After working so long on different types of businesses and watching my business rise and fall a couple of times, I started looking at failure in a very different light.
Now, I don’t adhere to the idea that “failure should be your secret weapon” or “that you should fail fast.” I think those are cute ideas that try to romanticize the idea of failing to prevent people from feeling hurt by the process.
But life is full of different kind of challenges, and you will be able to succeed at some of them, and you will, inevitably, fail at some others. The problem lies that most people stop once they fail, and just keep the negative experience as part of their lives.
The last part of failing at something should be learning from it. After all, paraphrasing Henry Ford, failure is only real if you don’t learn from it.
So before we dive deep into learning from your past failures, make sure you have already completed your business autopsy as I outlined in my previous article on why you should pay attention to your failures.
Do you have it? Are you ready? Ok, let’s turn that negative experience into a positive lesson.
Let’s follow up on my example from last time.
One of the causes of my first business failure was that I wasn’t paying attention to the number of clients I had. All of my income was coming from just one single client.
That setup had some advantages. It was comfortable, as I only had to learn one system and process, but that comfort came at a tremendous financial risk: If I lost that client, I lost all income.
As you know, that’s just what happened!
You could say that the only thing I needed to do was to have more than one client so in case I lost one of them, I wouldn’t be at risk.
And you would be correct, but my business autopsy revealed that there was more than one cause that led to the terrible result.
The other one was that I also let my values be trampled by accepting to work in an environment that didn’t suit who I am. I didn’t like the business practices, and instead of raising my voice or seeking a way out, I just nodded and kept going.
That’s a more significant issue that is not just solved by just raising my voice whenever someone is doing something I don’t agree with.
I had to dig deeper into this particular point, and I found that I was afraid to lose the income. Fear was at the root.
Now I know, that financial instability also generates a fear reaction within me, one that makes me behave in a way I don’t like. So I also had to understand where that fear comes from and how can I overcome it.
The real gold nugget is to see beyond the obvious issue and go into my past experiences. Think of it this way, getting more clients and diversifying my income would be like applying a band-aid, it works temporarily.
But, addressing the fear, now that’s the real lesson. And it’s this process that allows you to move into prevention mode.
Where you can easily see the origin of the discomfort, you can address it immediately. In the end, saving you a ton of headaches.
“Ok Alex, that’s all well and good, but I don’t have that exact problem.”
True! We are all different, and each one of us has different lessons to learn.
The process requires a lot of personal work, and you may see some parts of yourself that you may not like, remember, the idea is not to make you feel guilty but to help you grow as a business owner.
It’s essential that you pay attention to how you feel during every step and take as much time as you need to complete them, after all, those feelings will guide you and help you unearth the gold nugget within the experience.
Ready? Take any of the causes you found during your autopsy.
Now write below the most obvious solution, this is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Then I want you to write if this is a learning experience or just a band-aid to fix the external problem but not the cause.
If it’s a learning experience, you will immediately feel a powerful positive emotion. In my case, it’s a deep feeling of relief.
The reason why it will feel positive is that unearthing the lesson releases the tension created by the negative experience. If you never learn and integrate it into your life, you will always carry it as an unsolved experience.
On the other hand, if it’s just a band-aid, you will feel something bubbling up inside you, it can be fear, anger or a different uncomfortable feeling.
In my case, it’s always fear, as if I had cheated on my homework and I was hoping my teacher will not to find out.
If you feel this way, stop for a second and realize that there is nothing wrong with that reaction, it’s just that you need to do a little bit of extra work before you feel the release.
Ask yourself: why do you feel this way?
Once you have an idea, write it down. This new idea is the map that will guide you to the nugget. To follow it, just keep asking “why” repeatedly until you find the core reason behind the feeling.
You are linking the failure experience with a previous one that remained unsolved.
Once you have it, you can create a solution, and you will feel the release.
In my previous example, I had to keep asking why I felt afraid to raise my voice and it was tied to an earlier experience when I first started college. I challenged the assumption of one of my professors, and I got kicked out of the class.
As I kept going more in-depth, I noticed that I left that school to study something that I loved, so in the end, it was a good thing for me to raise my voice.
Once I found this relationship, the feeling of fear vanished, and I felt empowered.
I know this process may sound “woo-woo,” but if you open yourself to the idea of allowing your feelings to unveil new meaning into your experiences, you will become a better business owner with each passing day.