Take a moment to think about what would happen if you completely and utterly failed. Now raise the stakes. What is the worst thing this failure could do to your career, your financial situation and your family?
From 2011 to 2013, I lived with these very thoughts, in a constant state of fear.
My brother launched a startup technology business in the HR space, hiredMYway.com. My dad was a strategic advisor, my new husband was the vice president of sales and I handled the company’s media relations. Ten people, give or take, relied on the business for full-time employment.
The thing was destined to succeed. It was backed by proven entrepreneurs, had a strong lineup of outside investors and strategic partners and a lot of industry and media validation. Even still, it was hard not to think about what might happen if it all came crashing down…
Until it did.
It was December 2013––dead of Chicago winter––and we were two weeks shy of taking our delayed honeymoon (which we had put off for business reasons), when my husband received the call. The investors were pulling the plug. The end was imminent.
Everything I was fearful of was now staring me in the face. All of the nay sayers were being proven right. My husband no longer had a job or an income, and my new company had just lost a client. As a family of entrepreneurs, we had failed. My husband also had to tell every member of his sales team they were out of a job. My heart ached and I felt like I was in a bad dream.
However, strangely, the world around me was still going on as if nothing had even happened. As Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” This is so true. So what did I learn through this failure?
Fear of failure is incredibly self-centered
While I was experiencing what felt like major catastrophe, the rest of my clients were still calling and work was going on. For the investors, this was just another day. There was no major announcement, no media coverage, no outcry from the company’s customers or the community. Quite honestly, beyond those who were directly impacted, I don’t think anyone realized or cared all that much.
Failure is never as bad as you dreamed
If hiredMYway goes down, my husband is out of job. My business is going to take a hit. How will we pay rent? What if my company goes out of business? For me, the financial threat of failure was the most tangible thing and the thing I worried about most.
What I didn’t realize was that when failure came to fruition and half of our income got taken out from under us, my business had grown far beyond hiredMYway.com, and it gave my husband new opportunity to assess his future. We had to live within our means and tighten our belts, but we immediately recognized, we can and will get through this. Why? We have no other choice. It’s amazing what you can do when put in that position.
Sometimes failure is a relief
Our lives were consumed with the family business. We spent hours justifying why the daily red flags––the ones you read about in all the startup publications––were incorrect, and telling ourselves in 3 months, we’ll know; in 6 months we’ll know. As much as we were trudging ahead with building a company, we were standing still in so many other ways. There were so many questions and unknowns. In hindsight, we were spending so much time trying to appeal to various stakeholders’ interests that the vision was becoming muddled and the future of hiredMYway unclear.
Failure is a gift
I’m happy to say, that three years later, my brother is a successful serial entrepreneur working in landscape construction, my dad has launched another technology startup (this time without ignoring red flags), my husband runs a sales team for a growing software company and I’ve carried with me the lessons I’ve learned to help Prosper prosper.
hiredMYway was a big failure (to me at the time anyway :-)), but I also recognize the value of seemingly smaller failures. While I dislike them, they force me to reflect and improve. Today, I’ve come to realize, it’s not about avoiding failure altogether, it’s about avoiding repeat failures.