Coping with Failure

I quit message beside cardboard box

Failure is a part of solopreneur life. Your website breaks. You create a course and nobody buys it. You secure a meeting to pitch your product and forget what you want to say. The list goes on and on. The truth is that solopreneurs are human and, to be successful, we need to learn how to deal with failure.

I have my own failure story. In 2010, I started a quilting business to teach people how to quilt in my home studio. Six weeks after opening my doors — which required renovating my house to accommodate a large quilting machine, traveling for training, and a big investment in equipment — I was in a serious car accident and herniated all of the disks in my neck. I spent two years trying to get my business to work, but the truth was that I was in too much pain to continue. I finally admitted that I couldn’t physically run my business and needed to close it. I was embarrassed at my failure and,more than a decade later, this defeat still stings.

I love this quote by Roy T. Bennet, author of The Light in the Heart: Inspirational Thoughts for Leading Your Best Life: “Failure is a bend in the road, not the end of the road. Learn from failure and keep moving forward.”

How to deal with failure in your business

Dealing with failure can be challenging. Here are ten things that can help you cope with failure and move forward.

  1. Create a new definition of failure. If you’ve ever taught a kid to ride a bike, you begin with training wheels. When the training wheels come off, you don’t sign your child up for the Tour de France. Instead your recognize that learning to ride a bike requires trying, falling, getting up, and being persistent. The process is not failing — it’s learning. Do not expect yourself to learn and grow in your business without a few missteps along the way.
  2. Acknowledge what happened. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Describe your situation as factually as possible. For me, this was: “I have herniated disks in my neck that make physical work too painful. I am spending more money on massages than I am earning.”
  3. Take the right amount of responsibility. Many events are beyond your control, such as being injured in a car accident or having your business shut down due to a pandemic. Even if your failure was completely due to carelessness or bad judgement, accept that you are human and learn from what went wrong. Beating yourself up is not going to help the situation.
  4. Grieve appropriately. It hurts to feel that you failed. Treat yourself with compassion. Accept that you will feel sad, angry, disappointed or a mixture of emotions. Try not to numb your feelings with food, drugs or alcohol. Use positive coping strategies such as exercise, journaling, reading an inspirational book, hanging out with loved ones, or taking a bubble bath.
  5. Share your struggles. I have to admit that I was extremely ashamed at the failure of my quilting business. A few years later, when I was attending a retreat with a coach, I admitted what had happened to the group. Nobody escorted me to the door for being a failure. Quite the opposite! It was very healing to recognize that everybody fails at some point in their business. What I found surprising was that other people had failed, yet didn’t make it worse by beating themselves up.
  6. Remind yourself that successful people fail. I’m guessing that all of our current heroes experienced failure at some point in their career. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Oprah Winfrey was fired from one of her first journalism jobs after the producer decided she was “unfit for television.” And Colonel Sanders was rejected more than 1,000 times before a restaurant agreed to use his chicken recipe. (Source)
  7. Look for a silver lining. Shutting down my quilting business was painful, however I did learn a lot of new skills. I learned how to set up a WordPress website, developed the discipline to blog daily, wrote my first Kindle book, and became comfortable with digital marketing. I also met some wonderful people in the quilting world who I’m still delighted to consider friends. These are all skills (and people) that I was able to incorporate in my new business.
  8. Remind yourself that change is part of life. Greek philosopher Heraclitus (born in 540 BCE) said that “the only constant in life is change.” This is still true. You can be certain that things will be different (and hopefully better) in the future.
  9. Fix the future. Remind yourself that, as Marie Forleo says in her book, Everything is Figureoutable. Decide what you need to do to move forward. Do you need to devote more time? Invest in some training? Create a different process? Hire a consultant to help out? Or is it time, as in my quilting business, to switch course and do something different?
  10. Fail forward. I highly recommend that you read Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success by John Maxwell. In this book he differentiates between failing backward (blaming others, repeating the same mistakes, and thinking I am a failure) to failing forward (taking responsibility, learning from your mistakes, and persevering). According to Maxwell, “No matter how difficult your problems were, the key to overcoming them doesn’t lie in changing the circumstances. It’s in changing yourself. That in itself is a process, and it begins with a desire to be teachable. If you’re willing to that, then you’ll be able to handle failure. (Source: Failing Forward, page 8).

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