Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Entrepreneurs Must Learn to Embrace Failure

What does it mean to "embrace" a thing? The dictionary meaning is to "hold closely in one's arms, especially as a sign of affection." Another is to "accept or support willingly and enthusiastically." Failure is a part of entrepreneurship that all entrepreneurs eventually experience whether they like it or not. Most people have an unrealistic fear of failure that keeps them in a perpetual state of mediocrity, doing just enough to prevent total failure, but not quite enough to realize their greatest ambitions. Entrepreneurs who fall into this trap risk permanent (psychological) failure, never to attempt again. They resign to a "safe" existence, convincing themselves that cubicle life is not so bad after all.

So What If You Fail

Ask yourself, if you fail how long would it take to get back on your feet and recover your losses? Entrepreneurship is a series of failures followed by a series of break throughs. The number and degree of failures depends on one thing - whether you are a fast or slow learner. Fast learners get through the failures and learn the necessary lessons quickly, then move on to the breakthroughs. Slow learners must go through many failures and extended periods of hardship before they finally get the message. The faster you gain the education that accompanies failure, the better. Therefore, instead of avoiding or fearing failure, everyday entrepreneurs should welcome it with open arms.

You don't have to tell yourself, "I know I'm going to fail." That sort of defeatism has no place in entrepreneurship and will likely guarantee permanent failure - the type that prevents a person from making  a sincere effort. The point is to get out of your comfort zone and expect difficulties along the way, applying the lessons learned as you move along your path. This is the true meaning of embracing failure and difficulty.

Embracing the Game

I went through Marine Corps boot camp many years ago and it was one of the most stressful periods of my life. One cannot appreciate the life of a Marine recruit without having lived through it. However, the first half of the movie Full Metal Jacket did a pretty good job of capturing the essence of the experience. For 90 days you live in isolation while some intimidating characters scream colorful epithets in your face and describe in graphic detail what they would like to do to your mother, your sister, your girl friend and just about every female close to you. I cannot begin to count the amount of failures recruits experience before being granted the coveted title of "The Few, The Proud" (I literally got chills as I wrote that last bit).

The job of the ever intimidating drill instructor (DI) is to orchestrate dozens of failures over a 90 day period so recruits can absorb the lessons necessary to become faithful Marines. In the midst of the humiliation, confusion and shear terror, it was hard for me to appreciate the methods of the DI's. Then, about a year after graduating boot camp, I experienced something I will never forget. I visited my old recruit depot in San Diego, California and witnessed DI's absolutely terrorizing young recruits on the parade deck. The parade deck resembles a massive parking lot and is where scores of 17 and 18 year olds first learn how to march in step. As one of the DI's passed by me screaming at the top of his lungs at his recruits, he turned to me with a bright warm smile and chimed, "How's it going!" He did this only when he knew the recruits were well ahead of him where they could not witness the interaction. The DI then turned his attention back to his ragtag group of wannabe jar heads, once again screaming until his veins pulsed violently in his neck.

I stood there mouth agape as they marched off into the distance. I knew all along this was just a game - a very serious game of course, but witnessing this first hand as an outside observer was stunning. What if I had understood this before entering boot camp, expecting the failures and embracing them along the way? I would have learned a lot more and much faster, and I could have applied the lessons in near real time.

Be Your Own Drill Instructor

Entrepreneurship is also a serious game, but still a game nonetheless. All games have their ebs and flows, ups and downs, successes and failures. Embrace the failures just as wide eyed Marine recruits do - knowing it is there to help you succeed in the long run and understanding it is only temporary. Throughout boot camp I regularly reminded myself of the temporary nature of the hardships. I often imagined how great I would feel when it was al over. This knowing that is was temporary not only got me through the experience, but got me through as the platoon honor graduate.

As an entrepreneur you do not have a DI to force you out of your comfort zone. You are the DI, minus the put downs and imaginative descriptions of your mother. Expect failure, embrace it, learn from it and apply the lessons in real time along the way. Beginning entrepreneurs who jump in expecting immediate success, set themselves up for devastating disappointments.  Those who anticipate failure, while knowing it is only temporary, stand a much better chance of succeeding.

To help you put things in perspective, check out these early failures of famous entrepreneurs.

Also, take a look at the below posts:

How to Become Successful by Taking People With You
Common Mistake of the Beginning Entrepreneur
Passion in a Bottle for the Everyday Entrepreneur

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