Confronting Failure and Bouncing Back

During this rough stretch I would occasionally ask myself the questions that lurk in the minds of so many entrepreneurs: “Fundamentally, is it worth it?” 

The 4 A.M. alarm clocks for a flight to L.A., missing a crucial basketball workout, spending a little less time with personal friends. The same work-life balance issues that be devil adults trying to juggle a marriage, kids, and a company affected me, too, though mine centered around my occasional absences from “conventional” childhood activities. I remember a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist once telling me he thought I was too invested in my Comcate world and that “I had my whole life to start companies.” He may have had a point at the time, as I struggled through this period. I’m just glad I didn’t follow his advice, because then the story would stop here.

My whole life I’ve wanted to be held to the same standard as any entrepreneur, not a kid-entrepreneur. If I gave up, people
would forgive me: he’s just a kid, they would say. If I were a thirty year-old entrepreneur and gave up, people would say instead, “He has no balls.” Since I held myself to the latter standard, I didn’t want to be accused of having no balls. It’s a slog, my advisors said; dig in and make stuff happen.

“Dig in” meant, for me, “Do what it takes” to help the business.  And this meant give lots of face time to people who could help Comcate overcome its woes.

Failures, obstacles, even car crashes are all part of the start-up experience.  Ups and downs are the definitive indication that you are doing something entrepreneurial. If your record is spotless, then you haven’t been an entrepreneur. If the only mistakes you’ve made are on school papers or in mishandling a report in a big corporation, those aren’t spots. It’s the spots from the school of hard knocks that matter. They matter because how you confront real failure is right up there with self-confidence, drive, and luck as a critical ingredient for success.

When you are controlling your own destiny, as most entrepreneurs are, it is easy to place all the blame on yourself. Don’t. Circumstances matter and not all circumstances are within your control. For failure due to circumstances out of your control, try to learn from it and then embrace the mantra, “Shit happens.” Instead, figure out what you can control and constantly reinvent it.  If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway, because you won’t know when it’s broke to begin with—so preempt failure caused by complacency. 

I also looked at all my failures that summer with a sense of urgency. I needed more successes. I was about to start high school and my business needed help. Fast.

How well do you weather hardships? 

Your answer may be what sets you apart. We all go through rough times. The most successful people don’t just survive, they thrive. 

I believe resilience is a skill that can be acquired. It’s all about the little things. You build resilience by finishing small goals you set even if you feel like quitting. One thing I focus on, for example, is time on the treadmill. Say I’m going to be on the treadmill for thirty minutes, and twenty-three minutes into it I feel like quitting. If I stay on, and fight through the pain screaming from my feet and/or quads, I have contributed a bit to my resilience quotient (RQ).

My RQ can be applied throughout my life—being resilient in one setting will help me be resilient in unrelated others. As the COO search raged on, in my workouts I stayed on the treadmill the entire time. I studied for the full hour during a study hall. I drove through a rainstorm, did a demo of my product, drove home, and did the necessary follow-up, all while nursing a stomachache. I wanted to get the job done and endure an uncomfortable day. Because I knew that grappling with all that life throws at me on a day-to-day basis would help me be resilient in the face of a traumatic and extraordinary situation, such as hiring an executive to run my company.

If I can get up today, I can get up any day.  During the perfect storm, you must have a high resilience quotient. Prepare for it.

Contributed by:
Ben Casnocha
What a Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley

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