Learning From your Past Failures in Business or Your Personal Life

Past Failures

Everyone at some point in their life will experience failure. Your academic achievements will not protect you; neither your wealth nor your network. Failure is your companion from the time you wake up and make the first of many decisions for the day.

Every decision you make will take you to a crossroads where there will only be one of two possible outcomes: success or failure. It could be a series of decisions that will trigger the chain of events but ultimately there will only be one outcome.

The question for you is what would you do if the outcome of your decision ends in failure?

The Reality of Failure

We fail because we are not perfect; we are not infallible. Despite our ability to rationalize, we cannot possibly know what the right decision is all the time.

We fail because we are creatures of emotion. According to Nobel Prize winning Psychologist and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman, the mind works two systems: the intuitive and the rational.

The intuitive makes the primary decision which is based purely on emotion and human connectivity. Once the decision has been made will the rational mind take over and question the intuition behind it.

This is why even though we pride ourselves as having the ability to rationalize, we still choose the wrong decisions even though we are aware of the possible outcomes.

Put simply, we fail because we are flawed beings. Not only are we incapable of identifying the correct decision all the time, but we often give in to our emotions and weaknesses.

Failures in Business and in Personal Life

Statistically, only 50% of small businesses are still operational after 5 years. In 10 years time, only 10% to 20% of these businesses will remain. There are many reasons why businesses fail:

  • Lack of management skill
  • Absence of money management protocols
  • Overexpansion
  • Rigid, inflexible business policies
  • Unproductive work culture

The truth is, even the businesses that remained operational after 10 years experienced one or a few of these factors. But why did they thrive while others folded up?

The answer lies in how failure is perceived.

The businesses that succeeded learned from their mistakes. Failure showed them their weak points and the experience helped them find ways to become better.

Sir Richard Branson famously said he has failed more times than he succeeded. One of those failures came with the launch of the ill-fated Virgin Cola. It was a poorly thought-out, poorly executed attempt to slay the giant of the soft drink market, Coca Cola.

In the end, Branson realized you should never come in unprepared to fight a proven brand like Coca Cola. If you come into a gun fight with knives, you will be slaughtered.

The experience made Branson value the importance of strategy, purpose and target marketing.

But it did not discourage him from pursuing other endeavors such as Virgin Airlines and his newest and possibly most ambitious project yet, Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline!

In some cases, failure was just a difference in perspective.

  • Howard Schultz was declined by 247 banks before finally getting approved to launch “Starbucks”.
  • JK Rowling was turned down by several publishers before finding one that saw the potential for her “Harry Potter” series of books.
  • Roy Disney’s idea for Snow White was rejected even by those close to him; his wife and his brother. Yet he persisted and was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1939.

The takeaway is that how you succeed from failure is also contingent on your willingness to accept full accountability.

The role of accountability is very evident in your personal life.

Marriage is one of life’s greatest milestones. The ceremony, the tears and the totality of the experience make us believe marriages last forever. But statistics prove otherwise.

There are couples that divorce faster than the length of the entire courtship. What seemed like a magical moment has become a time of regret and despair. Lives are destroyed, relationships are shattered and trust is gone forever.

Sometimes all it takes is one ill-advised decision.

A seemingly harmless night out on the town with friends; your better half is well aware. After all, you do this once a month.

Then a discovery.

A jar of genital wart cream – HPV treatment for men & women; discreetly hidden within the tight compartments of your drawer.

Then the flood of questions comes in: the lack of intimacy, detached behavior and long, uncomfortable moments of silence. It’s all becoming clearer. Soon a confrontation ensues. A union is on the balance. What do you do?

How long can you hide the truth? Why not weather the storm now and save face while you can? It will only get worse if the truth is uncovered.

In the end, if both believe marriage truly is “until death do us part” then maybe love will prevail.

Here is the undeniable truth about failure:

Failure is your greatest teacher. It reveals your faults and makes you accountable for every decision you make.

Those who shun or fear failure, will be doomed to suffer a worse fate. They will not do anything in their lives because they are afraid of being stigmatized as a failure. Thus, they will end up in the same place while the rest of the world moves forward without them.

The purpose of failure is to make you a better person. Therefore, you should not fear it.

Instead you should embrace it.