Learning from Failure: How to Move On After a Business Flop
If you want to succeed in business, there’s one truth you must make peace with:
At some point, you will fail.
Your launch will flop. Your book will get terrible reviews. You’ll miss your sales targets by a mile…
Or it may be more subtle. After you’ve been running your business for a while — especially your first business — you might take stock and realize that it’s not what you imagined. It’s not producing the money, joy or freedom you’d hoped for. What happened to those big dreams and ambitious goals? Because the business you’re running now certainly doesn’t feel like the business of your dreams.
Start focusing on what’s working rather than putting so much energy on what doesn’t.
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When you realize you’re nowhere near achieving the goals you set for your business, you might feel like a failure, want to throw in the towel and move on.
Don’t walk away so fast.
While it’s tempting to quit, failure in business doen’t need to be the end of the story, it’s likely a just a necessary reality check.
Learning from Failure: A Reality Check for Your Business
Most businesses take quite a long time to become successful (even the ones that seem like they “made it” overnight).
Failure is a natural part of building a successful business. It doesn’t need to be the end of your story — unless that’s what you choose.
The secret to moving on from failure is to actively look for, and capitalize on the lessons. Every stumble is a chance to grow wiser, stronger, and more capable of achieve your ultimate ambition.
In this live call-in show, I talk with Alicia, who confessed:
I’ve been running my own business for the last three years, but a lot of the things I wanted haven’t come true in the way that I hoped. I struggle with feeling like I failed. I’m left feeling like all of this effort I put in — all the things I worked really hard to create — none of them really generated the success I was hoping for and now I have to start from scratch. Help!
Alicia and I talk through how she measures success and why she feels so unsuccessful. Spoiler: It’s not because she’s a failure.
Watch the clip, and keep reading after the video to learn four mindset shifts that can turn your gnarliest failures into springboards to success.
Giving up on your business after its first failure or two is like leaving the theater in the middle of an epic movie.
Say you’re watching a two-hour movie, and 45 minutes in, all hell breaks loose — there’s a ton of conflict. The main character is floundering and the chance for success looks dire. If you walked out at that very moment, you’d think that character was a total failure.
But that’s just an inflection point. Their story isn’t over. And neither is yours.
4 Mindset Shifts to Begin Learning from Failure
Okay, so you’re in the thick of it. You failed. Big time.
Instead of bowing out in shame with your tail between your legs, the right mindset just might set you on a higher path. Use these mantras to turn your failure into a growth-opportunity:
- “Failure is an event, not a characteristic.” Judge Victoria Pratt said this to me during an interview and my heart cheered when I heard it. “Failure is just an event. It’s not a characteristic. People can’t be failures.” Look. We all make bad judgment calls. But your flops are events, not permanent character traits. Failure is not who you are. YOU are not a failure and can never be one.
- “I win or I learn, but I never lose.” This is one of my go-to mantras. Hearing it completely shifted my perspective. And thank God it did, because I used to love cataloging my every mess-up. But the truth is, there’s not a single instance in my past where my supposed “wrong” action or “botched” attempt didn’t eventually lead to something good and useful.
- “A fall isn’t final unless you stay on the ground.” We all wipe out. Physically, emotionally, creatively, financially, socially — everyone does dumb sh*t. It’s inherent to the human growth process. But here’s the key: a fall is never final unless you stay on the ground. Catch your breath. Get back up. Keep going.
- “Focus on what’s working.” Maybe you didn’t hit your sales goals this year, but that doesn’t make your entire business a failure. Instead of getting so caught up in the goals you didn’t meet, take stock of what you did. Look at everything you have accomplished. When we acknowledge wins and progress, we tend to notice them more. The more we notice progress, the more momentum we create.*
*This is backed by neuroscience. Research shows that celebrating small wins gives your brain a spritz of dopamine, a natural feel-good hormone linked with motivation, which gets you excited to keep going. When you stack and celebrate wins regularly, you build mental and emotional strength, which is an essential for long-term business success.
