It’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to quit
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
As you may already know, most businesses fail. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s 2018 survey, the failure rate for businesses within the first 5 years is more than 50% . Although your venture may not be a home run, you need to continue searching for opportunities to add value to others. Continuing to push through adversity and seeking to add value to others is the only way you’ll ever reach the level of financial success you’re after. Many of the most financially successful entrepreneurs of our time failed multiple times before striking gold.
Walt Disney, the beloved businessman and founder of the Walt Disney Company, was reportedly fired by a newspaper editor who said he lacked “creativity”. At the time of his death, Walt Disney was worth over one billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) and had created one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Harland David Sanders, also known as Colonel Sanders, was a sixty-two-year-old failed restaurateur before he decided to travel to various restaurants around the country to sell his special blend of chicken spices for 10 cents a bag.
That one decision started him down a path to re-invent himself and today, there are over 21,000 KFC locations in over 120 countries worldwide. Henry Ford founded two automotive companies that failed before he was able to gain traction with the Ford Motor Company. At the time of his death, Henry Ford’s net worth was $188 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) and he had single-handedly made the automobile a viable form of transportation for middle class Americans. As Mark Cuban, the shark tank judge and billionaire entrepreneur often says, “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”
This idea of never quitting was pounded into me from an early age. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a hard-nosed Italian man who didn’t take kindly to complaining or excuses. Born in Northern Italy in 1929, he came of age during World War II and witnessed the devastation it caused his home country. After being unable to secure stable employment after the war, he left for Australia in search of a better life. In order to secure passage to this new land, my grandfather agreed to work as a laborer for the Australian government for two years.
During this period, he was forced to work on physically demanding projects and lived in deplorable conditions. Not only that, he faced constant discrimination from the native Australians who viewed Italians as second-class citizens. Although my grandfather was subjected to these extremely negative experiences, he never lost his resolve to improve his life. He went on to become a handyman, raise 3 kids and eventually retired as a plant manager for a mid-sized appliance company in Pordenone, Italy. My grandfather faced his fair share of adversity in his lifetime but he never quit on his desire to provide a better life for his family.
Equally as impressive is the story of my paternal grandfather. He was born in the small mountain town of Cayey, Puerto Rico in 1932 to a family with little means. As a child, he picked up a job as a shoe shine boy to help his family pay the bills. When he turned 17, he enlisted in the Army and was immediately deployed to fight in the Korean War. What followed was an illustrious 25-year military career which saw him complete two tours in Vietnam, being awarded a purple heart and bronze star and rising to the rank of Sargent Major all while helping to raise 2 children with his beautiful wife.
After retiring from the military, my grandfather completed his college education, became an English professor at a local high school and eventually accepted a position as the head of security for the University of Cayey. All in all, he worked a total of 50 years and I never once heard him complain about these experiences during my youth. These men embody what it means to be successful human beings and they accomplished their goals through sheer resiliency and determination.
I take these stories with me every single day to remind me that it’s OK to fail and face adversity. Life is uncertain and you may be forced to iterate your approach and/or pursue something totally new. However, there’s never an excuse to quit trying and you must continue moving forward. In his 2011 commencement speech, Conan O’Brien, the comedy legend and host of the Conan O’Brian show, addressed the graduates of Dartmouth university by saying, “In 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that to be true. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.” The reason I love this quote so much is because, just like my grandparents, you experience true clarity once you’ve overcome adversity. Heed this advice and continue to push forward even when the going gets tough. I promise that if you do, you’ll be amazed with how far you’ll go.
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