There is a longstanding debate surrounding whether entrepreneurs are born or made. Magazines often profile the most successful self-made businesspeople to identify the qualities that they have in common, yet no one set of qualities can be completely singled out as the elite collection of attributes that make or break those who take on the ambitious task of establishing a company.
One thing that is almost universally accepted among business leaders, however, is the importance of grit in entrepreneurship. Difficult to define yet impossible to ignore, grit is a unique combination of perseverance, passion, and fortitude that allows professionals to carry on in times of extreme professional difficulty. Many of the most successful business investors in the world consider grit to be an indispensable quality among the leaders of the early-stage companies they choose to support. It is the one characteristic that can singularly determine whether a person’s fledgling business venture will continue after a major setback.
With this in mind, it will be surprising for people outside of the business world (as well as some on the inside) to know that grit has a direct connection to the most feared circumstance in the professional world: failure. Seemingly at odds, failure has a unique and definitive relationship to grit—if they do not experience failure, founders may not have the opportunity to learn the important lessons that allow them to develop this indispensable entrepreneurial quality. The following are three things that failure teaches people who take the risk of building their own business.
Failure teaches entrepreneurs about passion
No matter what industry an entrepreneur chooses to work in, passion is a non-negotiable part of success. There are many articles today suggesting that passion is an overrated component of professional success, but when it comes to grit and entrepreneurship, this quality is absolutely essential. Passion motivates people to work at a level that is beyond what they thought possible. It fuels founders during the bad times in business and fulfills them in a way that few other things can when things go right.
Failure is an important part of learning about the value of passion in business. People who start a company without feeling a passionate commitment to their venture are setting themselves up for failure from the start, putting them at risk of not dedicating the necessary energy from the outset. When a business fails, new entrepreneurs may ask themselves where it went wrong, and in these instances, it’s important for them to consider whether or not they were pursuing a path that was completely in line with their dreams.
Failure can be a useful wakeup call for entrepreneurs, signaling that there may be a project more in line with their deep personal interests to pursue. Failure in one project can give them the space to find projects that truly mean something to them. Passion is the driving force behind having grit, and using failure as a tool to determine whether they felt passionate about a project is a great metric for deciding to move forward (or not) with business ventures in the future.
Failure teaches entrepreneurs about having courage
Those who are destined to become entrepreneurs do not quit after an unsuccessful venture. In doing so, they learn about the realities of what failure feels like and what it really means in the grand scheme of things. Many people spend their lives so afraid of what failure will feel like, what the reality of living with failure will be, and what people will think of them that they never take any risk in business at all.
In the face of these fears, failure provides entrepreneurs with an important opportunity to practice having courage. No one feels confident after their first professional venture fails, but in business (as in life), courage is not a feeling—it’s an act. Entrepreneurs can’t know how bold they are until they have the courage to pursue a new possibility in spite of impossible odds. In the context of having grit, courage gives entrepreneurs the will to lead on an idea that no one else is ready to follow but that they are passionate enough about to pursue.
Failure teaches entrepreneurs about resilience
Having the will to stand up and try again after failure is not something that most people are born with. Without the opportunity to start over, true entrepreneurs would never know how empowering it is to start over and see themselves succeed more than before, armed with the knowledge gained by making mistakes.
Living through failure allows people with true entrepreneurial spirit to realize that they can and will survive after a major setback. It weakens the fear they feel when considering their next professional move and allows them to act boldly on their ideas. The reality is that failure becomes easier, in a sense; not because an entrepreneur is okay with failing, but because he or she knows that with each failure is a valuable lesson. The recognition of these lessons and the ability to apply them in the future creates a deep sense of resilience that allows entrepreneurs to stay focused and keep moving forward. More than anything else, the willingness to keep moving forward is central to the nature of grit.