help you build yourself and your business.
6. Failure is the Gateway to Success
Those that know failure know that failure is a gateway to success. They know that one of the steps from getting from where they are to success is allowing themselves to fail.
Rather than getting stuck on any one failure the successful know that each failure is laying a foundation and base for success. In other words the pathway to success is paved with failure. And you really have to go through the process of failure to get to success.
So when something goes wrong understand that you’re finding your way to that gateway of success. And that every successful person has gone through failure to get where they’re at.
7. Being Afraid of Failure Has a Limited Time and Space
A lot of this article has talked about being afraid of failure. And one of the keys is to give failure a limited time and space. In the early days Microsoft, as mentioned in the article linked above, was afraid of failure to meet their promises. And it helped them meet deadlines and commitments.
There is a positive side to avoiding failure. Keeping commitments, making deadlines and following through on promises. This is the time in the space you should be giving failure.
At the same time failure shouldn’t be consuming unnecessary time and space. After a failure happens there should be a period of reflection, learning and then moving on.
Giving failure too much time and too much space in your world will cause it to consume you. The successful know this. They know this fact and to move on quickly.
Some Silicon Valley would say “go fast and break things.” There’s definitely something to be said for the wisdom of learning from breaking things. Just don’t make them too big or too often.
Failure is part of life. And failure is part of careers and business. We need to learn to embrace it as such. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Changing our attitude on failure could change everything for us.
Do you really want to make plans that work?
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