Nic Haralambous is a business coach, consultant and host of the It's Not Over podcast, where he chats to business owners about their stories of success, survival and failure.
I know, I know… failing sucks. But there's an incredibly important concept that I've learned over many years of failing that's kept me sane: failing doesn't make you a failure.
This is a difficult but important mental step to take if you're ever going to succeed. People who achieve great success understand that their failures are part of the journey towards success – their failures don't define them. Successful people have managed to reframe failure as a learning experience detached from their sense of personal self-worth. They fail, they learn, they grow, they build. They don't let failure break their entire existence.
It's not always easy. I remember selling my first company at a significantly cheaper price than I'd been offered 12 months earlier. It was a failed exit (but a profitable one). I signed the sale agreement, sat back on my couch and watched some inane TV show. The company's failure was mine. We were too intimately tied together for me to have any meaningful perspective.
What I should have done at that moment was analyze the data. What did I learn, how could I have done better and what can I take away from this experience to improve the next business? Yet I did none of those things. I wallowed. Wallowing in failure is an immature response, because failure is just a way to learn what doesn't work.
This is easier said than done, of course. Failing hurts – your ego is bruised and you often want to hide away from the world, because it knows you failed and it's waiting for the chance to point at you and laugh, right? Wrong. Nobody is watching you. Nobody is waiting for you to fail. In fact, nobody is thinking about you at all. That really hurts to realize for the first time but, ultimately, it's a gift that I'm giving you. Don't fear failure and don't fear other people's opinions of you, because they're not thinking about you and they're not waiting for you to fail.
Over the past 22 years as an entrepreneur, I've failed orders of magnitude more than I've succeeded – for every success I've had, I've had 10 failures. Do you know what happens when I fail? Nothing. Nobody really cares. Inherently people want to be nice and want you to succeed. Nobody points at me and laughs, nobody berates me and nobody calls me out for failing.
This new perspective should help you to understand that you can use your failures to grow into your next success.
So, the next time you fail, ask yourself the following questions, write down your answers and analyze your failure. What did you do well? What did you do badly? What should you cut out of your process next time? What should you do more of next time?
These four simple questions should become your failure mantra. What did I do badly, do well, do less of, do more of? Then, remember that you only truly fail when you stop trying.
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 49, September/October 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.