A Note on Failure

When I first made the decision to start my own business, in addition to writing the business plan, trademarking a name, researching my potential customer base, and developing my new brand, I reached out to other entrepreneurs and began to do my own research. There was one word that came up in virtually every conversation I had, interview I read, and program I watched — failure. Now an omnipresent buzzword for the entrepreneurial landscape, it refers to unsuccessful attempts to actualize or bring to fruition an idea, business or plan and the lessons gained from that process.  Though no one enjoys failure, countless successful entrepreneurs as well as successful individuals in any number of professional fields have cited the lessons accrued through professional, financial, and even personal failures as more valuable than their best success. Failure, it seems, is an extraordinary professor.

A few weeks ago, someone tweeted something that I found interesting — that failure is a privilege. I thought about that quite a bit. And I began to really think about this “cult of failure.” Sure, its important to learn how to handle failure and learn from each unsuccessful undertaking, but the ability to continue to do so without results is not an easy endeavor. Whether personal responsibilities, a dint in one’s self-esteem or just the general anxiety of the uncertain gets in the way, the attitude of  embracing failure as part of the process is not an easy swallow for most.

I have a love for graduation speeches. Each year during graduation season, I make a point to read/watch some of the most poignant. This year, I was most inspired by the candidness of Michael Lewis’ Princeton speech. In his speech, he touts luck as a part of the journey to success. He acknowledges that, “People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people.” In my experience, this couldn’t be a truer statement. Currently, I am reading By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. In the book, both women acknowledge their hard work, excellent leadership, and smarts weren’t the only factors that played a part in their success. It was also in the timing — something that they couldn’t predict or plan for. Yes, learning from failure is crucial. But also realizing that there are certain parts of the process that can’t be planned or expected is also important. The conversation around failure is an interesting one to be had. Its been my experience that the lessons gained in business are also applicable personally and vice versa. How have you responded personally or professionally to the idea of failure?

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