Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that “He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.” And many as business owners we are often terrified of failure. Imagine what you could achieve if you weren’t afraid to fail? If you took those big chances – and reaped big rewards.
While we may not admit it outright or be even conscious of it, many of us allow fear to stall our attempts at success. As a result we spend a life time ‘playing it safe’, yet quietly desperate as we sit on the sidelines and watch others succeed.
Sometimes the fear of failure is so potent that people stall on their dreams and fail to pursue them. They forever wait for the ‘right opportunity’, not realising that sometimes in life, the only opportunity we get are those we create for ourselves.
The bad news is that everyone fails at something at some point in their lives. The good news is also that everyone fails at something at some point in their lives. It’s not the failure in itself that is important, it’s how the failure is perceived and the lessons one learns from the experience that have far greater importance.
Look, I know it’s tough. You’ve failed big time, things didn’t go as planned, you’re under tremendous emotional and maybe even financial pressure as a result of your plans not working out; and at that point you just want to curl up and wish everything away. The last thing you want is for someone suggesting you examine your mistakes and learn from them.
I’m not one to pretend and I’ll be honest that even I have experienced some catastrophic failures that I felt my entire life had come to a grinding halt and felt completely deflated (tough place to be if you make your living as a professional motivator).
I went through all the emotional motions. I felt the disappointment from my crushing defeat. I felt the fear. I felt the emotional and financial pressures. I knew people would talk and dreaded what they would say. My self-belief was put to the test and at some point I even doubted if I was ever going to recover.
Walk the talk
I allowed myself to feel the emotions however. I realised that dwelling indefinitely on the event would not change things one bit. If anything, focusing too long on the event itself would only incapacitate me, discourage me further and make it impossible to make rational decisions.
The event occurred. I could not go back in time and change that. Period. What I had to do was to start ‘walking the talk’ and do what had to be done. The faster I got over my emotional upheaval and learnt my lessons, the quicker I could begin to take corrective action and the quicker I could get back to pursuing my dreams.
Feeling the emotions is important, it makes you humble and it makes you smarter the next time round; however, dwelling too long on them and using as a reason to give up and doubt yourself for the remainder of your life is inexcusable.
Also, what helped a great deal was putting the whole event in perspective – so I failed now, but I still have 20 or 30 odd years ahead of me to rectify things and achieve even greater success. Or, I could just lie here, give up and waste away the next 20 or 30 years of my life making excuses for a mediocre life. I could stop taking risks, going after my dreams, believe that the world is unfair, become bitter, pack it all in and just settle for the mediocre.
I realised that if I did that, I would end up being one bitter old man and I would have no one else to blame for a unexceptional life but myself. From where I stood, a six month or 12 month setback was really nothing in the context of the remainder of my life. Regardless of the consequences of our failures, life will carry on.
Believe me, life will not come to a sudden grinding halt just because you messed up. It might destabilise things initially or even for some time, but eventually people will carry on with their lives and you will have to as well. So what’s the point of wallowing in regret?
Using failure to your advantage
It sounds clichéd, but in all honesty, no experience is ever truly a failure if one begins to make a habit of viewing ‘failure’ as learning opportunities and life’s way of making us better. The true failure is when we fail to learn from our mistakes and instead cling on to the emotional pain – thus dooming ourselves to repeating the same mistake again.
The more you learn from your failures, the less likely you are to repeat them the next time round, and the better you will be. Strong people turn their failures into lessons. Weak people turn their failures into excuses.
Afraid of failing? Here are a couple of things to remember:
First, it’s a fact that just about everyone who ever accomplished anything great experienced some form of failure or another before accomplishing their dreams. More often than not, it is only their achievements that get noticed with little or no attention given to the numerous challenges, failures and disappointments they endured on their road to success.
Everyone fails. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference. Successful people also know all too well that success and failure are like the two sides of the proverbial coin. The more times you failed in the past, the better your chances of success in the future – provided you learnt from the past failures, refined your approach and did things differently the next time round.
Second, I sincerely believe that failures need not be an end in themselves unless we choose to make them so. Yes, it’s a choice. You can choose to learn from it or choose to be licked by it. By choosing to develop a mind-set of learning from our failures, not only do we establish what works and what does not; we are also better positioned to do things better the next time round.
Finally, there are countless examples of people like you and me who lost everything; and I mean everything. However through hard work, determination and self-belief they made a choice to elevate themselves from their dire circumstances only to achieve levels of success that far exceeded their pre-failure experience. If they could have nothing makes you or I less capable of doing the same thin and turning our failures aroundg. The difference is whether or not we believe we can.
Failures never leave you unchanged, they either can make you better or worse. You either become stronger as a result or you are left weakened. How you end up after a failure always depends on how you view it and how you choose to use the experience – as an opportunity to learn or as a life-long excuse.