Failing does not make you a failure

Most entrepreneurs are not afraid of failing. If they were they would stay in a nice, safe job where they could enjoy the comfort of letting others take risks. This does not mean, however, that entrepreneurs do not fail or that they enjoy failure. No one goes into something hoping to fail or feeling especially good when failure does occur.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” So, how do we do that? It begins by seeing failure for what it is and not what it feels like at the time.

One of my favorite speakers was the late Zig Ziglar who often said that “Failure is an event, not a person.” Failing doesn’t make you a failure. It’s very important to not take a failure personally. I have to admit that when our small business closed I did take it personally. Emotionally, it was one of the toughest things I had faced. One reason I wrote my book Mistakes was to help me process what had happened. Finally, I was able to accept that although many of the reasons our business failed were due to poor decisions on my part, that did not make me a failure. It revealed to me some areas in which I needed to learn and grow.

Failure is also an indicator that you are doing something. The only people who never fail at anything are those who never attempt anything. People who want to live lives that make a difference are going to fail at times. We will attempt things that just do not work out the way we hoped.

The ministry from which I recently retired required each person to set annual goals. Our leader would review them with us, and at our meeting with him at the end of each year we would discuss how we had done with our goals. One of my goals one year had only been partially met. When he asked why I explained that I intentionally set goals that are realistic but also that stretch me to meet them. I pointed out that although I had not met the goal, I had accomplished much of it, and in so doing had developed that aspect of my ministry much more than if I had done nothing or had set a lesser goal. Just because I had not fully met that goal didn’t indicate failure on my part because of all that had been accomplished in the effort.

Failure also points out your strengths and weaknesses. Through experience and various tests I know my primary areas of strengths are in leadership, preaching, and teaching. I am very comfortable in front of a crowd of people leading a conference, delivering a sermon, or speaking to a group about some topic. Compare that to a person who is just the opposite. It’s very painful to watch them speak to a group of people, and after doing so a few times without improvement they should begin to understand this is not one of their strengths. They can better serve their organization through other means.

It also helps to understand that failure is common to everyone, even entrepreneurs. One business professor indicates that the average entrepreneur will fail 3.8 times before becoming successful. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure; it means you’re human.

If you need more help understanding role failure can have in your life and career I would suggest reading Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success by John Maxwell.

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