What I’ve Learned About Failure


I was watching the news channel in India last night as I drifted off to sleep. There was a story about a farmer who had commit suicide because after a bad season, he could not repay a bank loan of 5 lakh rupees, or about $8,000. He felt that he had lost his honor, his respectability and the only recourse was death.

I thought about my own debts, nearly triple this man’s, accumulated over six years of self-employment and entrepreneurship. By financial standards alone, I am certainly a failure. I have never made much money at anything and the anxiety and stress of debt have nearly driven me to suicide, or at least entertain the morose notion at times.

But I am still here. I refuse to give up, to admit defeat, to lie down and die before my time. When my previous business ran out of money and it was apparent there was no way that I could continue, I faced an internal crisis. I owed money; I saw no path forward, no way to repay debts, let alone any idea of how I was going to support myself. The best way of dealing with it was to be honest about the situation – that provided a sort of liberation from the shame and embarrassment. I told my friends and others the reality of my situation: I was nearly bankrupt.

What to do? I could kill myself, fall on my sword like a defeated samurai – or I could pick myself up and start again. And so I did. A month after my last sale, I had found the inspiration and possibility for a new venture, one built out of the rubble from the previous. In a way, I had transformed the failure into something else – it had been an education, a necessary hardship on the path to something greater.

In a way, failure freed me from fear. I had experienced the worst already and it was not so bad. The sky did not crumble around me, nor did the Earth open to swallow me whole. My anxiety had been self-induced and I saw there was a way to go beyond it. It was only my ego that had been wounded from the embarrassment, but this too was a welcome event. The more my ego shrank, the more at peace I became.

Starting any business is a gamble. The odds are often against you. But you can only win if you’re willing to bet the house, if you’re all in. These are the stakes necessary to really play.

Owning a business is like walking a tight rope – it can be perilous, deadly even – but it is also thrilling. For some, it is the only way of life. All else is a sort of bondage. Only with your own business, living from your own intelligence and creativity, can you be your own master. It can bring you the highest peaks of joy and the lowest depths – this is the law of nature: however high the mountains, the valleys will be as deep.

Some may find the ride is too bumpy, the twists and turns, ups and downs make them sick and dizzy. They would prefer the smoothly paved road with its signposts and speed limits. But this life is predictable; it lacks adventure. Be fearless in life and business; not trying is the only failure.