Remember what F.A.I.L. really stands for. Think about the word “FAIL” like this: it’s a faithful attempt in learning. That’s it. A faithful attempt in learning. It’s nothing to fear and nothing to avoid. From this perspective, failure is not a glitch in your journey, it’s a must-have feature. As cliché as it sounds, you can only truly fail if you stop learning and growing.
What Key Lessons Can You Learn from Failure?
In the midst of or immediately following a screw-up, do I personally sometimes cry and feel like a clueless idiot? Yes, of course.
Do I ever beat myself up if I wasted massive amounts of time, money, or energy? Yes, yes, and yes.
But the nanosecond I remember “I win or I learn, but I never lose,” I begin to regain sanity and perspective. Something good will (eventually) come out of this. Something that’ll help me grow and do better next time.
So once you’ve wallowed, it’s time to figure out exactly what you can learn from failure.
Action Step: Look to your past and think about a specific time you failed (or more accurately, made a faithful attempt in learning).
- What are three good things that came from it?
- What lessons did you learn?
- What valuable understanding do you now have that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
Now think about your present challenge. How can you grow, change, or pivot now to avoid repeating this mistake?
Remember, hitting your goal is far less important than who you become in the process of working towards it. The biggest benefits of challenging yourself are the mental and emotional strengths you build along the journey, including: focus, discipline, determination, resilience, humility, and faith.
The qualities you’re developing through failure now are the distinguishing factors that’ll lead to success down the road.
Today’s Failure Leads to Tomorrow’s Success
“You always pass failure on your way to success.”
~ Mickey Rooney
No one hits it out of the park on their first swing. When you’re feeling unsuccessful, remember that everything you’re doing now is an opportunity to learn and grow into the person you need to be.
Look, I get it. When you’re in it, still stinging with pain or shame from a disappointment, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. That’s when we need other people to remind us that we can find solace and inspiration in the stories of people like us who have risen above setbacks and bounced back stronger than ever.
One of my favorite stories comes from actress and director Bryce Dallas Howard.
My grandmother said to me, “Do you know how many auditions the average working actor needs to go on before booking a job?”
I guessed one in ten. And she said to me, “No, it’s 64. One in 64 auditions.”
And it was this clarifying moment for me to statistically understand the odds.
My grandmother went back into acting in her 60s and she started counting the number of auditions she would go on. She got up to 100 without booking a job and then she’s like, “Okay, I’m gonna start the count over at one and we’ll see if I make it to 64.”
And by 64 she did actually book a job and she had this tremendous hot streak for the last 10 years of her life.
So when I started auditioning I was very inspired by her stick-to-it-ness, so I just started counting. One audition. Two auditions. And I promised myself I wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t book something before 64.
I got the job on my 48th audition, and my agent later asked me, “How did you not quit? Most actors quit long before you.” I told her the story about my grandmother and she said, “I wish more creative people understood this because then they wouldn’t be so hard on themselves.”
The takeaway from Bryce? Rejection is a prerequisite to success. Whether you get criticized, passed over, or flat out fired, it just means there’s more to learn. You’re on your way.
Thomas Edison’s grade school teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything” and he was fired from jobs for being “unproductive.” But after 1000 unsuccessful attempts, he invented the lightbulb and made the future brighter for us all.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from her reporting job because she apparently couldn’t separate her emotions from her stories. Which, as we all know, is what made her into the world’s most inspiring and compassionate interviewer.
Truly, the world’s most successful people welcome failure and rejection because they know that it’s one more notch in their belt. One step closer to their dream.
Your Turn: Practice Learning From Failure
In the comments below, tell me:
- Which of the four mantras resonates with you right now?
- How will you put it into practice today?
Remember, on the road to any dream, Faithful Attempts In Learning are inevitable. But the only true failure is letting it stop you from pursuing your dreams at all. All the other let downs? They are chances to learn new skills, clarify your goals, and reevaluate your measure of success.
Commit to learning from your failures — both the setbacks you’ve experienced in the past and those yet to come — so that nothing can stop you from using your gifts to change the world.
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