In our society, failure has become some sort of an unmentionable occurrence. None of us likes to talk about it. But we all know it’s there.
Scrolling through articles, social media posts, etc. we look at other “successful entrepreneurs” and immediately these images and narrative invites us with the allure of ample time and freedom to travel the world and live according to our own terms. It entices us with the impossible promise of vast riches and unfathomable fortunes. With our obsession with the social media comparison game running rampant, today you hear so much about the successes and the achievements of other people – and that makes failure seem like that much more of a dirty word, particularly when it comes to starting your own business.
But these images and narrative is only a smokescreen we believe without questioning its legitimacy. No one (especially these social media icons) tells you about that “20 hour days, 7 days a week, knot in your shoulders, stressed relationships, maxing out of credit cards, delving into your retirement savings, selling that second car, cutting on luxuries, insomnia-filled nights, hermit-like crouching in front of your PC, door slammed in your face” part of the entrepreneurial journey. Which, from my own personal experience, constituted 99% of the first 3 years of my entrepreneurial journey.
As the potential fear of failure grips, us, our bright-eyed, bushy-tailed dreams begin to evaporate in a cloud of smoke.
Let me be blunt…
- You will NOT have extra time for yourself.
- You will NOT have time and extra money to travel the world and work in any destination you want, whenever you want.
- You will NOT buy that expensive car or house 12 months after starting your business.
- You will have months and even years where there are very little sales made.
- You will have to downscale your life.
- You will not have job/financial security. If you want security, go and work for a boss. Stay in your corporate job.
What is it about failure that’s so powerful?
As an entrepreneur, this stifling feeling has overcome me many times. I’ve been gripped by that sudden and urgent fear that has suffocated me. And you know what? I personally did fail on numerous occasions.
Before I started JTB Consulting I started and tried various business ventures. From training youngsters on financial literacy to recruiting interim executives. Not even to speak of being a virtual assistant and destination consultant.
I made a little money here and there, enough to cover the bills in some months, but none of these ventures stuck. I got knocked down.
A real Mike Tyson right hook to the face that I called my “Entrepreneurial Dream”.
Looking back on it now, I can tell you that this fear compelled me not to act on things that I knew could change my business. I was too afraid to pick up the phone and cold call businesses pitching my services. Too afraid to approach alliances, affiliates or partners. What was I so afraid of? Rejection? Scolding? Something else? When I think about it, it was the potential for pain. It wasn’t so much the failure itself that I was afraid of, but more so the fear of failure.
That fear stopped me from taking action.
I came from more than a decade in a highly successful corporate career where I didn’t fail. When I started in sales, I had a closure rate of more than 75%. When I moved to business development, I closed large deals at boardroom level without breaking a sweat. When I had my chance at managing large teams, I showed them how to be successful and they were.
So, with this high-flying, dare I say the arrogant attitude of mine, leaving the corporate world on this high was the perfect stepping stone to continue this success as an entrepreneur.
How wrong I was.
Closing a deal worth hundreds of thousands in a corporate environment was child’s play.
Trying to convince someone to spend a mere R1,000 on my new entrepreneurial venture was impossible. Why? What did I do wrong? I did not know failure of this magnitude. And then the fear crept in… self-inflicted mental confinement that I couldn’t extricate myself from. Know that feeling?
I can attribute the death and destruction of two past businesses to this horrifying fear.
We all have this massive negative voice.
It’s loud and disobedient. It berates and belittles. You’ve likely heard it before. It tells you that you’re not good enough. Not smart enough. Not capable enough to succeed. It begins to help you conjure up these what-if scenarios, unnecessarily creating an air of stress and anxiety. It becomes hard to breathe as you attempt to overcome this negative voice in the mind. It asks you what will others think of me when I fail? It tells you how others will laugh at you. Here you were a few months or years ago on the brink of this new business venture, and today, you are closing the doors to your dream that was never really opened.
Here’s my reasons why fear of failure is absolutely ruining your business, very much like it ruined many of mine.
- You are forced to play it safe: Our deeply embedded fear of failure forces us to play it safe. We’re shackled. Unable to get free. Unable to untether the cord that binds us to this fear. Never really being able to reach the so-called promise land. The truth is that you’ll always play it safe when you’re living in fear. The alternative is too painful. But let me ask you this question. What are you so afraid of? I’ve been down that road. It’s okay to fail. It really is. When you’re going through failure, it hurts. But what hurts more is the fear of it. When you actually reach that barren desert, it’s not so bad. In fact, failure fuels you far more than success ever would. The next time you hear that negative voice in your mind, fight back. Do something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t play it safe. Go out there and throw caution to the wind. Afraid to cold call? Pick up that phone. Afraid to look at other ways to sell your product? Open your eyes and do it. Afraid to ask for help? Don’t be. Ask!
- It’s creating an unhealthy force that’s impacting every area of your life: As entrepreneurs, we have a real need to wear many hats, especially in the beginning. It requires us to wake up early, set goals and actually take action towards their achievement. It also means that we need to be persistent. But our fears block us from that life of achievement. And, in turn, it creates an unhealthy force that impacts every area of our lives. When our business begins to stall, we get stressed out, anxious and live in a state of constant fear. This impacts our health. It alters our diet. It sets the tone for our relationships. And quite literally transforms nearly every aspect of our lives. The only way to move past this. Associate enough pain with the alternative of what would happen if you don’t take action and achieve your goals. That’s how you truly overcome your fear of failure. And when you do, the possibilities are truly limitless.
According to Sir James Dyson, the inventor, and founder of Dyson Ltd., “The key to success is failure… Success is made up of 99 percent failure.” He should know! Creating the bagless, world-famous vacuums now bearing his name cost Dyson his life savings and 5,127 prototypes. What would’ve happened if he gave up after the 10th, 100th, 1,000th, or even the 5,126th, attempt? Vacuums would still be inefficient, and Dyson wouldn’t be a billionaire.
- Forgetting to develop a system for learning: Let’s expand on that idea for a moment. Failure is a natural part of the growth process, but it’s really only productive if you react to it in the right way. Burying your head in the sand and hoping that nobody notices your blunder? That won’t get you too far. Instead, you need to be willing to stare your failure down, analyse it, and figure out how you can use that information to do better moving forward. If that business idea you started is not working out, then rethink it, redesign it, re-dream it and if need be, close it and start afresh.
- You don’t vent about your fears but rather keep everything to yourself: We all tend to treat failure like a dirty little secret – again, it’s the thing whose potential we simply don’t want to acknowledge. But, here’s something you absolutely need to know: You aren’t the only one who is obsessively worried about failing. Nearly everybody feels that way at one point or another. So, rather than biting your tongue and playing it cool, sit down and chat about your concerns with a close friend, confidante, or even mentor. By putting your fears out in the open, you’ll relieve some of the stigma or shame related to coming up short. When you openly recognise that failure is a real possibility, it eases some of the burden you’re placing on your own shoulders to achieve success immediately. Additionally, your friend will probably jump right in and identify with you, which even further normalises the experience. After just that one chat, failure will suddenly seem a whole lot less scary.