No two entrepreneurs are alike, but there is one thing that we all have in common. So much of success in any business career arises from one key attribute: how we respond when things go bad. Being a success in business doesn’t mean avoiding failure, nobody can do that. I can truly say that my attitude towards failure, namely, the ability to accept it, has been the greatest tool for building a thriving business.
We all share a tendency to consider our endeavors strictly as a result, and not as the culmination of a process. We applaud the champion athlete for their trophy-winning performance, not the hundreds of hours they spent training and practicing to get their abilities to that level. We marvel at technological breakthroughs by great scientists, without knowing just how many times they had to throw out their plans and start over. This tendency means that if the end results don’t meet expectations, that it’s because of some inherent quality,
The world isn’t split into winners and losers; it’s split into those who know how to respond to failure and those who don’t. It’s not rocket science, only a matter of attitude. Even if your long-brewing project doesn’t pan out in the end, your response will be just as important as the hard skills you’ve sharpened when it comes time to try your hand again.
Winston Churchill, no stranger to a great quote, probably put it best when he said “success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” We all end up becoming losers at some point as we build our careers. The winners are the ones who can keep it together and hit the next task with a smile. Maintaining enthusiasm is one of the toughest tasks you’ll face in entrepreneurship, but it’s an absolute requirement for the job. Anyone in business who tells you they’ve never faced failure is one you shouldn’t bother working with, because they’re lying to you.
We can even look to an example from closer to home than Churchill, to an American who proved the most crucial leader this country has ever had. Before Abraham Lincoln successfully preserved the union through its biggest challenge, he got to know failure better than most of us entrepreneurs ever will. His history includes losing multiple elections to Illinois state legislature and both houses of Congress, not to mention missing out on the Vice Presidential nomination and a failed attempt to open a general store, leading to personal bankruptcy. Some might look at such a set of outcomes and figure that this person wasn’t worth believing in. Thankfully, American voters didn’t in 1860.
Would you call Abraham Lincoln a failure? He certainly was for a time, but he didn’t let it last. Persistence led him to the White House, and a battle-tested resolve was his greatest tool in leading our country through it’s biggest trials. Your ambitions might not include leading a nation, but if you can bounce back half as well as Lincoln did, you and your business will be in great shape.
Overcoming failure isn’t just for world leaders, either. I can’t say enough how natural it is, when your work involves dreaming up ideas, for the majority of them to either fizzle out or flop. Great ideas don’t appear out of thin air: they’re crafted, honed, and worked on before they ever make you a single dollar. Don’t let well-edited success stories convince you otherwise.
Science backs up the idea that we’re all able to bounce back from our failures. Researchers in 2015 found that test subjects, when given time to process their mistakes, were able to learn from them and improve future outcomes. Even in that controlled setting, overcoming mistakes led to success, and failures were only temporary setbacks before the real victory came.
It all comes down to this: your failures become your identity only when you sit back and let them. When an initiative doesn’t work out, it’s time to work even harder. That kind of attitude is what you build a reputation on.