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Fear failure, face it anyway, fail, then succeed

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We’re going to start this piece off with a rather uncomfortable truth: sooner or later, you’re going to fail. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It doesn’t matter how talented you consider yourself, or how intelligent.

Failure is something that virtually everyone has to deal with at one point or another. The fact that you’ve failed isn’t all that important. The measure of your skills as an entrepreneur lies in how you deal with that failure.

“The best people and businesses in the world fail,” reads a guest post on Virgin’s Entrepreneur Blog.”That’s why they become great at what they do. If we succeeded at everything all of the time, we wouldn’t learn anything. Without learning, we’d never progress forward.”

The problem is that, at least in Western society, we’ve built up this inborn guilt around failure. Mistakes are a point of shame for us. They’re an indication that we’re somehow a lesser person; that our skills and talents were somehow inadequate.

As a result, we’re terrified of them – something which, according Robert Kiyosaki, is the reason more people don’t become entrepreneurs.

Dealing With A Failed Venture

“In the early 1980s, when my first major business failed, I thought I was the stupidest person in the world,” explains Kiyosaki. “Being flat broke and getting calls from creditors made me wish I had never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I even wanted my old job back.”

“Instead of condemning me,” he continues, “my rich dad gave me one of life’s most important lessons: ‘you’re fortunate to have failed. You now have the opportunity to learn how to turn bad luck into good luck. If you can do that, you’ll have a life of more and more good luck.’”

It’s easy to dismiss Kiyosaki’s advice here. After all, he had a rich dad covering for him, didn’t he? He may have been in debt, but he was never really in danger, right?

Even so, there’s truth in what he’s saying. According to a study published recently by Francine Lafontaine and Kathryn Shaw, entrepreneurs that fail on their first attempt are significantly more likely to succeed with their second startup.  In other words, they learn what they did wrong, and how to avoid those mistakes on their next attempt.

“The researchers argue that experience, even when it’s not positive, is invaluable,” writes Bloomberg’s Allison Schrager, speaking of the study. “The entrepreneurs learn effectively from mistakes as well as successes. They even found that serial entrepreneurs are successful in new types of businesses. Experience owning a hair salon translates into more success at running a clothing store.”

Indeed, many of the world’s most successful CEOs and businessmen have a string of failed businesses behind them. Some might even say they’ve become stepping stones for their success.

“In Silicon Valley, if you try something and fail…that means you’ve learned something,” explains former Nordion CEO Steve West to the Ottawa Business Journal. “I think there’s a lot to be said for embracing failure.”

Three Rules For Making The Most Of Your Mistakes

As far as how one should go about embracing said failure, we’re going to refer back to Kiyosaki, who lays out three key points:

  1. Avoid placing blame. Pointing fingers at someone only serves to detract from your own failures; your own mistakes. Focus on what you did wrong, not on how your colleagues messed up.
  2. Always look to meet new people. One of the most valuable aspects of a failed business venture is that you have the opportunity to meet valuable new business partners. Always consider whether or not the people you meet when running a startup could be new partners.
  3. Examine and study what you did wrong. “Mistakes are priceless,” notes Kiyosaki, quoting once more his father. “Study them. Learn and profit from them.” In short, don’t run from your mistakes – confront them, and ask how you can avoid making them again.

Avoiding Silicon Valley’s Cult Of Failure

Now, with all this in mind, it’s important to note that failure certainly isn’t something to be celebrated. Daniel Isenberg makes this very clear in a Harvard Business Review piece where he decries the “cult of failure” surrounding startups – Silicon Valley in particular. It’s perfectly acceptable, he feels, to be wary of failure.

“Fear should not be confused with anxiety,” writes Isenberg, “and celebrating failure seems aimed at reducing anxiety.”

“Anxiety, Freud is said to have explained, is when you irrationally react to a simple stick as though it were a dangerous snake,” he continues. “Fear is when you react to a dangerous snake as if it were, well, dangerous. Anxiety is dysfunctional, but fear can be good. Entrepreneurs, in my experience, develop a healthy fear of what can go wrong – they just don’t let it paralyze them.”

In Closing

Everybody fails. That’s an inevitable fact of life. The picture of a great entrepreneur isn’t that they’ve never tasted failure – it’s that they know how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going after they’ve failed.

They know how to turn failure into experience – making them, oddly enough, some of the most successful people in the world.


About the Author:

Renata Magurdumov is responsible for overseeing overall marketing and public relations efforts at ColoGuard.