The spectre of failure haunts every entrepreneur, but why do we assume that failure is the end?
When we’re at our most confident and assertive, then we can all see the truth behind the saying “If you don’t fail then you haven’t tried”.
Entrepreneurial excellence requires failure. When we fall down, we have to pick ourselves back up. We can “pivot” and go in a different direction if need be, but most importantly we have to keep going!
It’s something we all know to be true. And yet it’s also the hardest part of being an entrepreneur: perseverance, endurance, and grit.
Very few people have grit going spare
Grit, by Angela Duckworth, is probably the most important thing I’ve ever read — or at least, the most impactful. This book has seen me through many dark, depressing days in business.
Yala Jewellery, as you see it now, is actually my fourth attempt at starting a business. It’s the most successful so far but even then, it still may not be the last.
The power of passion and perseverance is nothing to be sneezed at, as Angela Duckworth explores in Grit, and also in her TED Talk.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Why? Because Angela has found that the key to success isn’t always talent or skill. It’s about single-mindedly chasing a goal with unbridled passion and perseverance.
In other words, it’s all about grit. And many of us could do with building our grit reserves to cope with the challenges of the entrepreneurial lifestyle. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
You are not your job
I’ve poured all of my energy into Yala and getting it off the ground, but perspective is essential.
Who are you when you aren’t doing the thing that earns you money?
You are not your job title. You might be the best “Senior Executive Vice President of Sales”, but are you a good parent? Are you kind to others? Do you contribute to your community?
We have a problem as a society with attaching our sense of identity to what we do for work. And that goes double for business owners and founders, for whom the line between personal life and business life can be almost non-existent.
The uniquely harrowing identity crisis of being an entrepreneur
Every new business comes with a sprinkle of risk. Entrepreneurs have to give a company their all, especially in the first few years after launch. It occupies their every waking thought (and then their dreams), to the point where they inevitably identify very closely with what they do.
And yep, I’m talking from experience.
Considering the sacrifices that we entrepreneurs make to get our businesses started, the potential of failure is always there. It haunts us — it’s an ever-present whisper in your ear saying that all those sacrifices could have been a terrible waste.
And yet, it's only as an entrepreneur that you see first-hand how fine the line between 'success' and 'failure' really is.
Any business you see has likely been going for longer than you realise, and probably started off as something else. Remember, it takes years to be an “overnight success”.
It’s easy to see thriving businesses and assume they’ve always been that successful. But that’s rarely, if ever, the case. One of my favourite podcasts, How I Built This, is a perfect reminder of the years of hard work and dedication that goes into starting and building a successful, sustainable business.
Never heard of How I Built This? Then find it “wherever you get your podcasts” right now. Across the series, the host, Guy Raz, dives into the background behind some of the world's best-known companies, including Wikipedia, Duolingo, Patagonia, and Spanx. And many of the origin stories will surprise you.
A valuable resource for entrepreneurs — and everyone else, honestly — the podcast helps us understand the level of persistence, and the amount of luck and timing, required to succeed in anything.
Admitting defeat can sometimes be the bravest move
If you never fail, you never learn, and you never get better. Failure isn’t fun, but unfortunately, failure and success are symbiotic. The trickiest part is knowing when it’s time to quit.
Running out of money makes that decision for you of course, but before that happens, you can still make the call on your own.
If you can be objective enough to accept that you tried everything and it still didn’t work out, then it’s okay to stop. In fact, it’s the strong — and smart — thing to do.
If, or when, that happens, then your business failed but you as a person are not a “failure”.
This is true not just of entrepreneurs, but everyone giving something new a bloody good go!
Don’t think of failure as the end — think of all the knowledge and experience you’ve gained along the way. The lessons learned from every failure are simply ammunition and armour for your next endeavour.
Some of the greatest feats of sport, business, art and creativity are the result of repeated failures. It’s only bad to fail if you never try again.
One quote I heard from Bill Janeway on the Freakonomics podcast really stuck with me through my ups and downs: "At the frontier, progress is made by trial and error and error and error. Tolerance of error is essential. An exclusive pursuit of efficiency is the enemy of innovation."
Failure is not the end. In some cases, it’s the beginning
As entrepreneurs, we’re programmed to fear failure. No one wants to throw their all into a venture only for it to fall flat.
This is in part because we tend to tie up our identity so closely with our business. It’s hard to see where you end and your company begins. I’ve found that one of the key factors in embracing failure and not letting it haunt you, is realising where your value truly lies.
Yes, I’m a business owner and I’m proud of Yala. But I have so many other things in my life that define who I am as a person.
So if Yala ends up not working out, then that’s okay. It won’t change me and it won’t change my success. Instead, it’ll just be another learning curve on my path toward making an impact.