by Michael A. Sisti, author of “The Failure Myth“
Each of us functions within our established comfort zone. But circumstances force us to operate outside that arena. When we execute a decision in uncharted territory with positive results, it enables us to increase our comfort zone to that next level. By overcoming our anxiety or fear of the unknown, we can gradually break through these barriers on the road to success.
I am told that we are born with two inherent fears: fear of falling, and fear of bodily harm. Throughout our lives, we accumulate many more, most of which I suspect come from our parents. One of our earliest taught fears is failure.
For most people, the word failure strikes an irrational terror, immobilizing even the strongest among us. It’s the culmination of our worst nightmare. The seeds of this perception were planted during our earliest formative years and continue through our entire formal education. Starting in childhood, we are taught that failure is unacceptable. We are punished for our mistakes, which are in fact, small failures. This educational flaw hampers our ability to grow and learn.
Our inquisitive and imaginative young minds allow our natural creativity to flourish. And yet, we are constantly discouraged by parents and teachers, who quickly become impatient with our questions and our quest for knowledge that is considered beyond the norm. They inhibit our young minds from seeking answers, stifling our creativity.
We learn in school that the only correct answers are the ones they teach us, not the ones we deduct or seek out on our own. This negative attitude progresses throughout school, and later into our careers. Unless our role is in research, there is a limited amount of progress we will gain through ordinary means without making mistakes.
In corporate America, which is structured on the military model of top-down command, all too often failure is unacceptable at any level. If a suggestion or recommendation passed up the chain of management falls short of expectations, it can be a career-limiting or ending event. This absurd penalty for failure makes it something to avoid at all costs.
And yet, without failure, there would be no opportunity to learn from our misjudgments. There would also be no innovation and no need to use our creativity to reach new heights. Failure is a marvelous teaching tool, with an impact so strong that you never forget the lessons learned from it.
There is no amount of college education or employment with an organization of any size that can properly prepare you to run a company. Business is fluid and dynamic. The ground is constantly shifting under your feet. The market is fickle, sometimes evolving undetected, and occasionally at blinding speed. Technology is growing faster than we can harness it, and it is transforming business and life on every level. This environment makes long-term success extremely elusive, and we can only achieve it through the experiences of failure.
Of all the millions of entrepreneurs who have started companies, the vast majority of them have long resumes of failures before achieving victory. So, plan for success, strive for it but be prepared for failure. When confronted with a challenge, don’t procrastinate. Evaluate it and take it on. If it fails, at best, you will have learned something valuable. At worst, it could be a short-term and possibly expensive college education.
From my own experience, I can tell you, that if you can overcome this intrinsic dread of failure, you have a much better chance of success. I am not suggesting careless or reckless behavior, but the fortitude to take chances. Otherwise, you are doomed to fulfill that prophecy that so many of us have endured before you.
Serial entrepreneur Michael A. Sisti has launched over 25 companies in multiple fields. He is the former CEO of Sisti, Zinbarg & Howard, Inc., which became one of New Jersey’s largest advertising and public relations agencies. Sisti is the award-winning author of Executive Crumple Zone, a novel, and “The Failure Myth“, a self-help book for entrepreneurs.