To achieve anything we risk experiencing failure. But as the old saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Failure can have consequences that reach far beyond your business life and can come to a crisis point, especially when personal capital has been invested.
But what at first feels like a disaster can be turned around. The most successful business and career women use failure and the essential life lessons they’ve learned to build success later on.
In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find those who haven’t experienced some kind of failure—and the vast majority will tell you that those experiences have improved their careers. As such, instead of hiding our experiences with failure in shame, it’s actually much better to share your experiences and mistakes and demonstrate how you have learned from them.
Risk and Reward
Learning curves in a business or professional setting can be very steep. Without the support and advice of others, it can be difficult to bounce back from what you consider failure. For example, new business ventures have a high risk ratio—according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 60-percent of small businesses close within just their first three years of operation.
The business world can be a place where success is sung from the rooftops yet the missteps and hardships that it took to get there are often ignored. But it’s healthy to swallow some pride and teach others what you’ve done, what you wouldn’t do again, and what you’ve learned. You’ll help others while also gaining insights from analysing your past mistakes.
The Reality of Failure
An informed discussion on failure can, perhaps strangely, lead to greater success. Businesswomen new to the workforce are far more likely to be inspired to try a venture if they understand the stories of others who have failed and later turned things around. These experiences prove that failure is not the end of the road, just the beginning of another. Opportunities come from mistakes and failures. In my opionion, failure is giving up.
Sara Blakely quotes a famous story from her childhood that gave her legendary willingness to embrace risk. The Spanx founder, named by Forbes as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire in 2012, would be asked by her father what she had failed at each week, and if she didn’t have an answer he would be disappointed. Through this, she learned that, “failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying.”
The idea of failing puts many women off from pursuing a career, may it be as an owner operator/entrepreneur or a businesswoman of the corporate world. Falling short of your goals is often stigmatised and perceived as a bad thing. However, when women are given the guidance of experienced people, they are empowered to be bold and brave enough to pursue their goals, inspired by the lessons learned from those who have experienced both success and failure.
Melanie Perkins explains that she had far more disappointment than success in her early years starting her online design platform Canva. As the founder and chief executive of the company, which was recently valued at US$1 billion, she speaks about the need to see failure as part of the journey rather than the end. “It was three years between first pitching to an investor and actually landing investment,” she told the BBC. “This is an incredibly long period of time, and we had hundreds of rejections along the way.”
Increased Participation and Presence
The OECD notes that Australian women cite a fear of failing as a significant factor in explaining their lower participation in business, and specifically in becoming entrepreneurs. It highlights key issues such as, “risk of failure but also reflects other factors, such as social security safety nets, access to finance, access to child-care, and potential rewards.”
However, if we want to increase women’s participation and presence in the business world, we should adopt the thinking that failure is part of the process. If we share our experiences with failure and highlight the lessons learned and success gained after, more women won’t be afraid of failure and will be more confident in pursuing their dreams as entrepreneurs. Sharing our experiences also gives them a better idea of what to expect, preparing them for what lies ahead.
Share Your Experiences
You won’t find many books written about failure in business, but it’s a key part of success. Often, one doesn’t come without the other. Leanne Faulkner, founder of Billie Goat Soap and mental health advocate, told the Sydney Herald, “Be brave and tell your story honestly. I realised the best way I could help people was to get up and tell people and share my story. A lot of sole operators are already working alone and if you are struggling with your mental health that can be even more isolating.”
As such, sharing our experiences with failure not only gives women key insights and inspiration, doing so also encourages a sense of community. Open and honest communication tells us that we are not alone and can certainly rely on each other for guidance.
A Time for Reflection
Delving too much in our failure and keeping it to ourselves can be a real stumbling block—it can make moving on difficult. Sharing our experiences, on the other hand, can be cathartic. Explaining our failures to others gives us the chance to step back from the situation and reflect on the lessons we learned along the way. It also sets us straight and gives us the mindset to avoid the potential dangers of steaming ahead with another venture and risk making the same mistakes.
Sharing lessons, stories, and experiences about failure is best done in a community that encourages cooperative empowerment, mentoring, and communication. Behind Closed Doors is one such organisation—a pioneering national community of businesswomen that provides mentoring and a network of support for business and career women. We have the tools, resources, and the collective strength to help women grow in their chosen fields and achieve true professional development. Contact us today and understand how to become a member.
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