No matter what we do, it seems that most people are attracted to success – just as they are repelled by failure. What many of us don’t think is that the road to achieving what we want is paved with nothing but these two things, and more failure than success.
Many people today have an image of only successful people who have never made mistakes or failures, when in reality we all do – some just manage to make it look nicer than others. Success stories are attractive. However, many people do not realize how much effort it takes to achieve success. Failure is a much more common theme than many realize and is a big part of what it means to be human.
I find it uninspiring that many people who write about their successes fail to mention the struggles and failures they overcame before they were successful. Instead, these writers focus on what they did well, and only talk about the good stuff.
In reality, this is a great story, but it doesn’t give an accurate picture of what it takes to succeed. Perspective is everything, and leaving out the hard parts makes people think they can do what someone else did without all the trouble they went through.
When I try to give wisdom to young entrepreneurs or future leaders, I usually start with my own story and tell how it was full of failures before success showed up and gave me direction. Setting the right expectations for people is paramount. Entrepreneurs rarely need the hope factor. They have more confidence in themselves than most. I don’t waste my time making them feel like they will succeed if they have already convinced themselves beforehand. When we chat, instead of talking about how things will work out for the best, I go straight to what happens if something goes wrong first.
As a child, my parents warned me that I would fall many times before I could find my feet. My situation was not special. Every little one goes through the same struggles as they discover how to walk. Determination was all it took to find agility.
It’s okay to fail
For all the parents out there, you will understand how resilient kids are. They fall over and immediately get up again. They injure themselves and go back to it. If children could never fail or try again, where would we be today?
There is little room for error in the education system. Failing at something or not excelling as others can lead to punishment from your teachers and even from society in general. You run the risk of being stigmatized and labeled as incompetent; destined to fail because of the way these failures hurt those around them.
In some companies, bankruptcy can have serious consequences, such as dismissal or withdrawal of damages. We live in a society that idolizes success and abhors failure from an early age. This trend follows most people from childhood through adulthood in their professional careers.
Despite what people say, I see failure as a positive thing. One of my favorite quotes is in Latin, “Vincit qui patitur.” It translates as “He who endures overcomes.” Facing hardships and enduring failures teaches us how to succeed. Without any kind of challenge, success would probably be meaningless. Throughout my childhood, getting up from a fall often outweighed the feeling of accomplishing the task. The concept that was ingrained in me early on helped shape who I am today: someone who keeps getting up again. Failure is just something to work past, and my determination gives me an edge over other people. I don’t fail less, I just get up more.
Labels don’t matter
I was identified as a person with potential early in school. My skills were quickly recognized and highly valued by teachers, students and parents alike. I was a genius with all things electronic and could solve many problems. At the end of my elementary school year, my homeroom teacher gave me the first computer I ever repaired in her classroom, believing I would be one of her most successful students.
This all changed quickly later in school. In high school I had several teachers who did not accept my learning difficulties. One teacher in particular found it humiliating and made fun of me in front of others by openly declaring (while pointing at me) that if they didn’t want to be a failure, then I shouldn’t be the example. It was at this time that school no longer seemed worth it. But at the same time, I couldn’t sit there and do nothing – so I didn’t. I discovered how to make money repairing other people’s computers and start my own business, which of course had its challenges every day.
After winning my first major contract and bringing in an assistant to help with the workload, it collapsed without warning. My budget was cut when they canceled it midway through, but instead of giving up, I decided to keep my assistant on board until other new contracts came in. Unfortunately my money wasn’t enough to do this so I was forced to take another job at a restaurant to pay him.
I struggled with rejection after rejection, but what kept me going was the secret of knowing getting through hard times and never giving up. My hard work was rewarded when I found my “YES” waiting. It took hundreds of rejections to finally find someone willing to do business with me. And that someone happened to work for one of the largest computer manufacturers in the world.
It’s true, I had to start at the bottom. Like so many kids starting out for the first time in life, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t whine about how hard things were going to get or how much pressure there was from adults telling me this wasn’t going to work. It turns out that the only thing a person can do for themselves is to try their best and never give up.
I had a hard time in high school. I had a hard time in business. Everyone said I would fail. They were right. I failed and failed. Worst of all, they said it to my face. All in all, that just raised my expectations. I have failed many times and been told ‘no’ thousands of times. I also eventually dropped out of high school, but only after my company reached $1 million in revenue in my senior year.
Success is built on a foundation of past failures
Entrepreneurship is a never-ending process of sophistication through trial and error. Every venture results in some form of success or failure. After analyzing the data from each attempt, entrepreneurs often learn what to do next to increase their chances of success. By default, this means that you will fail 50% of the time – one of your processes will not work.
Since entrepreneurship is all about experimenting, you have to try something. Then try it a little different and get the best result, repeating this process continuously. Essentially, you learn from your failure.
I fail as much as anyone. What’s different about me is that I don’t stop when I fail. If I screw up anyway, that just means I failed at something new today. And if you think about it, there’s nothing wrong with failing, as long as you learn from those mistakes and get better for next time. I call it ‘failing a little better every day’. Failure is a natural part of success. Making mistakes is just another step in achieving your goals. We need to change our view of failure. Stop avoiding them, stop shaming others who make them, and start looking at what they can teach us about ourselves. Failure makes success possible. And failure can be even more important than success itself, because it teaches us what to do right next time.