Failure learning experience not avoidance

Use failure to make you stronger.

Many people are obsessed with avoiding failure. They are risk adverse and don’t take the time to understand failure and risk. Failure is the flip side of success and the more you understand it the more successful you can become. It is the mistakes and failure you experience that leads you to eventual success by achieving your aspirations. Without mistakes, progress is often slow.

We all want to avoid failure and be successful

A Case Study by Peter Sergeant

Most people fear the word failure, but a successful person understands there is no reason to fear it. Unfortunately, most people are trained or conditioned from their early life to avoid failure at all cost as if it is the worst thing that could happen to you.

Failure isn’t bad and failure isn’t final. From personal experience, I know you can survive almost anything and come back better and stronger than ever before. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from achieving the success you want and deserve.

The successful person has a dream, or a goal and will do whatever it takes to get there. Their success in life is never solely determined by the scores they have had on their report cards, and past failures are only bumps on the way to ultimate success, whatever they perceive that to be.

Successful people tend to have many things going on at any given time. This is in order to avoid a gap or setback in their journey, so if something fails, they can still achieve their dreams. Successful people keep going regardless of how many times they have to pick themselves up and start again.

Better to have failed than never tried

On the whole, people are born, go to school, get a job, retire and then die. They have no concept of the words success or fail and when they look back on their lives they have contributed very little to their society. At least if you have a go and recover from your setbacks, you have achieved something in your life.

What do you really have to fear? Nothing but fear itself?  It is well known, 99% of what you fear will never happen. Hope is a gift you have been given, so make the most of it. You can choose to risk failure every day in reckless pursuit of your aspirations. But if you lift yourself above mediocrity, you can have a wonderful life, despite any failures.

This post will provide you with my thoughts and insights to help you deal with the fear of failure and failure itself. Even where a failure cannot be salvaged, there will always be something you can learn from it. Making mistakes and having failures, are a part of life and in order to succeed you must also know what to avoid, while lifting your business and your life beyond the current problems. Zig Ziglar once wrote, “I honestly believe I have felt your feelings. I’ve walked in your shoes. You have made some mistakes, and you may not be where you want to be, but that has nothing to do with your future”.

Things learned the hard way

Mistakes are a part of life and you have all made them, even the people you think they are perfect, have made mistakes. People with perfect track records do not exist, you only have to look more deeply into people’s resumes. Everyone cuts corners when they are  in a hurry to succeed, and often let people take advantage of them and accepted less than you should have in making sure things were done properly.

If you take the time to think about it, you’ve learned a lot from the bad choices you have made and you now know better for next time, with more understanding and capacity to shape our future.

You always have choices

Your life is full of choices, failure is not falling down; failure is staying down when you have the choice to get back up.

In my darkest hours I have found, worrying was a waste of time and energy. Worry will not fix your problems, it just saps your energy. Stop worrying and keep your mind focused on good things and good outcomes can often occur with every failure or setback. Take time to see what is actually there, what is the lesson to be learned? Big failures can mean big lessons. Small failures, however, can add up to a big failure if you are not learning something from each one.

The real failure is when you lose sight of your dreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world”. As business owners, your goal should be to solve problems and in doing this, embrace an increased project failure rate, which could be the key to improving the efficiency and competitiveness of your business.

People who accept that failure is a normal part of life can ensure that their organisations thinking and reactions are more responsive, therefore encouraging experimentation and innovation.

There are times you should call it quits on a project, or a business because not everything works. Even after trying incredibly hard or, after a long period of time, failure is sometimes the best option; failing fast, recovering fast and then moving forward fast. 

Friends – fair or foul

Where are all those so-called friends you used to have before you found yourselves in difficulty? They were only fair weather sailors, so don’t be too upset. There is nothing like adversity to show you who your real friends are. The truth is some could well have contributed to the problem, as I have experienced.

Forget them. They were never true friends in the first place, just opportunists, pretending to support you, but all the while waiting for you to ‘strike oil’ and make them successful. If you had struck oil they would be right there by your side. They would be telling you how much they helped you. But because you didn’t strike oil they will distance themselves from any decisions that were taken. You quickly learn who your true friends are.

When you fall on hard times, people’s memories of what you did for them suddenly disappears. The car lease you guaranteed, the bank overdraft you guaranteed, but do they offer to return the favour? No, and your expectation of them doing so should be very low. The successful ideas you gave them suddenly become their ideas, as does the new product you arranged to help their business. Not to forget the contacts you introduced them to? Often you are forced to suffer in silence because if you need to remind them they are not worth worrying about.

