It’s a lot easier to fail than to be labeled a quitter, but how often is someone else’s definition of failure simply our best excuse to quit?
Leaving something behind is easier when we can say we gave it our best but came up short.
In 1985, Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple, the company he started, because the board of directors perceived his Macintosh computers to be a failure. Jobs wanted to build computers unlike anyone else, and the board was fearful of producing expensive computers that challenged the mainstream.
We don’t think about Steve Jobs as a failure 30 years later because he didn’t set out to make the most affordable computers and he didn’t start Apple to make $10.2 billion.
He started Apple to change the computing world.
Even when his computer failed to sell well, he was changing the way we interact with technology. While the world was calling him a failure, he was meeting his goal of personal success.
Financial success followed.
Jobs set a goal of changing the way people interact with technology. He wanted to make beautifully designed products that were intuitive extensions of our brains.
Now every computer company is trying (and often failing) to build similarly intuitive technology. Ironically, the competitors that Apple stakeholders wanted Jobs to be more like are now trying to hold themselves to his metric of success.
Avoid their definition of success
I hadn’t exercised since college. Most of my buddies had maintained some form of physical fitness by getting up every morning and working out before heading into their jobs.
They were successful.
To be successful, I must follow their path.
I decided that I’d get up early and hit the gym.
This worked for about 10 days.
I didn’t get up one day. No big deal. I’ll hit it tomorrow.
You can likely guess the outcome: tomorrow never came.
A friend asked me why he had not seen me at the gym.
I told him that I was too busy to work out.
He asked two astute questions.
Him: Do you love getting up early?
Me: Not at all
Him: Do you love working out?
Me: Not really
Then why fail at two things? Pick one or the other. If the ultimate goal is to work out, don’t let two factors work together to ensure failure.
Find your own path
I still giggle a bit at the public sentiment that owning a business makes one wealthy. As if one truly enters business to make money.
I suppose it makes sense. The ultimate goal of any business is certainly to find a path to profit. However, therein might lie the reason that it’s a generally held belief that eight of 10 businesses fail.
When I started my company a little more than eight years ago, I was lucky enough to arrive at an incredibly simple two-part mission statement. I’m in business to:
Raise the creative bar
Yes, you should probably simplify yours.
There have been weeks that have passed without making money. Sometimes months passed with no income.
As of the publication of this column, my business has survived 429 weeks.
Four hundred twenty-nine times I’ve looked back at the preceding week and asked myself:
“Did you raise the creative bar?”
“Did you help people?”
Four hundred twenty-nine times I’ve said yes.
And yes, I’ve enjoyed financial success. Why?
For the first six months of my business I tried to find clients. I worked my list just like the sales gurus tell us to.
I closed zero percent.
No financial success.
At the same time, my reputation for helping people, for raising the creative bar, circulated. Others — many of whom I’d never heard of — were calling.
I decided to lay down my efforts at working a list and redouble my efforts at helping the clients who hired me. Those clients noticed that effort and told others.
I’m not here to tell you that if you keep your mind pure, success will follow, or some other new-agey wisdom.
What I will tell you is that plenty of people start a business because they want to make money. A person identifies an underserved market and opens a business. Sometimes this works.
Also, financial failure happens — no matter your intentions and passion. You have to have a sound financial plan behind your business.
Failure comes from those outside circumstances. Maybe you have a bad idea. Maybe the public wasn’t ready for your innovation. Maybe you didn’t secure proper funding.
Quitting is when you stop — when you give up. You can certainly quit after failure, but failing does not mean you have to quit. This is especially true if you fail based on someone else’s criteria.
All I ask is that you have proper perspective. Even when it feels bad, you don’t have to quit when you aren’t truly failing.