Here’s why failure is a rite of passage to success


Winning the first time, every time and all the time is unrealistic and harmful to your continued success.

Entrepreneurial delusion is a real thing. If it isn’t an official thing, it really should be. We (the entrepreneurs) believe that we will succeed no matter. We’re different, we’re unique, we’re in the top percentile of companies that actually make it beyond the first 18 months. We convince ourselves so intensely that this is the case that failure becomes the enemy. But it isn’t.

Failure is not the enemy

Failure is actual a learning opportunity and it should be looked at like this. Very rarely in my career have I learned something and retained that learning by succeeding. I know I did something right to have succeeded but ultimately I’ve learned the most from my failures. There have been many failures and so I have learned a fair amount.

My first business, when I was in high school, was selling a toy that I had imported from Greece on a holiday to my classmates at school when I was about 13. I sold the hell out of these things and used the business as my class case study for Business Economics because I made a tidy profit of about R1 000. That’s a lot of money at 13. The problem was I didn’t realise that the kids would play with this toy in class, piss off the teachers and have them all confiscated and me end up in the headmaster’s office for disrupting multiple classes. The lesson there was really simple — control your environment and the rules or at the very least try to preempt the outcome of breaking the rules.

The trick is to take it on the chin and treat failure as a method of learning not an end to the story. It’s important that each failure add a chapter to that story and that it teaches you something for the next part of your story.

You get more than one shot

I’m not exactly sure when it happened but I have noticed that many entrepreneurs believe that this one idea that they have, their golden egg, is the only good thing they’ll ever do.

That could not be further from the truth. Your first idea is probably going to suck. You’re not Mark Zuckerberg. You are not founding Facebook (hell you might be, but the chances are very, very slim) and the odds are stacked against you that even if your idea is amazing, your experience and skill will probably let you down the first time round.

If you consider that your first business idea will probably fail because you don’t know the basics of business then it’s worth throwing yourself at this idea you have and going for failure head on. You’ll learn a bit about what cash flow is, a little bit about accounting practices and maybe some HR. But you’ll probably fail and that’s OK.

When you fail you’ll come out of it with a new perspective on how to run a business in a better way, or why your first idea failed, or how to hire a better team. Then you’ll realise that your second shot will have more chance of succeeding.

Success is not the end either

Defining success is difficult and is in constant flux for most people. As you achieve more your goal posts move further away. As you move towards your next goal, you aim for more and try harder and grow and develop. For this reason, it’s tough to define success and ultimately impossible to achieve it and reach an end point.

If you look at a single company with a single outcome then sure, there’s a level of success that can be generally understood and acknowledged. But if you want to keep pushing, keep growing, keep building then you better get used to failing even after a successful company or exit.

Someone like Elon Musk is not averse to failure even after massive success. He sold PayPal to eBay and made millions of dollars in the process. He then put every cent back into his three business, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City.

No fear of failure, no boundary on his success. Musk is the epitomy of an entrepreneur where his drive for innovation outweighs his love of money.

Image by Hans Gerwitz via Flickr



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