Failure can cause you to be yesterday’s hero

Have you ever known what it feels like to make a bad decision or to suffer a health trauma? Know what it is like to be let down, to be stabbed in the back? To have your ideas stolen, to feel worthless? Even to get a bad credit rating, and face real fear and loneliness and feel like a failure?  These things can be crippling when your family or business fall on hard times. But that is not the end, not by a long way. It’s the beginning of something new and exciting if you can maintain a positive attitude. Of course, you will perhaps need to ba a little courageous and start taking new actions for your future.

You may not understand these feelings when you are experiencing them, but you will be a better and stronger person for having the experience. One in a million people might be successful without any adversity. While you are out there day in, day out, providing services to the world and employing people, don’t be disheartened by those who appear to be successful or doing it the easy way. Because the chances are they probably aren’t.

Next time you feel embarrassed to take a closer look at the people who are causing you embarrassment. They are probably ‘nobody’s going nowhere’, with a selfish attitude and contributing very little to anything, including you.

The stigma of failure is fading as people understand

Why should corporate and government people be able to make mistakes and walk away? Sometimes involving millions, even billions of dollars of shareholders and taxpayer funds and not receiving any lasting penalty or stigma? Is it because they can bury their mistakes?

Small businesses represent 97% of all businesses and employ half the workforce. Why should small-medium sized businesses be the only ones to suffer the stigma of making mistakes, bankruptcy and bad credit ratings? Even when circumstances overtake them and which are beyond your control?

In all the advertising done by big companies and governments they often state they will look after you. That is until you hit hard times when a little help would go a long way. It is also interesting how these people say they know ‘what is really going on’, and they “understand”. I know from experience, most of them don’t, people in corporations and governments have never been involved in a small-medium business. They don’t know what it is like to have ‘skin in the game’.

If it wasn’t for the risk of failure, taken by every small business. Then everyone would want to have the benefits of owning one. As in the wild, animals have to keep fit and agile otherwise they die. You as a small business owner know, it’s the risks that give you the real highs and lows. They make your life more interesting, vibrant and vital and keep you keeping on.

Failure is a learning experience

Life doesn’t come with automatic soothing agents for your failures. Just imagine how boring life would be if everything was perfect all the time. But like the sun, too much of a good thing can be harmful. What if you had nothing to look forward to? There is always something to look forward to, after a failure. Life would be boring and probably not worth living if that were not the case.

Never let a failure stop you; learn from it and treat it as a growing experience. You tend to learn better under pressure, just ask any bankrupt who has put their life back on track. Take the failure experience and turn it into a lesson for future behaviour. By doing this you avoid repeating the same mistake twice. It allows some value to be salvaged from the bad situation in which you find yourself. Failures help you to see things and experience things, not possible before a failure.

Failures can lead to innovation

By giving your situation a careful analysis, you may find new and innovative approaches to fixing your problems. Problems you encountered on the way to achieving your goals can actually accelerate the end outcomes you were looking for. Only by arming yourselves with knowledge and experience can you successfully build a business and develop your life-long passions.

Failure is the other side of success. Without it, there could be no pleasure in pushing through the bad times, to know what success truly feels like, when achieved. Everyone is longing for everything to be simple and easy, No one wants hiccups along the way, but that’s not how the world works.

Even when the going is tough to keep pushing yourself forward taking small steps, even in the dark. It’s always ‘darkest before the dawn’. As long as you maintain the momentum you’ll eventually get to a better place. Every step will lead you farther away from where your failure was.  You reach your destinations by taking small steps in the same direction, building on your strengths, one step at a time, while never losing sight of your passion.

I have struggled on many fronts

Like many others, I have experienced the rough ride of sliding toward failure. It is never a pleasant experience. But by knowing bad times never last, it helps you to cope more easily. When I started my first business, I was often scared of what I had taken on, I often felt totally inadequate to handle the complexities of the millions of dollars worth of machinery and dealing with international corporations. Never mind having to overcome the vagaries of the weather. How could I cope with this when I was only in my middle twenties? Fear can stop us all if we choose to let it. It never stopped me.

I have certainly struggled on many fronts during my career. As a result, I have learned to recognise many of the symptoms that can lead to failure. For the last 35 years, I have devoted my life to breaking the cycle of failure and bringing success to struggling business people. I have experienced many ways of reconstructing a potential failure, or actual failure and turning it into a success.

