How to Prevent Failing From Staining Your Entrepreneurial Career

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Most entrepreneurs fail. Some fail more than once. Some fail big before going on huge success. Moving through failure does not make you a bad entrepreneur. It actually gives you the tools to become better at business. Many people are tempted to look at their failures as a horrid stain on their professional lives when, in fact, they often serve as a strength. Here’s why.

Failure is everywhere.

There are endless stories about failure and what entrepreneurs did to overcome it. The front page of is filled with the failures and successes of people like Tony Robbins or Elon Musk, and those posts get some of the biggest page view totals.

Musk is flirting with failure all the time. He has his share of doubters and critics who don’t think he’s going to succeed with his Gigafactory or Solar City for instance. People are still pretty skeptical SpaceX will ever really make it to Mars or that Musk will even deliver Tesla’s Model 3 shipments on time.

You don’t see often stories about people who failed, shied away from opportunity,  then just crawled into a cave. The oft-cited, iconic lessons on failure from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney still hold true. One of the most famous authors known today started from a place of unemployment and depression –- Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling.

Who hasn’t had a poor interview, lost sale, negative review or missed opportunity? They can cause a range of reactions — even emotional or physical pain. Some people get a stomach ache and dive into a hole of self-pity and doubt. Others get defensive and look for every excuse to justify the loss. People who succeed in times of failure know how to view the situation, overcome their fears, and take back control.

The experience of failure changes your interpretation of the world. It can distort your perceptions, create conscious and subconscious feelings of negativity, and make your future seem unattainable. Only you can change your internal experience from fear and pessimism to optimism.

Related: 5 Success Tips From a Multimillionaire Who Used to Work at Kmart

Take control over failure to change your future.

Before trying to see a failure as a strength in the context of entrepreneurship, you need to conquer any negative inner monologue you’ve got going on. If you’re struggling to see the good in the face of failure, try these techniques to regain control:

  1. Use psychology. People don’t need to struggle with clinical mental health issues to benefit from the principles of modern therapy. Explore various therapy models such as cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome underlying fears associated with failure and learn new ways to cope in the future.
  2. Identify the reason for failure. Confront the cause of failure and learn from it. There are three main types of failure: preventable, unavoidable, and intelligent. Each arises from situational or human errors and the type can inform corrective actions in the future. Even if the failure you need to explain happened years ago, take time to dissect it today.
  3. Be ready to tell the story. You can sweep some failures under the rug and no one will question you. As an entrepreneur, however, you may face questions about your past that you want to answer confidently and honestly. This may happen if you’re seeking investment or looking for people to help you build your company. Lay out what happened, identify the type of failure and its circumstances, and describe your response. I’ve interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs who have failed, and they typically say they’re more interested in how you respond to failure than the fact that you failed. If you took effective corrective action to soften the defeat or later picked yourself up to keep trying, you persevered. Perseverance is a trait integral to entrepreneurial success and people know it.
  4. Understand that it doesn’t really matter much. It hurt a lot at the time, but the truth is, your little failure doesn’t matter much. Other people may not really look at it as a failure at this point anyway. Wear the darn thing like a badge of honor.

As I mentioned, failure is everywhere. Whether an economic downturn shut down your last business venture or you made a glaring mistake in a past job, you are not the person you were at the time you suffered through difficulties.

All that really matters is whether you picked yourself up and kept going. If you can be someone who perseveres, learns from mistakes, and moves forward, no failure will stand in the way of actual success in life. You know what they say; the real failure is the person who stops trying.

Related: 7 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Do Before 7 a.m.

Failure can actually make you look good.

Entrepreneurs often face more than their fair share of failures. According to Statistic Brain, no major industry can claim a startup success rate higher than 58% after four years of operation. Incompetence and lack of experience tend to bring about most failures. Fortunately, they lead to more competence and more experience, which bring about more confidence as you pursue your next venture.

When investors express wariness, competitors fail to perceive you as worthy, or hiring prospects show hesitance, just summarize your story and what you learned. Keep it honest and to the point. Describe what makes you the person you are today and how your new venture is not only different, but a result of how far you’ve come. Use the confidence you’ve found to drive your point home and persuade the person, customer or colleague to take a chance on you.

When I talked to Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank fame, he told me the primary thing he’s looking for in an investment is someone who he thinks he’ll like working with. How you’ve dealt with difficulties in the past may be just what reveals that. Therefore, be proud of what you went through and let the chips fall where they may. 

John Boitnott

John Boitnott

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He’s written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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