Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
No matter what we do, it seems that most human beings are attracted to success — just as they are repelled by failure. What many of us don’t consider is that the road towards achieving what we want is paved with nothing but those two things, and more so failure than success.
Plenty of people today have an image of only successful people who never made mistakes or failures, when in reality, we all do — some just manage to make it look prettier than others. Success stories are alluring. However, many people do not realize how much effort goes into success. Failure is a much more common theme than many realize and is a large part of what it means to be human.
I find it uninspiring that many people who write about their successes fail to mention the struggles and failures they overcame before reaching success. Instead, these writers focus on what they did right, only talking about the good stuff.
In reality, this makes a great story, but it doesn’t give an accurate picture of what it takes to succeed. Perspective is everything, and leaving out the hard parts causes people to think they can do what someone else did without all the trouble they went through.
When I try to impart wisdom on young entrepreneurs or future leaders, I usually begin with my own story, sharing how it was full of failures before success came along and gave me direction. Setting the right expectations for people is paramount. Entrepreneurs seldom need the hope factor. They’re more confident in themselves than most. I don’t waste my time trying to make them feel like they’ll succeed when they’ve already convinced themselves of it beforehand. When we chat, instead of talking about how everything will work out for the best, I get right down to what happens when things go wrong first.
As a child, my parents warned me that I would fall down many times before finding my feet. My situation wasn’t special. Every little one goes through the same struggles as they discover how to walk. Determination was all it took to find dexterity.
It’s okay to fail
For all you parents out there, you’ll understand how resilient kids are. They fall over and they get right back up again. They injure themselves and go at it yet again. If kids could never fail or try again, where would any of us be today?
There is little room for error in the educational system. If you fail at something or do not excel as much as others, it can lead to punishment from your teachers and even from society at large. You risk being stigmatized and labeled as incompetent; destined for failure because of how these failures hurt people around them.
In some companies, failure can come with dire consequences, like being fired or having compensation taken away. We’re living in a society that idolizes success and detests failure from an early age. This trend follows most people from when they are children all the way to adulthood in their professional careers.
Despite what people say, I think of failure as a positive thing. One of my favorite quotes is in Latin — “Vincit qui patitur.” It translates as “He who endures, conquers.” Facing hardship and enduring failure teaches us how to succeed. Without any kind of challenge, success would likely be meaningless. Throughout my childhood, getting back up after falling down often outweighed the feeling of making it through the task at hand. The concept ingrained into me early on has helped shape who I am today: Someone who gets back up again and again. A failure is simply something to work past, and my determination gives me an edge over other people. I don’t fail less, I just get back up more.
Labels don’t matter
I was identified early on in school as a person with potential. My skills were quickly recognized and much appreciated by teachers, students and parents alike. I was a genius with anything electronic and was able to fix many issues. At the end of my elementary school year, my homeroom teacher gave me the first computer I ever fixed in her classroom, believing I would be one of her most successful students.
This all quickly changed later on in school. By high school, I had several teachers who didn’t put up with my learning issues. One teacher in particular found it demeaning and made a mockery of me to others by openly declaring (while pointing at me) that if they didn’t wish to be a failure, don’t let me be the example. It was during these times when school no longer seemed worthwhile. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t just sit there anymore and do nothing — so I didn’t. I figured out how to make money by repairing other people’s computers, making my own business, which, of course, had its challenges every day.
After winning my first big contract and bringing on an assistant to help with the workload, it collapsed without warning. My budget was cut off when they canceled it midway through, but instead of giving up, I decided to keep my assistant onboard until other new contracts came in. Unfortunately, my money wasn’t enough for me to do this, so I was forced to take another job at a restaurant just to pay him.
I struggled with rejection after rejection, but what kept me going was knowing the secret of getting through tough times and never giving up. My hard work paid off when I found my “YES” waiting. It took hundreds of rejections to finally find someone willing to do business with me. And that someone just happened to work at one of the largest computer manufacturers in the world.
It’s true, I had to start at the bottom. Like so many kids who are first starting out in life, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t whine about how tough things were going to be or how much pressure there was from adults telling me this wasn’t going to work. It turns out the only thing anyone can do for themselves is try their best and never give up.
In high school, I struggled. In business, I struggled. Everyone told me I would fail. They were right. I failed and failed. Worst of all, they said it to my face. All in all, that set my expectations up correctly. I failed a lot and was told “no” thousands of times. I eventually dropped out of high school too, but only after my company hit $1 million in revenue my senior year.
Success is built on a foundation of previous failure
Entrepreneurship is a never-ending process of refinement through trial and error. Every venture results in some form of success or failure. After analyzing the data from each attempt, entrepreneurs often learn what they need to do next time to improve their odds for success. By default, this means you’ll fail 50% of the time — one of your processes is not going to work out.
Since entrepreneurship is all about experimentation, you must try something. Then, you try it a bit differently and go with the best result, repeating this process continuously. You are, in essence, learning from your failure.
I fail as much as everyone does. What’s different about me is that I don’t stop when I fail. When I do mess up, it just means that I failed at something new today. And if you think about it, there’s nothing wrong with failing, so long as you are learning from those mistakes and getting better for next time. I call it “failing a little better every day.” Failure is a natural part of success. Making mistakes is just another step in achieving your goals. We need to change our perspective on failure. Stop avoiding it, stop shaming others who make them, and start looking at what they can teach us about ourselves. Failure helps make success possible. And failure may even be more important than success itself, because it teaches us what to do right the next time.