Too often as small business owners we are terrified of failure. Fear is a powerful motivator but it’s not always an appropriate one. We tend to live constantly in fear of failure as though a failure would somehow define us and characterize our lives. We find ourselves judging our usefulness and our self-worth by our successes. We all need to learn a bit more how to embrace failures.
Embracing failures is a difficult thing to do and usually one we don’t enjoy focusing on. It’s much easier to discuss embracing success. We are inherently drawn to the idea of defining success as the positive outcome and failure as the negative outcome. This is not always the case and we should work on being more comfortable with failing. Failures can teach us far more than a success ever could and our opportunity to learn and grow from failure is far greater.
Failure Is Not Final
One of the first things I remember when I find myself failing at something is that failure is not final. I purposely chose the active verb “failing” because I believe many times it’s not a past tense thing I have done, but an ongoing opportunity for change or growth. In fact, along the way to success you may encounter dozens of tiny failures. These failures are not “show-stoppers” so to speak but rather opportunities to shift direction or focus and improve the final product. Here’s a quote by Thomas Edison which I think fits well.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison was famous for his inventions (e.g. the lightbulb) and his persistence. I once had opportunity to visit his laboratory and hear more about some of the more obscure creations he invented. I remember this quote being engraved on a plaque and it stuck with me. He is often thought of for his inspiration & perspiration quote but I find this quote to be far more relevant and encouraging.
Failure Is A Learning Experience
I think most of us would agree that failure is indeed a learning experience. The part we struggle with the most is applying what we learn and implementing change as a result. We can’t simply turn our failures into a distant experience. We should embrace these failures and use them to motivate us in our future efforts. If something doesn’t work the way I planned I try to learn why it didn’t work and use that knowledge to shape my future attempts. We must be willing to acknowledge failure first, and secondly study the failure to analyze exactly why it failed. I wrote earlier about overcoming adversity in that post I mention that adversity is what gives us skills and experience. When those adversities overwhelm us they are still a learning experience.
Failure Is Inevitable
One of my favorite magazines is a monthly one called, Inc. Magazine. This publication shares the stories and successes of some of the popular startups of the day as well as more established companies. A common thread I have found in reading the stories of many of these founders is twofold. First, they will almost all tell you they were not an overnight success. It appears so but in reality they have spent months, years, building up to the point where they became successful. And secondly, many of them will describe the failures they experienced along the way. Failure is a sign of attempting something. If you don’t try then you will never fail nor will you ever succeed. I’m reminded of another quote by another inventor.
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin
Here’s an incredibly successful inventor, writer, politician boldly stating that we should not fear failure. He doesn’t say you might know failure. He says you will know failure. He too saw failures as inevitable. But instead of giving up he used failure as a motivator. We should continue to reach out and not fear failure. Embracing failure and planning to learn from it.
Failure Is An Event
The last point I want to share is that failure is an event, not a character summary. What I mean by that is to recognize failures will happen and to not place your self-worth in a failure. Just as you would not measure the quality of your life by the time you once went to the beach. A failure is merely another event which occurred in your life. What you do with that failure points more to your character than the actual event of failing ever could. I struggle with this point the most. Possibly more ego and pride than anything else I hate to acknowledge failures as I quickly conclude they are character definitions. This is wrong thinking. I love to use my kids and my wife as my motivation to get beyond the failure. Especially at this time when my children are young. They don’t know me by my business successes or more importantly by my failures. They know me by the time I spend with them and the way I love them and care for them. My personal relationships with each of them create and define my life far more than a failure event ever could.
I encourage you also to use and embrace failure. Embracing failure is hard at times and none of us would seek failures out but as we’ve seen – failures are inevitable and these events will affect all of us. Use them as learning experiences to improve, to grow, and to change. Change can be hard but if we don’t implement change when we fail then we’re not learning from our experiences and becoming better.