Fastcompany asked some of the most famous risk-taking entrepreneurs how they responded to failure. Here are some extracts from their answers:

  • My mother used to tell me, ‘failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.’ So at some point, I learned not to dread failure. I strongly believe that we are not put on this Earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.
  • ‘Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’
  • I learned to be as open about my failure with my friends and family as I was willing to be about my successes. Startups are not just what you read in the press. The real story is much more volatile and human, and we do our community a disservice pretending otherwise.
  • Winners are those who are willing to lose. I really like that mentality.
  • My approach is always to admit as early as possible that the approach is failing and work to resolve the situation, without letting it drag on.
  • The best companies are those that can recognize when something isn’t going right, and fix it, instead of just turning a blind eye because it’s easier.
  • One day I realized that after each failure, I always gained some valuable knowledge of things I could apply to or avoid in my next project. That was the attitude I adopted after every failure from then on, I focused on what I gained instead of what I lost, because that’s what really matters in the end.
  • I had to learn that my greatest failure could be not aiming high enough, or not trying in the first place.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned from failure:

1. My failures are usually the result of over-confidence. When I’ve failed it’s often because I was putting too much trust in myself and not enough in God. A happy side-effect is that it has usually produced more prayerful dependence upon God.

2. Failure has made me more sympathetic to others. If I’d never failed in my parenting, preaching, teaching, financial decisions, etc., I would have no patience, sympathy, or help for others who had.

3. My failures have helped to re-direct my life. I’ve realized that I’m just not gifted for certain things I would love to do and I should focus on the areas God has equipped me for. Though painful at the time, I can look back with gratitude for failures that have changed my course.

4. Failure has given me a deep appreciation for people who succeed in areas I’ve failed in (usually jobs involving practical skills like plumbing, carpentry, mechanics, etc).

5. Failure has taught me to credit successes to God. When things go well, I recognize that it’s God alone who enabled, helped, and blessed, promoting more thankfulness and humility.

6. Many of my failures have been the result of being too tired or too busy. If I pace my life better and get good rest I seem to make better short- and long-term decisions.

7. My failures make me worship the Lord Jesus Christ more. When I consider how many mini-failures I have in a week and how many major failures in a decade, I’m awestruck to think that He spent 33 years on earth and never failed once!

What have you learned from your failures?

  • Out In the Cold

    This is encouraging. I need to meditate on this.

    However, my failures have essentially shipwrecked my faith. If someone told me ten years ago that I would be where I am right now, I would have just given up. Here is a word of warning for anyone wanting to encourage others, telling them that they’re “the next big thing” is not loving.

    This is what I have been told through college and into the early part of my career. I’ve done incredible amounts of work, won awards, graduated at the top of my class, taken huge leaps of faith, trusting God would open a door … and here I am … no job and no prospects, and this is after ten years of constant failure. I was always willing to take the risk, but no one has ever been willing to take a “risk” on me. I’m not waiting for it to drop on my lap, I’ve made the cold calls, sent out the resumes, done everything I can think to do… nothing.

    I have heard countless times that we don’t deserve anything and everything is a gift from God, yes, but at the same time there is a sense of justice in my mind … I did the work, I took the risks, why would I be left out in the cold to watch others venture into the warmth of success? I’ve become the most cynical person I know, ten years of closed doors and failure has left me not knowing which end is up, spiritually, theologically, relationally, etc. I don’t know how to trust God anymore, because I guess I never really knew what that looked like in the first place.

    I’m not asking for much. I just want a job that I trained for and am qualified to do, one that will support my family, and a church that is a good fit for my family, where I can plant myself and be an active member. I’m not asking for fame and fortune. I feel like I’ve asked my Father for bread and instead, received a stone. I’ve failed for so many years. When is the point where you do give up? How does one trust God when the experience is a decade of starting from square one?

    • Juli

      In the last 10+ years I’ve watched my husband go through extensive periods of unemployment twice, been unable to pay bills, and after almost loosing my job the second time he lost his, taking a lower paying job that required extensive heavy lifting, being abused by the psychopath the new management hired, taking a lower paying job with a longer commute because I couldn’t take it any more, having to move with three kids into a friend’s house only to find that the house we were waiting to move into had flooded and was moldy and unfit to live in, moving into another house only to find that house also had a mold problem that I could not clean up, I can honestly say I know what it feels like to be at the edge of my faith and say “I’ve had it with God.”
      But, what am I saying? Am I angry because God isn’t doing what I want Him to do? Am I setting the parameters, not God, for blessing and success? God is love. That does not change. Do I want to believe that, or not? Faith or bitterness is my choice. Maybe, I need to die to what I thought my life would be, to what success looks like.
      My husband and I both have new jobs. We don’t make much. We have almost no savings. We’re still renting a home, but at least we can breathe. We have our health. Our children are in good schools and doing well. We can pay our bills every month. We aren’t where we thought we’d be ten years ago. I’m finding that I think more about what I can do to forge ahead and make our lives better, and less about waiting on God. I’m angry, but I’m working on it. Faith is not the exciting adventure I believed it would be. Instead, it’s a commitment.
      Thanks for leaving your comment. I appreciate knowing I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

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