Entrepreneurs do not fear failure.
The typical stereotype we carry about most successful entrepreneurs is that they approach business with the fearless enthusiasm of an extreme sports athlete.
Recently, however, I had the opportunity to meet a successful founder and CEO of a billion-dollar hedge fund, who when asked about his biggest fear stated that he feared failure above all.
Now maybe failure is a valid fear for a hedge fund manager, someone responsible for managing billions of dollars in assets, but I found his reply nonetheless honest and refreshing, especially as an entrepreneur who has long battled with the fear of failure myself.
His comments also validated something I have long believed, that the fear of failure is not something that should be shamed but rather embraced and leveraged as a motivator for success.
Accepting fear is not easy, and indeed it can be a significant obstacle for many when considering the pursuit of new and unfamiliar opportunities. With the right expectations and an understanding of a few truths, however, the fear of failure can be a powerful weapon in your entrepreneurial arsenal.
1. Success can only come from failure.
Much as heartbreak teaches us to better appreciate love, failures set our expectations of success. It is through failure that we come to better understand that everybody’s definition of success is different and will evolve over the course of our careers.
2. Curiosity naturally leads to failures.
Entrepreneurs are by nature curious. We pursue our interests and passions through entrepreneurship because we cannot find the answers we seek through ordinary means of employment or training. This insatiable curiosity often leads us to pursue a number of opportunities, many of which will be ill-advised or against the advice of others.
It is this curious personality that motivates entrepreneurs, after the continuous warnings of others, to touch the handle of the frying pan to see for ourselves that it is hot. It means all entrepreneurs get burned from time to time.
3. Failure is an asset.
Because of their curiosity, one of the biggest regrets entrepreneurs will have is not trying and hence wondering “what if.” This longing for knowledge and answers provides us with the tools to not only understand how to run businesses better, but also what to avoid. As long as we are learning, entrepreneurs become more valuable with each and every failure.
4. Nobody wants you to fail.
While entrepreneurs may fear failure, your stakeholders fear your failure far more. Lenders, vendors and customers all have a vested interest in your success, and working with you through rough times as much as good times means mutual success for everyone.
This relationship requires your mutual respect, however, and being open and transparent about your goals and challenges assures you do not burn bridges with your failures that could ultimately come back to haunt you in the future.
5. Failure should not be confused with quitting.
For many entrepreneurs, the fear of failure is rooted in a fear of being perceived as a quitter. The truth is that if you have poured your energy selflessly into an endeavor, only to walk away after extinguishing all options available to you, you will have earned infinitely more respect than those who have never tried.
6. Each failure gets progressively easier.
Without a doubt, your first entrepreneurial failure will always be the most painful and regretful. Much like heartbreak, however, the process of recovering from failure gets easier with each subsequent failure and each teaches you something new as you evolve as an entrepreneur. While nobody should aspire to fail continually, understanding that you can and will survive only makes you a more effective and confidence entrepreneur.
If fear of failure is a concern of yours and has kept you from pursing your entrepreneurial dreams, feel confident that it is a valid fear and, for the most part, shared by many entrepreneurs. If you embrace it, understand it, and allow it to motivate you, you will find that fear of failure is something that will make you a better entrepreneur.