Failure is in the eyes of the beholder

It is important to look at failures as stepping stones to where you are heading, it’s not the end of the road. You need to read the signs or get someone to interpret them for you. You may find it hard recognising your unique gifts and roles, in a positive light, when you are having difficulties. But don’t despair, keep learning.

Practical knowledge and experience go hand in hand and are a prerequisite to avoiding failure, which  may be difficult if you don’t have both. Look for the people with practical experience, practical training and resources to help you along the way. Education coupled with practical experience will increase your knowledge and develop your skills. This will improve your chances of recognising and avoiding more failures.

Be careful what  you dream

Many dreams of being their own boss, owning their own business, which can often be the quickest way of turning a dream into reality. Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out to own and run a business successfully. I hate telling people they’re not cut out to start and run a business, but if I don’t they can look forward to a lot of heartaches and a high probability of failure. And losing all their money. People don’t know what they don’t know, which causes frustration. You rarely change things by defending and fighting the existing way you do things. Sometimes you know what you need to do. But you don’t know how to do it. Frustrations undermine dreams more quickly than most things. Frustrations and excessive stress usually lead to failure.

While owning your own business can be incredibly rewarding and bring a great deal of fulfilment to you. It can also become a burden and very challenging. Whether you are a manager of a business, thinking about starting a business. Or, you have had your own business for some time. There are things you should consider in order to minimise the risks of failure. Failure can come in many forms. Continuous small failings can eventually add up to a major failure, which can creep up on you when you least expect it.

With most dreams, there will be struggle

Many things can cause your business to struggle. For example, lack of experience, poor markets, employee problems, lack of working capital and disasters. They can all be minimised if you have a good business model and a business plan to move forward. Insufficient planning is usually the reason for most business failures. This is because the management is living from day to day, struggling with the same old problems until something finally brakes.

Stop you struggles with a reality check

Have a well thought out business model and a business plan for its successful implementation. Understand your customer’s problems, frustrations, wants and needs. And create an effective marketing approach. Have a complete understanding of your finances and becoming financially savvy, This can help you avoid many little failures, which could lead to the one big failure. It is hard to balance everything, but by re-evaluating your priorities and how you spend your time is a good start. All this can bring you back from the point of a major failure. Every person and every organisation need a reality check on a reasonably regular basis.

Your dreams don’t usually anticipate trouble

Should your business be in trouble, review your business plan. Analyse each main function of the business. Revisit your market research and your business’s relevance to the current market conditions. If you are following your business plan and your business is still struggling, you may want to consult someone who can help you. This can be difficult particularly in regional and remote areas. However, there are many ways of getting the help you need using modern information technology and communications.

Most struggling businesses have financial troubles. Financial pressures lead to personal and family pressures. This then leads to more business pressures and you finish up on a downward spiral. It can be hard to stop. If your business is failing, take a hard look at how you are managing your personal and business finances.

If you need help to get your finances in order, seek advice from a competent accountant. What do you do when your business is still not making a profit after you have lowered your expenses and plugged the leaks? You may need to consider restructuring your business model and the way the business works, in order to make a profit. If you don’t have a good business model, a business plan and a budget, then you are asking for trouble. They should spell out how your business makes money. If you are not making money then they all need to be adjusted as soon as possible.

Don’t accept excuses for your financial records not being up to date. Today there is no reason why a business should not have a complete set of financial statements produced on time at least every month. Always keep in mind that businesses making a profit don’t usually fail. particularly if that profit is in cash or easily converted assets.

Should you stick it out if things aren’t working?

What a question? It’s a question which has plagued me on many occasions and often kept me awake at night. Watching your business failing to perform is a most unpleasant and debilitating experience. Ask farmers and businesses who have been through a prolonged drought, watching their crops fail and their livestock die before their eyes.

Your business can reach a point of no return. A point at which tough decisions have to be made, as the business is no longer viable and beyond resuscitation. It can be tempting, especially after investing a large amount of time and money. You want to stick it out until the end, wishing and hoping things will change.

Consider your decisions and where they will leave you

As hard as it may be, decide at what point you will walk away, whether it is a dollar amount or a certain date. Know what your pain barrier is, understand your risk appetite and what your boundaries are. Having your business fail feels like a personal defeat. Dealing with the devastation of losing your business will be challenging, but the sooner you get out, the sooner you can start putting your life back together and the less your capital base and credibility will diminish.

If it becomes clear an objective has no chance of being accomplished, replace it with another. There is nothing to stop you continually repeating actions, but it is fantasy to keep doing it if no progress is being made. If you succeed there will be no stopping you on your journey. You will have learnt from your mistakes. 

