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You will fail. But learning to harness the power of failure will excel you from being an average entrepreneur to a great one. I started my first business when I was 24 years old. As it grew to over $100 million in worth, I realized I was fortunate as I had not hit any roadblocks. No mistakes had been made and it was easy sailing — until it wasn’t.
At the time, computers were soaring in popularity, and we were the second largest provider of personal computers on the east coast. I trusted my partners to find vendors; this mistake cost me my business. Our vendors’ computer chips failed and the vendors could not live up to the relationship I thought we had. Over time, my business went under.
The point of this story isn’t to sulk but to stress how lucky it was that I failed. Without failure, I wouldn’t have been able to start anew. I’m still running the company today, and when I reflect on my first company in the ’80s, I am reminded of how grateful I am for failure. I also want to stress that the American culture allowed me to bounce back well. America seems to be one of the only countries in the world that will enable people to thrive on their successes and, more importantly, grow from their failures.
Failure becomes a roadblock
Business leaders with a legacy are typically remembered for their successes, but they became successful because they had the resilience to fail. But their accomplishments can lead us to forget how many times they failed before hitting the jackpot.
For most American business leaders, failure is just a part of the journey, but in some countries, failure is an end. In India, where I’m from, it is common for people to carry a single failure in school, college or work for years, if not the rest of their lives. It is common for your entire self-worth to be based on your performance in a single exam or job. The social fabric is woven so that everyone from family members, relatives and neighbors to large-scale institutions (colleges, banks, etc.) scrutinizes your entire history for signs of weakness.
A single mistake is enough to discredit a lifetime of work and restrict your access to capital, infrastructure and more. Instead, I believe setbacks should make us stronger, regardless of our connections. Setbacks are the impetus for business-changing practices.
How the United States differs and has an edge
It has to be more than a coincidence that America has consistently enabled some of the brightest business minds to flourish. Some of this could be credited to the structural soundness of the American economy, better access to capital, better education programs and government-backed tools under free-market principles. However, I think there is a latent advantage we tend to overlook: America’s willingness to accept failures and come out stronger.
In the U.S., a business failure does not necessarily prevent you from future opportunities. It can be easy to underestimate the ability to access a new lease on life whenever you want. Still, America has fostered a culture where we tend to treat failures as bumps on the road to success rather than career-ending mistakes.
Nobody and nothing deterred me from making mistakes. This freedom to fail provides the critical confidence boost entrepreneurs need to take reasonable risks. None of my mistakes counted as absolute failures. Even when I pivoted business models and areas of operation, the industry goodwill I had built up over the years stayed constant. My peers understood that sometimes things don’t work out in business. Because of past mistakes, raising capital or getting backing from banks or other companies never proved difficult. Getting back on your feet from the rubbles of a recent failure may not be pretty or easy. Still, the support system in America exists for individuals and businesses willing to learn from their mistakes.
How the United States handles mistakes and takes the opportunity to learn from them makes us uniquely resilient. I deliberately seek out people who have been challenged in life, business, work and education and are stronger because of it. I respect humble, experienced and passionate people.
Mistakes are a part of life. But what we choose to do with those mistakes goes a long way in defining who we are.
We need to focus on what brings us joy and why we do what we do in the first place. Dealing with failure can be messy, but choosing to learn from it provides us with insights that can ultimately lead to a place of healing and peace. Failures can teach us what not to do and provide us with opportunities for better growth.
Failures are not set in stone. Studying them can unlock opportunities for the present or the future. We must learn to use failure as a resilience tool and look at it as a badge of honor. And while failure is not something to dread, it can undoubtedly be not easy, so let’s hope destiny doesn’t have too many in store.