We’ve probably all seen those posts about how Richard Branson has had so many failed companies and J.K. Rowling got turned down so many times before somebody decided to publish Harry Potter, and they’re meant to make us feel better. We’re supposed to look at those examples and say, “Well, if that amazingly successful person failed, then my failure isn’t such a big deal.”
But let’s face it: FAILING SUCKS.
When it happens to someone else, we can say, “Try again!” and mean it. When it happens to us, it feels like the whole universe is falling down around our ears.
So, I’m not going to try to tell you that failing doesn’t feel pretty awful – because it does. I am going to tell you that there are ways to get through the awful and come out the other side.
You are not your work
I find, especially with my clients who have a deep passion for their business, past failure often feels like a personal judgement. Although it may feel deeply personal, like a reflection on you as a person, it’s not. Whatever failure you’re facing – from a hater leaving a nasty comment to a launch that didn’t go as planned all the way to realizing you need start over and try something new – it’s not a personal judgement on you.
As hard as it may be, the important thing is to disconnect as much as possible from the outcome. A very Buddhist philosophy, but a very good one in business! If you keep working on your business or project, or if you try again, listen, adjust – then you are winning and moving in the right direction, and that is what really matters.
Failure is not the end
I also find that it helps not to think of failure in a final sense; it’s more a failed experiment.
Even if you are having to close your entire business and start over, it isn’t the end – because you’re starting over. You will have several failed experiments on your path to success and this is completely normal and expected. Many entrepreneurs have a few failed businesses under their belts before they find something that fits them.
And here’s the secret I truly believe: If you don’t fail at anything, it basically means you aren’t trying hard enough.
You’re playing it safe, which, while it might keep you from failing, will keep you from succeeding as well. Joining a mastermind group, finding an accountability partner, or working with a coach can help you determine where you’re playing it safe in your business.
Failure is a detour, not a stop sign
If you stop as soon as something doesn’t go as expected, you aren’t ever going to get the results you hope for. Jenny Shih talks about having 7 back-up plans. So for example, if I can’t fill my program by doing plan 1, a free call, I don’t stop there. I ask myself, what are plans 2–7? I think this is excellent advice for really giving yourself the best possible chance of succeeding overall.
But for this to work, you have to be willing to move on. I see people who get so frightened and defeated by plan 1 not working that they never even consider another plan. They aren’t willing to push through and try something different, because they get so hung up on what’s not working.
If you can’t see steps 2–7 because you’re wrapped up in the failure of step 1, that’s OK; it’s another good time to reach out to your business friends, mastermind group, accountability partner, or coach to help you keep moving, because often it’s much easier for a third party to see alternatives than it is for the person caught in the thick of it.
How do you cope with failure in your business?
In short, I believe failure is not personal or permanent. It’s just the moment when you realise a particular plan of attack needs adjustment. Like all feelings, it’s fleeting and not an end point.
I would love to hear how you have moved through a failure or a hard time in your business.
Please share your stories in the comments below to help others who may need to hear it!