Why We Need To Talk About Failure!
Failure. Just the word itself can cause an entrepreneur to break out into a cold sweat. If I asked you to think about your worst failure, what would come to mind? More importantly, how does thinking about that failure make you feel? Does it make you feel embarrassed? Guilty? Angry? Rejected? All of the above? Most entrepreneurs and small business owners have a visceral reaction to failure. Its something we don’t like experiencing, and it’s certainly something we don’t like talking about.
It’s hard not to be afraid of failure. Whether we like it or not, failure in a business context is seen as a negative thing. We fear failure because we fear being ostracised and humiliated. But mostly we fear failure because we fear disappointing others. We put ourselves on the line when we start our own business - and we ask a lot of others. We fear disappointing our family. We fear disappointing our investors, and we fear disappointing our staff. We know that if our business or product fails all of these people will be hurt by the results.
Plus isn’t everyone else “crushing it”? We imagine ourselves as being the only one who is struggling. According to social media and the business press, isn’t everyone else kicking goals and making a success of it? And so we put it out of our minds - we don’t talk about it - and we don’t talk about the internal struggles that a lot of us face.
This struggle and the impact of failure is taking its toll on entrepreneurs and small business owners. According to a UC Berkley study we are numbing out, burning out and checking out at alarming rates. 12% of founders have reported a substance abuse condition. 30% say they are suffering from depression. 27% have experienced anxiety and 5% of founders have considered or attempted suicide - and all of these rates are higher than the general population.
Yet failure is a natural part of entrepreneurship. Innovation takes time and often several failed attempts to get right. Approximately 92% of startups will fail within the first three years. That in itself isn’t the issue - but as entrepreneurs we need to recontextualise our relationship with failure and as a society we need to work hard on destigmatising failure. Entrepreneurs need to think about failure in a positive light - more like scientists - who see failure as taking one step closer to success. Or like athletes who see training a muscle to failure as making them stronger.
In my experience successful founders have three key behaviours that help them be more resilient to failure.
Firstly, they authentically connect with purpose - they work on businesses or problems that are important to them. They believe in the problem they are solving and that gives them purpose. With purpose we are better able to ride the ups and downs of success or failure.
Secondly, they value capacity over capability. Meaning that building physical, mental and emotional capacity is important to them. They eat well. They get enough sleep. They mediate. They journal. They build this capacity when they don’t need it, so they can draw upon it when they do.
Lastly, they question their bias’, belief’s and bullshit. They look within for answers rather than externally. They know that becoming more self aware will mean that they build more functional relationships and that they will respond rather than react in times of crisis.
Making entrepreneurs more resilient and failure proof has many benefits, not only for the entrepreneur themselves, but for our society and economy as a whole. If we don’t prepare our founders and entrepreneurs for the journey, then we will drain the talent pool - and we won’t see founders return stronger and wiser. Rather, they will bow out - and that would be a tragedy for all involved.