A person bent over with sadness in a pink room.

The Emotional Toll of Enduring a Failure

It still hurts, but it gets more manageable.

Six months. You’ve worked tirelessly for six months. At the start, you knew nothing about e-commerce. You didn’t know what dropshipping was or the logistics behind it. All you had was an idea: you wanted to start a watch brand. Since then, you’ve figured things out one baby step at a time. You connected with a manufacturer. You ordered samples. With the help of your fiance and also your mom, you did a photo shoot. You taught yourself how to edit images. You built a website and planned your marketing strategy.

All the while you told yourself: Don’t get too attached. Once everything is ready, you will run a test to see if people are interested. If they are, you continue. If they aren’t, you will shut it down. You must accept that. No matter how hard it may be, if the test fails, you must shut it down.

Today you sit in your car, crying. The test has concluded. No one was interested. You failed. Your entrepreneurial dream has died… again. The time spent, the money invested, gone. It’s over. Tears pour down your face. You yell and scream and curse all the while. This is about more than a botched venture. It’s your dream. Your greatest desire is to run your own business. And before you is definitive proof that you don’t have what it takes. That you may never have what it takes.

Others can succeed. But not you. You have failed.


Failure lives on

30 days. You’ve worked tirelessly for 30 days. Somehow you managed to pick yourself up and start another business since the watch fiasco. And now, for the last month, you’ve worked doggedly to create an online course. A course all about something you’re passionate about: goal setting. At the start, you didn’t know much about filming. You didn’t have the “right” equipment. You didn’t have a perfect soundstage. But you made it work. And some 30 days later, you’re ready to share it with the world.

All the while you told yourself: Lower your expectations. You can hope and plan for great results but mentally prepare for no one to buy.

Today you lay on the floor in the fetal position. The launch has concluded. Only one person purchased. Even with your mental prep, you weren’t prepared for that kind of flop. You think about quitting. About shutting down the business like you’ve done with so many failed businesses in the past. You remain on the floor for some time. Eyes closed, hoodie over your face, enduring the pain that you’ve come to know all too well.


Dealing with failure

Those are two real stories from my life. It hurts to recount them. Failure isn’t unique to entrepreneurship though. Many of my symptoms resemble that of a painful breakup. The crying, the sadness, the frustration. Anytime you try, you risk failing. Whether in a relationship, a business, or weight loss. It doesn’t matter. When you put effort into something, getting punched in the face is a real possibility. And when life’s fist makes contact with your nose, it hurts.

But like a seasoned boxer, you learn to manage those punches. You learn to expect them.

Sometimes you don’t get punched as much or as hard, and those times are great. Sometimes you walk away victorious. Other times you leave the arena with a concussion. Injured both physically and mentally, you wonder if the toll is worth it. Yet the sport calls to you. You can’t imagine a life without it. And so you go back in, fighting for your dream.


How to overcome

“Failing” still hurts. It still takes its toll. But today, I manage it much better. Not perfectly, but better. For one thing, I strive for control as much as possible. For instance, my reading goal is to complete two books a month. Period. It’s not to read more books than my wife each month. That just sets me up for failure (she reads much faster than me). To take it a step further, my sleep goal is to close my eyes with eight hours and 40 minutes until the alarm is set to go off.

I can’t control how much sleep I get. What I can control though is when my eyes shut.

For things outside of my control, I fight the urge to hope. For instance, if I’m selling something, I repeatedly tell myself to expect zero sales. That may seem defeatist. However, I’m planning for the best-case scenario. I’m putting in my greatest efforts. I’m mentally visualizing it being a success. And I’m certainly hoping it will be.

But even with all that, I force myself to go into it with very low expectations. In other words, I do my best with what I can control and expect nothing in return.


Build up scar tissue

The first time you break your nose it’ll probably hurt. The 100th time may also hurt, but probably not as much as the first. So too goes with your endeavors. Your first handful of failures will be painful. Same goes for the second. But that third handful will be a little better. And the fourth, even better still. So long as you learn to take the hits. If you go into each fight without learning anything, it’s like not allowing your nose to heal.

At present, with each new failure, I do my best to learn from the experience. I often will journal about it. I will consider what I wanted to happen versus what actually happened. Then I will determine what I will do differently next time. This turns failure into a learning opportunity. Instead of being a one-off brutality, it becomes a rung on the ladder to better boxing.

Each shortcoming requires an emotional toll be paid. With time, patience, and learning, you can stockpile the coins needed to pay it. You can heal your nose and hold the victory belt above your head as a winner. That is, so long as you keep getting back in the arena.

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