Back to Work: Fail Well!

The vast majority of my colleagues both in person and in various publications will talk to you about success in business. However, I want to take this time to urge you to consider failure. Yes, I’m completely serious. You must fail in order to become truly successful. I’ll give you a moment to think on that.

Many of the students I worked with over the years as an academic advisor failed. Often, failure is what brought them to my office in the first place. These were students with a wide variety of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, but failing is what they had in common. The vast majority of those students went on to graduate – some with honors. This is because failure is not the end of the story.

Failing well is a concept from the field of network security that means that when a system experiences failure (such as being hacked), that security breach is contained and does not compromise the entire network. In other words, the system is resilient and able to minimize the loss of data. The breach is bad, but not catastrophic.

Resiliency is that quality of “bouncing-back” that allows items to regain their shape after impact, rather than breaking. Glass is not very resilient. On impact, it shatters, and it’s nearly impossible to put back together. Steel, on the other hand, is pretty darn resilient. A straight-A student that easily masters anything she puts her hand to is like glass. A strong impact – say, a failing grade – is likely to do serious damage to her psyche and it will take her an inordinate amount of time to regain her balance. A student that knows what it is to receive a low grade, identify errors in performance, and improve, is like steel, taking heat and adapting. This honing results in incredible strength. Both in strength of character, and ultimately, in academic success.

I learned the truth of failing in business firsthand. In 2012, I had to close my computer training center after a slow start became a hefty loss. I wanted to give up, hide, and never put my name on anything ever again. In fact, my family is still recovering. Today, I have refocused, and I have found talents that I would never have discovered in myself otherwise. I’m ready to go in for round 2. At the point where you choose to get up and keep going, to be better, you have learned the primary lesson of how to fail well. As long as you keep getting back up, it’s not over. So as you begin the third quarter of 2013, I urge you to think about how you handle failure. Don’t allow it to break you, let it make you a stronger entrepreneur. Be an example of how to fail well.

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