Despite all my great intentions, invested time and preparation, sometimes my plans seem to have other plans for me. Usually, I avoid the topic of failure and its negative connotations. I am the business affirmation queen, preferring to keep positive and push anything remotely negative out of my thinking. Then I came across this quote from my mentor-from-afar, Richard Branson: “Every person, and especially every entrepreneur, should embrace failure with open arms.”
Branson talks about failure openly and often as one of the most important factors in entrepreneurial success. Confused? I was. So I recently went deeper down the rabbit hole of failure to learn more about how Branson and other renowned entrepreneurs use failure to their advantage. I heard a resounding message: the more we fail, the more we learn. It seems that for all these years in business, I’ve been running away from an important teacher.
The key to successful failure (as I now label it), is not dwelling on the fact that something’s gone wrong. We must acknowledge the emotions that arise (and they will most certainly arise, if not steamroll right over you) when things don’t go our way. These feelings are old friends that like to try to take control and steer our business down a different path or turn the entrepreneur’s engine off altogether. We know these old friends as Shame, Doubt and Fear. The trick to using failure to your advantage in your business – and anywhere in life – is to befriend these feelings that want to hijack your action plan.
Don’t give fear of failure, shame, self-loathing and self-doubt any more time in your schedule than is absolutely necessary. Instead, fill your time with constructive thoughts about how you can move onward from this position. Seek to find opportunities in the shit storm. None there? That’s okay too. Just learn something from the experience without judgment and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I learned that Winston Churchill was another failure advocate, offering this pearl of wisdom: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
What’s more lethal to our success than failure is inaction. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve not done something in my business because I’m avoiding failure. If I’ve not been sure of success, I haven’t even started. That’s me being just plain scared it won’t work out and allowing myself to be trapped under failure’s heavy emotional steamroller.
It’s only now, after my Branson-induced research on failure in business, that I’m waking up and embracing the stuff that goes wrong. Failing is a necessary part of my learning and growth as a business owner.
The last word on the topic of failure I let rest with Denis Waitley: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.”
(Now go forth and make some mistakes with much enthusiasm!)