Struggling needs to be stopped in the interests of good health and well-being not to mention avoiding unnecessary failures. People can be adversely affected by economic downturns, droughts  and flooding rain, global competition and technology. Many become stressed out, struggling to find something new, or simply trying to keep up.

Looking for a quick fix, or to start another business as your ‘Plan B’, as a way of providing for their family and the future, may not be the answer. The struggle will continue if you are not following your dream, improving your knowledge and working to your strengths with the best technology you can afford. Stop the struggles and avoid failures,

Avoid recrimination

Think and reflect on why your business struggled in the first place and what you could have done differently. What caused the problems, how could you have avoided, or resolved the problems? It can be very beneficial to have an advisor, external facilitator or mentor. They ask the hard questions and bring objectivity and perspective to your circumstances. Blaming others is not the best way forward. Your thoughts and words return to you sooner or later, They can come back distorted, or with surprising accuracy and are often used against you.

If you were going to do it over again, what would you do differently? Write down your mistakes and what you have learned from your experiences. Write down what you would do differently next time. It helps you to crystallise your thoughts and communicate with others. All the material I have written, all started with me writing down my thoughts over the years. It is surprising what you can pick up going over your notes as your journey continues.

Look for a deeper understanding

The more you write and rewrite, the deeper your understanding becomes of what went wrong. It will help you to avoid making the same mistake again. A simple recipe for success in the future. Recently I uncovered something which plagued me for many years.  What was the real cause of my business breakdown? I can see now, my problems revolved around relationships, personality style conflicts and more importantly conflicting values.

For years I employed or engaged with people based largely on their qualifications and experience. I realise now this is far less important than studying their personality or temperament and their values. This ensures working relationships will be harmonious, complementary and stakeholder values are congruent with mine.

You may need to meet employee spouses and some friends before their real characteristics, and attributes are unmasked. This can take time, perhaps time you don’t think you have but believe me, it will be worth it. The time required rectifying a situation can be fifty times greater and even cost you everything.

When you are dealing with your failure, be honest with others and yourself about what happened. The good, the bad and the ugly. Make a list of the things that went well in your business, and there will be many. How you have grown throughout the experiences. But above all else stay away from the blame game, no matter how you would like to voice your opinions about the shortcomings of those who disappointed you.

Avoid the blame game

If you blame others it will come back to haunt you and in the end who cares anyway. What is interesting, many of the people who have said disparaging things about me, don’t realise I know what they have said, but I just smile and move on, because what goes around tends to come around.

Begin rebuilding yourself with old relationships as well as new ones. Begin setting new goals and getting the support you need, because once you start you will have no time for recrimination, nor will you care anymore. Let others live with what they have done, which is punishment enough. Sleep straight in bed each night and get on with enjoying your life. I know some of the people who let me down and frustrated me, still, have that terrible feeling in their gut and the back of their heads. Don’t be one of those people who have to go around looking over their shoulders all the time.

Share your failure with others

Throughout all my failures and health traumas one thing that helped me keep my sanity and prepare me for the future. It was to reach out to other people in need and share my failure experiences with them. You learn a lot from the failures, health traumas and the experiences of running your business. Probably more than you realise at the time. It is this experience which is most valuable to others.  People are always interested in talking with people who have had practical experience and are prepared to share the good and the bad.

Each area of a business requires a different set of skills and talents. By sharing with others it will help you to understand your own experiences and shortcomings as well as theirs.  Successful people focus on the present as well as the future, only learning from the past, not living there. Not all people are visionaries, planners, organisers, or understand finance and production. They need your help and you could be of immense value to them as you move forward after your failure.

Some follow the approach to ignore the past and focus on the present and future. Others would contend, any distress they experience is based on the unresolved conflict from the past and must be dealt with. I believe there are some truths and benefits to each of these philosophies. Each time frame of the past, present and future can impact on how you think, feel and act. By sharing with others you are able to crystallise your thoughts and act upon them more prudently.

Take advantage of your failures

Your past has a major impact on the person you become, though often at an unconscious level. Past experiences impact on who you are today . Who you are today impacts the goals you set and expectations you hold for the future. By sharing your current attitude with others you will find many valuable insights about how to move forward optimistically while enjoying your journey.

Quotable quotes

“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street”. Zig Ziglar

“Nothing is easier than fault finding. No talent, no self-denial, no brains are needed to set up in the grumbling business.”  Robert West


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