Try, Fail, Learn, then Try Again

In Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crushing It, one piece of advice he gives in the quest to become a great entrepreneur is being unafraid of making mistakes.  That advice touched a raw space I didn’t realize I still harbor. The ability of freeing one’s self to try and fail can’t be taught, only experienced.  Why am I still afraid to make a mistake?  Failure.  We tend to call a mistake, or even an attempt at something we don’t achieve, “a failure” and that’s a negative mindset that is cultivated, nurtured, and reinforced.

I was always afraid of mistakes and always dreaded the negative recognition the mistake would receive. Being tough skinned has never been a strength of mine. I have learned that being unafraid does free me to try and retry some things, thinking eventually whatever it was I wanted to accomplish, I’d get it right. However, I still catch myself, however, not starting many things because of being afraid of being called out.

This way of approaching life, a fear of failure, is a result of a mindset I learned as a child. What is this mindset?

Carol Dweck’s research in personality and social psychology has led to clear evidence that mindset plays a crucial role in one’s success. Let me give you a personal example that has remained a vivid memory and a reminder of the power of one’s mindset.

When I was 15 years old, my father bought a boat and he offered to help me learn to water ski. I jumped in the water, put on two heavy wooden skis, and he told me to hold onto the rope. When he would take off quickly I would be pulled out of the water.  And all I needed to do was hold on, point the skis upward and stay balanced. After a couple of attempts, I was up. That really was the easy part.

After several weeks, I was still skiing directly behind the boat. I wouldn’t cross the wake the boat made in the water because I was sure I’d fall, and I just didn’t want to fall.  This mindset of “I can’t”, “It’s too hard”, “I’m really fine just being pulled by the boat and remaining safe” seemed permanently fixed in my head, ironically this is what Dweck calls a fixed mindset.

But eventually I did fall.  I learned not to be afraid of falling when I finally fell.  I gained some inner strength and ventured out beyond the boat’s wake, learning eventually how to jump the wake, and then how to slalom, and yes, one day skiing barefoot. Moving from that original fixed mindset to one of growing and changing and developing happened almost by mistake:  I fell and survived the fall. Dweck calls this the growth mindset.

She says:

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Unfortunately, we tend to think people are born with certain abilities and talents, and therefore more superior than others.  And when you do not succeed at something you try, then you are considered a failure.

People don’t realize hard work goes into developing abilities, and with hard work comes ups and downs. This is the failure mindset our culture has taught us. And then we take on failure as an identity instead of just a result of an action. “I’m a failure.”

What about entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurial mindset? Do entrepreneurs have innate abilities?  Possibly, but not necessarily.  Stretching one’s comfort level with struggles and challenges and a positive perspective on failing, the entrepreneurial mindset is just like the growth mindset, and “failure is just an experience to be faced, dealt with and learned from”.

All of us are born entrepreneurial, with an innate ability to survive.  And like Dweck says in her latest book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“The view you accept for yourself will determine how you live your life.”

Take away?

Advice to myself, and anyone else working on something new: Try, fail, learn, then try again, until you get it right!

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