(Guest Post by Chris Colvin) Chris puts thoughts into words into actions. See all he has to offer at mistercolvin.com
Failure is powerful. But that power is really two-directional. It can either crush you or build you up. Good leaders know how to distinguish between the two.
No one likes to fail. It’s part of our nature to resist any sign of failure, whether that’s distancing ourselves from those we see as failures or avoiding situations that have a low probability of success. But failure is not optional, it’s inevitable.The right approach to failure begins with honesty. Instead of trying to cover up a failure, good leaders will face it head on and tap into the positive power it presents.
When I first started out as a freelancer and entrepreneur I really felt unprepared for what I was doing. I’ve never considered myself to be an entrepreneur, and my ability to self-motivate was pretty low, to be honest. By God’s grace, I lucked into enough stable jobs from great clients that I was able to keep myself afloat while I built my business. Looking back, there was one failure early on that really defined my whole approach. It’s really what created the impetus for me to create channels in my life to self-motivate and innovate.
One of my first clients was a bad fit. I can say that now. But at the time I thought it was a perfect fit, only because they were a paying client. I could go into detail, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that from the beginning there were red flags that I ignored because a paycheck was coming on Friday. But after struggling to make the relationship fit, I got the heave-ho after only a month and a half.
The Best Thing to Happen to Me
My fear of failure has always been pretty high. After dropping that client – and there were plenty of mistakes on my part that led to my failure – I could have easily spiraled out of control, got down on myself, and spent the weekend nursing some self-pity. Instead – and again, this is the grace of God – I picked myself up and dusted myself off and took a good, hard look at the situation.
What did I find from this failure? I found invaluable information that I could never get if I had only tasted success. I found strength where I thought I’d find weakness. It was maybe the best thing to happen to me.
There is a problem among many leaders I see today. It’s a phobia of failure. I hear others talk about “failing forward.” That’s just a cop-out. Every failure is a failure in the same direction – down. You attempted something and missed the mark. Own it!
The phobia of failure leads many people to shift and redefine their failure in a way that clears them of any notches in the loss column. If the goal is to have a perfect record, then you’ll always play it safe. You don’t know your boundaries until you push past them into failure. Take weightlifting for example. You don’t know how much you can bench press until you find out how much you can’t bench press.
Lessons Learned from Failure
From that failure, I learned a lot of great lessons. I want to share three with you. These may not fit your particular situation, but they can give you a pattern for how to approach your own failure as a way to learn lessons.
1. I learned I’m not for everyone.
When I first started Cohort Research Services, I envisioned being able to help any pastor of any church anywhere. This was against the advice of a life coach who told me to define my “perfect client” and only market to them. But it was only when I tasted failure from n “imperfect client” that I realized the whole nature of my business.
Instead of a mass produced and mass marketed product, I service a very niche and select crowd. And that’s fine! It means that I can personalize every research experience to an individual client, maximizing my impact. But on the flipside, it means that I can’t service just anyone, and certainly not everyone. It pushed me back into that space of locating the “perfect client,” which is a great space to be in!
2. I learned what I really need for success.
Instead of scrambling for coins, I realized I could scale my business for dollars. That may sound materialistic, but sometimes you need to see your business as just that – a business. When it comes to what you need to be a success, you need to define the monetary component.
My failure with an early client allowed me to take a good hard look at my finances and budget. What dollar amount did I really need to succeed? How many clients did I need to accomplish that? How should I go about finding the right type and number of clients to meet that goal? It also helped me evaluate where I wanted to be a year from now, five years from now, and even ten years from now from a financial perspective. And having the right perspective is essential if you ever hope to scale your business.
3. I learned I’m going to survive.
This was the most important lesson for me to learn. I’ve had heart-to-heart conversations with people in the past about failure and risk-taking. So many times they’ve said, “I think you’re just scared of success,” and I still have no idea what that means. I’m not scared of success. I welcome it with open arms! I’m scared of losing everything, and that’s what I thought would happen with even one failure. That’s absurd, but that’s where my brain went.
Going through failure helped rewire that part of my brain that saw any step back as a fall off a cliff. I failed. I got through it. I might have lost a bit of momentum, but I picked it right back up. I survived! And you will too.
Success without failure is a fallacy. And the idea that any failure is an ultimate failure is also wrongheaded. Instead of skirting the issues of failure in your life, redefining it in an attempt to escape it, lean into your failure and pull as much from it as you can. Failure can lead to success, but only if you approach it with honesty.