Embracing the Gift of Failure
My first taste of small business ownership came when my boss came to me one day and said, this is your baby now – make it great. I was working for a warehouse style liquor store in college in Lawrence, KS. I was given the task of growing our bar and restaurant accounts. Competition in town was pretty heavy and I had no idea what direction to go.
Freedom was my foundation. I was free to hire, fire, plan, coordinate and experiment. I didn’t know at the time but the greatest freedom I was given was the freedom to fall flat on my face. Which I did gracefully for the first 4 months. I tried everything to get the biggest accounts in town. When that didn’t work, I headed east to find clients in Kansas City. The ones I did find ended up being a revenue sapping, energy sucking disaster. Delivery costs were crushing margins. I couldn’t discount the inventory low enough to make up the difference.
Riddled with embarrassment I went back to my boss and told him I wasn’t cut out for this job. I continued by telling him what a tremendous mistake he made by giving me this responsibility. He grinned and looked up from his desk and simply said, ‘Bullshit! I know exactly what I’m doing’.
...it’s the second and third failure where the resilience begins to take over.
We talked for like three hours over numerous glasses of Dalmore 18 Year Single Malt. He went on and on about how many different attempts he made to build the store he dreamed of having. It took 6 years and 5 tries until he got it right. What he shared with me was that failure was the only true path to success. He looked at failure as a necessity rather than a hindrance.
What I learned in that drunken conversation was that he actually wanted me to fail. He said, ‘Embracing the gift of failure takes practice. We are told that we should avoid it at all costs’. He continued, ‘This flies in the face of achieving true success. The growth is in the heartache’.
Those of us who label ourselves ‘Serial Entrepreneurs’ have a sick desire to fail – to screw something up. And then screw it up again. Oddly enough, there is a true rush in the failure because we know it puts us closer to getting it right. Now, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a painful sting in the failure but rather an inherent acceptance of it’s benefits.
I have the fortunate pleasure of talking with small business owners and entrepreneurs every day. Many are new to the game of business ownership. I hear tales of debilitating fear and anxiety over getting some of the smallest details wrong. They tell me repeatedly about a new idea they have that could expand their business rapidly. And that is quickly followed by, ‘But if it doesn’t work the whole thing could come crashing down’. Yep…that’s true.
And then there are those people who straddle the line between following a dream and clocking in again tomorrow. The common thought there is, ‘If I quit my job, take this leap and it fails…I’m screwed’. This is also true…if you only experience that one failure. But it’s the second and third failure where the resilience begins to take over. Its like any other muscle…you have to keep working it.
Failure is uncomfortable. But like a wise man once said, ‘Great things happen outside your comfort zone’. Now get out there and screw something up. You’ll thank me later.