Why every entrepreneur needs to embrace the fear of failure

No one wants to be known as an expert in failure, or even worse an 'expert failure' but that tag line changed my life.

I studied a Masters in Civil Engineering and, like most people, chose my career path with little to no understanding as to what it actually entailed. A year out in industry was all I needed to work out I did not want to be a civil engineer. Having always loved creating things, taking risks and mobilizing people towards a goal, I realised I was wired to be an entrepreneur. 

At university I came up with a business idea that won me some funding and the university's student enterprise award. This was all I needed to give me the confidence to call off my grad job, part ways with the company that sponsored me through university and begin my journey building businesses. 

Now when I came to tell people what I was planning to do, everyone from my mum, to my lecturer, to that random friend of a friend I'd just met thought I was crazy! No one believed after studying five years for a Masters, it was a good idea to do something totally different, not least to go down the start up route. At the heart of everyone's concern was one thing: the fear of failure.

The economy is bleak, four out of five companies fail within the first year of starting, the chances of success are so low, etc, etc. It dawned on me, the British public are crippled by the fear of failure. We don't dream too big, we don't risk too much, we play it safe and so often settle for mediocre than step out and reach for greatness. I did not want to conform to this way of thinking! I realised I had to do something about it, If not for others, for myself. The road to success in the start up world is full of failures and if I couldn't deal with failure or overcome the fear of it from the start, I too would be trapped within he confines of my comfort zone. 

Read more: My good friend failure

So I thought, what if I exposed myself to failure? What if I threw myself into rejection? What if I embarked on a journey in which I didn't run from my fears but instead faced them head on? Surely then, I would be stronger, more resilient and better prepared than ever before to begin my life as an entrepreneur.

I launched 'My 40 Days' as a social project in 2013 as a way of accepting challenges that would push me out of my comfort zone and ultimately get me rejected. Hundreds of challenges came in through Facebook and Twitter and people began to show interest in what I was planning to do. I began filtering the best ones down, removing anything that might get me killed or arrested. I then set a start date and there was no turning back.

I filmed all the challenges and documented my experiences online. The challenges took many shapes and sizes, some tackling serious themes like finding love and public speaking, whilst others took less serious themes like trying to get a fast food chain to cook my own chicken or attempting to blag my way into prestigious star-studded VIP events. Serious or not, I learnt some profound lessons from each of the challenges, confirming for me that the saying ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ could not be truer.

Read more: Richard Branson's greatest failure

As the project gained traction, I was flooded with job opportunities. I took one of the offers, an advertising internship with Ogilvy & Matther, I then left that to begin a start-up whilst traveling around the country speaking to companies and Universities about failure. That year, I was awarded Milkround’s Graduate of the Year award for the social impact of the project but despite the attention the project was gaining, I felt I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be just yet.

One question had emerged out of the heart of the project that would profoundly impact me: ‘What would you do if you could not fail?’ 

Engaging with this question was a turning point in my life. If I had not begun the project and become an 'expert in failure', I would never have appreciated this question and positioned myself in a way to answer it.

My four tools for dealing with failure:

  • 20 seconds of insane courage is all you need to attempt anything.
  • Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Usually it’s not all that bad.
  • Visualize success, the motivation should override the fear, if it’s worth it.
  • Pray your socks off!

The answer to this question for me would be, I would move back out to Ethiopia, the country where I had grown up, and I would start businesses that impacted the people there profoundly. And that’s what I did - I now am part of a small team building Africa’s first Waste to Energy facility in Ethiopia. When complete it will take 95 per cent of the capitals waste and provide 35 per cent of its energy needs.

If it wasn’t for my choice to embrace the fear failure, I would never have found myself in this place of feeling so out of my depth, but perfectly positioned to achieve what I could only have dreamed of.

What would you do if you could not fail?

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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