How to overcome an unsuccessful start

Leah Phillips of Liverpool, England tweeted me the #challengerichard: “I would love to know how you overcome an unsuccessful start…” Here’s my advice:


Challenges have been a constant in my life. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of mistakes I’ve made. I’ve failed time and time again, and then some more. And I’m not alone. Everyone fails. It’s important to realise this. Nobody is perfect – and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to be. Imperfections build character and equip us to be resilient for whatever life throws at us.

Too many people see failure as a dead end, particularly when starting out. This is the biggest mistake of all. The road to success is pock-marked with bumps, chasms and forks, but the key is to look at them as obstacles not road blocks. Obstacles, which once you’ve learned to navigate around, will make you more capable and adept at handling similar situations in the future.

Someone that has never driven a car before might not know to slow down when approaching a speedbump. Their reaction instead might be to stop or hit it at the speed at which they are already travelling, causing them to break down. Either way, they will quickly recognise that there is a better way of doing things. In this respect, every challenge can be turned into an opportunity for learning a valuable lesson.

My advice for an unsuccessful start – be it failure when setting up a business or a mistake when starting a job – is to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, don’t let your ego get the better of you, recognise what went wrong, and learn from your experience.

And don’t let it embarrass you either. When you do make mistakes, share your experience with others. Across more than 40 years in business I have turned to my family at times when I have been struggling. It’s amazing how much a fresh pair of eyes and ears can help you sound out a challenge and teach you ways around it.

Richard Branson in a suit in a pool for Corporate Day

Failure is often a blessing in disguise. As the saying goes, "A smooth sea never made a skilful sailor”

Do you have a tip for overcoming an unsuccessful start? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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