Failure

What Failure Can Teach Entrepreneurs

What Failure Can Teach Entrepreneurs
Image credit: Mr.TinDC | Flickr

In life, it's said, the only sure things are death and taxes. Nothing else is guaranteed.

In business, there are so many variables that we have to learn to roll with the punches; and, as entrepreneurs, we typically find that those variables double in size and frequency.

Related: Failure Is Not the End. It's an Opportunity to Learn. 

Of course, with variables comes failure -- a word most people fear. But failing is unavoidable in life; everyone fails at something. Einstein was a terrible student; Steve Jobs didn’t succeed at first. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, even Oprah have all failed at something. However, failure is not the end of the world. It’s how you handle (and overcome) it that determines who you are, both as a person and as an entrepreneur.

Here are five key lessons entrepreneurs can learn from failure:

1. 'If you haven’t fallen, you haven’t walked.'

I cannot state how true those words are. If someone you meet constantly recounts his or her successes, but not one single failure, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell. As I’ve stated before, failure happens to everyone -- whether in grade school, our personal lives or our professional lives. Failure opens the doors to situations we haven’t faced before and, therefore, a whole slew of learning experiences.

Is it uncomfortable? Sure! Terrifying? Absolutely! But don’t close yourself to the opportunities that will result. It is only when we stretch ourselves and step out of our comfort zones that we learn. I’ve bought and sold 250 businesses throughout my career; I have won some and I have lost some. It was the failures that taught me the biggest and most valuable lessons.

So, to quote Oprah here, “Go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.”

2. 'Your gut is your inner compass.'

I sometimes get asked, ‘Is trusting your instincts worth the risk?’ and I always reply with, “Heck, yeah!” Entrepreneurs face a number of risks other folks don’t necessarily have to face. Add to that the fact that entrepreneurs face an increased level of failure -- it’s the nature of the business. I understand why people are gun-shy and sometimes fail to listen to their gut, especially if they have failed before, but I don’t (and won’t) accept that as an excuse. Your instincts will never steer you wrong. You must weigh all your options and then listen to what your gut is telling you.

Think about it this way: If you’ve been making all of your decisions based on rational analysis and you’re not 100 percent happy with your results, maybe next time try going with your gut.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Fear of Failure From Holding You Back

3. 'Challenge the status quo.'

Throughout our lives, we learn that success is achieved by following instructions, and by doing things the way they’re supposed to be done. That may work well for grade school, but life and business teach us other lessons. Sometimes, we have to push the envelope.

For instance, I don’t accept the principle that I have to do things a certain way, just because "It’s always been done that way."’ What kind of explanation is that? As a young employee, I was in a meeting with my superiors and that was the explanation I was given for why things were getting done a certain way, when it was obvious the status quo wasn’t working.

I was a little shy at first; no one wants to hear an opinion from the young/new guy, but even then I was thinking big and thinking outside the box. So, I decided to challenge the status quo and to this day, I’ve made that a standard practice in my business dealings. Am I always right? No, but I can say that I haven't settled for doing something just because "It’s always been done that way." Questioning and challenging the status quo is OK. Just know how to question and challenge -- because no one likes a smart ass.

4. 'Make your own luck.'

When we begin our journey as entrepreneurs, we always hope for that one big break that will catapult us into the stratosphere and eternal business success. While we’re busy hoping for that "big break," we cannot forget to prepare for when that big opportunity comes along. That is how we make our own luck. Preparation is the most important weapon you can have in your entrepreneurial arsenal. Failing to prepare is a guarantee that no amount of luck will be able to save you from your own stupidity.

Making your own luck also involves taking some time to analyze what happened, and why. Entrepreneurs must identify those pivot or inflection points where they could have made a different choice. So, ask yourself why you did something (or didn’t do something) and what you could do differently the next time around. This may sound a little like therapy -- but you must analyze the state of your business if you want to be ready for whenever that stroke of luck comes your way. 

5. 'It’s easier to succeed doing what you love.'

Entrepreneurs venture down this path for a number of reasons -- some personal, some professional. But one thing we can all agree on is that we venture down this path because we love what we do. Being an entrepreneur is in the blood; I learned that lesson a while back. I am a bit of a workaholic and always on the go but, man, I love what I do. Even if I didn’t get paid, I’d still be doing this. That is the key!

The big secret in life is that there is no secret. There’s no password, no secret knock or handshake. Every entrepreneur is different, shaped by different experiences and different paths. At some point, we have failed (and will fail). Failure is not an end-all, be-all -- in business or in life.

Remember, most of us in business are not performing open-heart surgery. So if we fail, no one is going to die. We just need to learn from those mistakes, overcome them and be relentless in order to reap the rewards of success.

Related: 3 Ways to Wring at Least Some ROI From Failure