You don’t get 20 years into a business without your fair share of failure. Failure is a very natural event, but it sure does sting. Why do we as a society know so deeply that we must fail, yet strive to keep it hidden, like it never happened? This is a discussion I want to start having with anyone who would like to sit down and open up a conversation with me about starting a business. I can admit now that my biggest failure as a CEO is always saying YES. Yes to a new business opportunity, or an exciting avenue for my companies. Let’s dive into how I handle this as a leader.
I think it’s very important to start this conversation with myself (and maybe you) acknowledging that I am a woman. In most fields of my life, this is not an important clarification to make. As women, we are not born to fail, but we will be pushed to fail more than our male counterparts. We will strive harder, work longer, and when we have those natural failures, as women, we will be judged to a degree that is not always equal to others. Being in the floral industry as women, we all know how daunting this task can be. I can now look back on what my greatest failures have been, and smile from the lessons I’ve learned. I know that there are moments when people did not take me seriously as a female business owner and it only pushed me harder. So this is a piece of who I am as a person that I need to acknowledge will push me closer to failure, but is not the root of any of my failures. Find what your ability is and what is reality.
When you possess the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s hard to not look at every question as an opportunity. And with every opportunity comes that spark and hope of success and greatness. But what you trade for it will be the dispersal of your free time, all your mental bandwidth, and any energy you may have left over. This is the core of burnout, and it can unintentionally cause some of your largest failures. At times, it can feel as if we need to jump for these opportunities, and the best advice I can give to you is that every single one is not worth it. Working too much on growing every single part of your business can lead to failure. You need to commit quality mental ability to the task that needs to be completed. Acknowledge where your strengths are and where your weaknesses lie.
At the root of failure is doubt. Doubt in yourself, your intelligence, your ability level, or in another person. A mental exercise I like to take myself through when I am feeling that heavy doubt is to try and determine if it is a healthy doubt, or an unhealthy doubt. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say I wanted to start another .com. This is something I’ve done and done with success for 20 years. So I know I can do it. But, I am still feeling doubtful about it. Through mental analysis, I can discover that I am doubting this idea because NOW is not the time to start it. This is a healthy doubt. But, if I did this soul searching and my answer was that I am not “smart enough”, then we know that this is an unhealthy doubt. An unhealthy doubt is the self-deprecating inner monologue that is not grounded in fact, but low self-esteem. These moments are normal, and you can talk your way through their unnecessary negativity.
The moments you recognize your failure can be some of the lowest. I always begin to wonder what actions led me to this moment, and why I could recognize the writing on the wall before it was written. The first time you fail at an endeavor is ok. Those are the normal, taking the first steps. The second time is like learning to run. You are tweaking your form or approach. But, the third time you fail at the same thing, it’s time to look deep at what is working and what really isn’t. That’s the moment to ask the hard questions. What is it about your idea people aren’t responding positively to? What are they not responding to at all? Is this the moment to bail out the water, or is it time to jump ship? The answers to these questions will always change for each situation, but they have guided me to learn from so many experiences and turn those experiences into life lessons and successes.
When you feel it is time to jump ship, know that it will feel personal. It is a moment that will hit you deep in your emotions. You’ll learn when the time comes to draw the line, when it no longer makes sense to bleed for the idea. And I want you to know this: we are ALL in this together. That is one thing we humans all have in common, failure. This is where I like to move into my last step in living with failure.
So now that you’ve acknowledged your ability and reality, found what is healthy or unhealthy doubt, and asked yourself the hard questions, it’s time to embrace the failure. The key to failure is knowing that it is leading to success. These moments are the building blocks. Failure is something I study, love, own and learn from. If I can succeed 80% and fail the other 20%, I know that I am doing something right. When I am in a moment of failure, I always try to look for a friend who is succeeding. Celebrate your learned lesson and the accomplishment of your peers. This will help us all release our fear of failure and celebrate the rollercoasters of life.
“Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of the success.”
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