My mobile phone buzzed and rang at 7:03 a.m. in morning, much too early for my liking.
I almost ignored it, but sensing it was an important call, I picked up.
The man on the other line cleared his throat. “Hi, it’s Joe.”
Joe was the one of head honcho guys of a company I had partnered with to leverage their educational technology to better serve my clients. I had invested tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention countless hours of learning and training, into the partnership.
“Listen,” Joe began tentatively, clearing his throat again. “I got your message. And I’ve been torn contacting you so I apologize for taking so long to call you back. The thing is, …”
Joe went on to relay ugly, unbelievable stories of internal conflicts within the leadership team, questionable manipulation of ledgers, bad debts, heated debacles and a host of other unpretty issues the company was facing.
“So basically, the company’s going down,” he concluded. “And by the way, turns out the Chairman of the Board is a veteran con-artist and he is doing a hostile takeover as we speak.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My heart started racing. A lump formed in my throat.
I didn’t have time to process how I’d gotten myself into this mess. My survival instincts kicked in and all I knew was I needed to cut my losses and get out. And get out as fast as humanly possible before everything blows up.
Entrepreneurs are some of the bravest people on the planet.
Starting and growing a business is like giving birth, running a marathon and jumping off a cliff all at the same time – you are utterly exhausted and spent from having painfully laboured round-the-clock, you are bleeding money as you are racing against time to figure out how to build a parachute on the breakneck descent down to cushion the inevitable crash to the ground.
And if you’re still alive at the end of the day, you get up the next morning to do the same thing over again.
It is the ultimate exhilarating, all-consuming endurance exercise of the soul’s creative expression in commerce with absolutely no guarantees.
In fact, the only thing that is guaranteed is that you will fail. You will fail on a tiny scale and you will fail on a massive scale.
My most heartbreaking (and embarrassing) failure in business was when I discovered that a couple of very shrewd, cash-grabbing sheisters were my partners. They had hoovered my life savings while promising a profitable opportunity that fell flat on its face.
I might as well have shaken hands and then hopped into bed with the devil.
Prior to this wake-up call, I had experienced other types of failures and setbacks, but none of them stacked up to this one.
By the time I came out on the other side, I was broke, sleepless, on the verge of homelessless and so shaken up that I spent several weeks in a bewildered zombie-like depression.
It is not the failure itself – but how you bounce back from it – that defines you as a person, as a leader, and as an entrepreneur.
Here are five simple steps to rise above even the most dismal of business failures and emerge a winner:
1. Recognize the loss.
Whatever business you were in, it started with a dream, even if that dream was simply make money doing something different. You took a risk and it didn’t work out. There may be financial losses, which are painful to swallow no matter the amount. And there are losses of the heart, which may be less tangible but just as present. This includes the deeper reason you got into the business (perhaps it was to support a family member, for a personal cause or go after a long-cherished dream). For example, the deeper reason I was in business was to create financial freedom and abundance for myself and my family. When that venture tanked, I had to face the letdown of prolonging that dream a little longer and the self-disappointment I felt.
2. Expand the definition of success and failure, and acknowledge both.
Success and failure are actually two sides of the same coin. Your last venture may have failed for particular reasons but it succeeded for other reasons. Be honest with yourself about what worked and what didn’t work, then extract the lessons and learnings like pearls from an oyster. For every way in which you think you have failed, counter it with two ways you have succeeded. For example, in the smoky aftermath of the burning bridge from the failed partnership, my biggest failure for me was in the financial sense. My ROI from that venture was in the red. But the biggest success was getting out early enough and gaining the respect of my colleagues for the clarity and integrity of my decision-making.
3. Now, look at the failure in the eye.
There is a saying, “once bitten, twice shy.” Fear of failure is the singlemost deadly cancer of the mind for the entrepreneur. If you find yourself paralyzed by fear of failing, or failing again, build your immunity by being so ready for it next time and embrace it for the priceless lessons they can teach you. Armed with new wisdom from past failures and mistakes, you are well-prepared to tackle your next entrepreneurial challenge.
4. Make friends with failure.
It’s crazy if you think about it. What reasonable person would continually expose themselves to risk and 99% chances of failure just for that 1% chance of success? When you flip the switch on failure, it actually becomes your biggest ally. Think of it as the 99 failures have prepared you for the glory of hard-won success. The trick is to make friends with failure. Have a personal relationship with failure but don’t make it about your person. When you are friends with failure, it is no longer something attached to you. It is now separate from you but you can have a relationship with it – the kind of friendship where you can invite it for tea and have a good chat. What does it have to teach you?
5. Permission to rest.
You know how there is an expression among employees that they are “between jobs” – that limbo period when they are transitioning from one employment opportunity to the next. It is the same with you, the entrepreneur. You may be between businesses. You may find yourself doing nothing. You may find yourself tempted to jump into the next shiny opportunity, or act on the million ideas you had simmering in the back burner of your mind. Wait. Give yourself permission to rest. After all, you’re recovering and gearing up for your next big birth. When the time is right, run the next marathon with everything you’ve got. And don’t forget to build a better parachute on the way down!
When you are in business, failure is inevitable. The faster that you recognize failures and mistakes are golden opportunities for growth, the more you can stop beating yourself up, release shame and self-judgment, enjoy the ride and embrace the lessons. The beautiful thing is that you can turn them around and transform them into the best gifts and lessons you’ve ever received. You can fail, but you don’t need to suffer.
Join other conscious CEO’s, business leaders and professionals in the Greater Vancouver region at our upcoming workshop on Bounce Back from Stress, Burnout & Trauma: 3 Keys to Building More Resiliency as a Conscious Business Leader.
If you live outside of the Greater Vancouver area, you can pre-register for the webinar version here.