When To Let Go: What I Learnt From Failing At My Side Hustle.
You're probably thinking "gosh, one of those pretentious posts again" but no, you can drop the eye-roll. This isn't one of those. It's just an honest reflection on failing forward in business or life.
No one wants to fail - it’s a deeply embarrassing experience, that moment you realize that something might not go the way you intended. It can be hard witnessing a business venture you created go bankrupt, or an idea failing to take off the way you envisioned it would after months of sacrificing money and time. Or having that relationship you invested in emotionally just crumble beneath the weight of lofty expectations and miscommunication. Failure is hard to admit, let alone live with. The first thing anyone wants to do is to hide away and pretend that they hadn’t failed, that all of it going wrong was someone else’s fault. Even I’m susceptible to this kind of reasoning.
Unaccustomed to failure, the first thing I wanted to do when my business venture failed to take off after over a year’s worth of planning and preparation, is to externalize the shame - lack of support from money lending institutions and government making it difficult for young entrepreneurs to thrive became part of the reason I failed. I didn’t want to understand that a lot of the reasons why I ended up where I was had to do with my own blindspots.
So after much internal deliberation, I decided to start with the woman in the mirror. I took a look at the things I had done to end up with a failed business venture. Here are three things I learnt from that introspection:
Shit happens and that’s okay too.
I’ve really had a hard time accepting this. I’m one of the billions of humans who have a hard time accepting that as life happens, we are mere participants who can only control how well (or to what extent) we participate in it all. This means that shit happens to everyone at some point. As a person unaccustomed to failure at this level, I had no idea how hard it would be to accept that I was blind to the risk I was taking when I ventured into entrepreneurship. I gave in to dangerous levels of optimism, and ignored that inherent in entrepreneurship is the risk of failure - as the age-old adage goes ‘the bigger the risks, the bigger the return’. I, like every new entrepreneur, only drew inspiration from the latter part of the saying, ignoring the warning inherent in the first bit. After much internal introspection, I began to realize that being a risk-taker meant being willing to fail dismally. So I accepted that shit happens and that it’s in fact okay because it means I was brave enough to take a risk - a pretty bad-ass thing to do if you ask me.
Being brave sometimes won’t feel good.
This was a hard one to come to terms with honestly. I have such a romanticized notion of virtuous qualities like bravery and courage, that I often daydream about looking back at an act of bravery and feeling proud of the result. Except, honestly, being brave sometimes feels like shit - but it’s worth it nonetheless. There was a lot of fear that accompanied my decision to let go of my business venture. I had already advertised my product, had told everyone I knew about it, put it up on social media, set expectations for a revolutionary launch - none of that ended up happening. I had invested a future of financial security in the venture’s success. So, naturally, deciding to let it go felt like the equivalent of a personal financial and social apocalypse. I had no idea how to explain to my friends, colleagues and family that I had thrown in the towel after such a seemingly successful build-up to finally introducing the product to the world. I knew I had made a brave decision, and I felt in my gut that it was the right decision, but I was scared. Scared of the professional and social persecution that could come from such a decision. And at that moment, bravery did not feel great. But, having made the decision and followed through despite the shocked reactions of my social circle, I eventually came out with only a bruised ego but an incredibly peaceful heart and mind.
Being honest with yourself is priceless.
Had I not been honest with myself, I would’ve never been able to come to the realization that I had failed and that it was okay to let go of something I had worked hard for. Honesty doesn’t come cheap - there’s a steep price to be paid for that kind of self-consciousness. It means being unable to lie to yourself by ignoring the strife, anxiety and stress that something causes you. It means being unable to distract yourself from bitter truths that challenge your own self-perception. I had strict standards to which I held myself - mostly influenced by how I thought people perceived me - and honing the skill of being honest with myself got me to a point where I challenged those standards was deeply disturbing. However, high as the price is the reward of living in truth is priceless. And also really calming for anxiety-prone overachievers.
And so, friends, I find myself at the beginning again. At the precipice of discovery, ready to dive back in and find the next venture that will set my passion aflame. Yes, my ego is still somewhat smarting from my recent failures, but I know now (in addition to many other lessons I’m still contemplating sharing) that failure isn’t some beastly taboo. Only another source of growth, an opportunity to prune dead trajectories from your life and a bed of fresh soil from which to grow energy and hopes anew.