Living With and Learning From Failure

To be a successful entrepreneur you are going to have to learn to deal with – and learn from – failure.

There is no way around that fact. Thomas Edison tried over ten thousand experiments before he finally demonstrated the first incandescent light bulb on October 21, 1879. Bill Gates’ first company, Traf-O-Data, was a failure. Michael Jordan was once quoted as saying: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot; And missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

I’ve learned that being an entrepreneur is a process of trying, failing, learning from that experience, and applying those lessons as you try again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Learning is a critical part of success and you learn far more from failures than you do from success. Bill Gates said as much when he said “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

If being an entrepreneur were easy, everyone would do it. It is naive to think that every good idea that you have will result in a successful business venture. I have yet to hear an entrepreneur say “every single idea I come up with seems to work.” More likely, you hear something like “I failed at my first five businesses before this one took off.”

Think about that for a second. Five businesses. Sometimes the number is three, sometimes it’s 20, but the important point is that most entrepreneurs don’t hit a home-run with their very first company. It really does amaze me how many people have the stick-to-itiveness to fail five times and still start a sixth business! You’ve got to be supremely confident and treat those previous five times as learning experiences for the sixth. And if number six fails, you take a breath, learn the lessons, and move on to attempt number seven. Because that’s the nature of the beast; being an entrepreneur.

As a business coach, I help guide my clients through the process of dealing with failure. It’s never a matter of “if” but always a matter of “when” you will fail as an entrepreneur. And the most important thing entrepreneurs must learn is how to deal with those eventual failures. Once you accept that some failure is inevitable, you can prepare yourself to learn from your mistakes and move on.

It’s far too easy to let the failure consume you; not so much because you are pessimistic, but more so because it is hard to watch something that you poured your heart and soul into being ignored or rejected. Eventually, you need to come to the realization that it is your business they are ignoring or rejecting, not YOU. And often the lessons teach us that a “no” is not a flat-out rejection but more of an “I’m not convinced yet” message from customers or venture capitalists or banks. The sooner you accept that a “no” is not final, the sooner you can objectively analyze why you failed and learn the things necessary for improvement in the future.

Failure isn’t easy and can be extremely frustrating, but it’s a necessary part of success.


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