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How to Learn From Your Failures: 4 Valuable Lessons

Thomas Griffin
Thomas Griffin
President and CTO at OptinMonster

As an entrepreneur, you'll encounter failure. Here's how to maintain a healthy perspective

While discussing inventions, Thomas Edison's associate, Walter S. Mallory, once said to him, "Isn't it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven't been able to get any results?”

Edison responded, with a smile, "Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won't work."

People see success as positive and failure as a negative. Edison's quote shows that failure isn't a bad thing. You can learn, grow and evolve from your past mistakes. In business, failure is an all too common occurrence. After all, nine out of 10 small businesses will fail.

That statistic may make you uneasy, but it's one worth knowing. Failing once, twice, or even hundreds of times doesn't mean you've hit the end of the road – it means you've taken another turn, and you're one step closer to success. As you go through life and encounter failures, you'll learn valuable life lessons from those mistakes.

The goal today is to help you learn from your failures and become a more successful and productive individual and entrepreneur.

What is failure?

At its most basic definition, failure is a lack of success. For businesses, failure can take on many shapes and forms. Failure could mean you were unable to land a big sale or refer to a marketing campaign that never got the results you were looking for. You can also fail in your hiring practices or training opportunities.

However, it can also refer to your business as a whole. A business failure occurs when a company shuts down after consistently being unable to turn a profit. However, it is important to note that not all company closures are failures. If a company owner closes a profitable company to pursue different career opportunities, if the business was always intended to be temporary or the business owner dies or retires, the business is likely not closing due to failure.

How to learn from your failures

Rarely in the business world is there success without failure. As you pursue your entrepreneurial dreams, you're going to fail. It's often said that failure doesn't stop people, it's how people handle failure that stops them. When you encounter failure, tackle it head on and learn from your mistakes. Realize that every idea that pops up in your mind isn't going to work. Take the time to organize your thoughts after a failure and realize what you did wrong. Above all else, be willing to learn and grow.

Stay humble

When you're doing well in life, it feels like nothing can stop you. There are no words that can properly pin down feeling like you're on top of the world. However, when failure hits, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that you think you'll never be successful again. Staying humble helps curb the dramatic feeling of loss and failure. While you're flying high on the feelings of success, never forget that you're human, and treat everyone with the same humility and respect that you expect in return. When you're humble, you'll be mentally prepared for failure when it comes your way. It will also ensure that you don't get a "big head," plus people who are close to you will help lift you up when things are not going your way.  

Learn from your mistakes

It's almost impossible to find a story of success that doesn't have a trail of mistakes behind it. Nearly everyone experiences failure at some point in their life. The key to overcoming obstacles and becoming successful starts with learning from your mistakes. When failure strikes, ask yourself why it happened. Was it a result of something you did? Or did an outside force play a part?

Don't be afraid to be accountable when you're responsible for a business failure. In many cases, something could have been done differently to prevent the collapse. Think deeply about your situation and don't be afraid to do a little soul-searching.

Embrace change

One of the ways to learn from your failures is by embracing change. Some people absolutely despise change, and it's easy to see why. People get caught up in their ways, they get used to seeing the same people at the office, they like the routine.

When you fail, sometimes you have to change things drastically. If things are not going your way and you have to start over, sometimes you have to sit back and look at the changes that need to be made and embrace them.

When you embrace change after a failure, you're encouraging healthy mental growth and development. If you want to be a healthy entrepreneur, you have to be a mentally healthy human being.

Filter your ideas

Not every idea that pops into your mind is a good one. When you're on a roll it's easy to want to act on every business idea that comes to mind. Maybe you're thinking about making a new product? Perhaps you want to beef up your marketing campaign. You could just have a bunch of blog ideas that you know will generate more traffic.

Slow down. The best thing you can do to filter through your ideas is to take notes. Either carry around a small notepad or download an app to your smartphone or laptop. As ideas pop up, jot them down. Give your thoughts time to marinate before you act on them.

There is a saying that for every good idea there are 100 bad ones. Bad ideas can lead to failure on both a small and large scale. Note your thoughts and revisit them in the coming hours, days or even weeks. In most cases, you'll discover that most of your ideas were not as good as you initially thought.

Why learning from failure is important

Of course, failure doesn't feel good. Not accomplishing your goal can leave you feeling unmotivated or even that you shouldn't even be trying run a business. But you can look at it another way – if you fail, you open yourself up to learning from it. It may seem paradoxical, but learning from failure teaches you unique and vital lessons.

Learning from failure is important because:

  • It fosters creativity. If you fail by taking a route traditionally associated with success, you might have to embark on a novel path when you try again. This requires creativity. Starting a new business after failure can require trying unfamiliar methods unfamiliar– and some say that this kind of creativity is key to business success.

  • You learn who to trust. Working with friends and family can often be part of running a business. If you feel that these people, whom you may have been close with long before working with them, are responsible for your failure, you'll know not to trust them in future You might even decide to avoid working with friends and family altogether and stick solely to pure business connections.

  • You understand value. At a basic level, if you fail, you haven't shown enough of your value. If your business doesn't turn a profit, you can likely tie this failure to consumers not understanding the value your products and services bring to their lives. Or maybe your failure reflects that you undervalue your products by having too low of prices. Take failure as a chance to reassess your value and how you can best present it.

  • You learn to listen to yourself. Shame can accompany failure, but only if you let it. Learn to tune out any non-constructive, negative feedback that comes from failing. Building self-trust can boost your confidence when you try again, which may lead to future success.

  • You become more resilient. Failure is painful. Over time, failure can build resilience, which is why the pain is a little less each time it occurs. With this resilience comes more fearlessness to get back up and try again.

  • You'll learn what to do better next time. It's tempting to think that if you've made a mistake once, you shouldn't try again. Failure can teach you that trying once doesn't mean you'll never achieve the success you're striving for. If you can identify the steps that led to your failure and why they had the results they did, you can form a strategy for future success that avoids these treacherous past steps.

Additional reporting by Max Freedman

Image Credit: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock
Thomas Griffin
Thomas Griffin
business.com Member
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I'm president and CTO of OptinMonster, a powerful lead generation tool that's installed in over 700,000 websites.