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The stories we tell ourselves when we fail

The stories we tell ourselves when we fail

What do you do, when your product doesn’t sell the way you want to? When you put in all the effort, but don’t get the results? When you try your best, but it feels like it’s all in vain? What’s the story, that you tell yourself at night? I have talked to loads of people in exactly this situation. Because one of the deadliest combinations in business is , when two things meet. The inability to sell your product at a profitable price. And the inability to be honest about it.

Usually, when you have a problem, you go through four phases:

  1. You are unaware of the problem
  2. The problem becomes apparent
  3. You evaluate the problem
  4. You do something about the problem

“Problem” may not even be the right term. Whether it is a problem or not is something you will decide upon evaluation. Sometimes, it truly doesn’t seem like an issue to. If you just started a business and did not make any revenue in the first two years, this may not be a problem to you. If people don’t want your product, even if you give it away for free, maybe that isn’t a problem to you as well. You could be in a state of finding your product market fit and be okay with it.

What I often see though, is that people mix up information and emotion in the evaluation.

The information part contains thoughts like: Does this negatively impact my business? Is the issue critical? Should I do something about it?

The emotional part contains thoughts like: Do I like having this problem? What does having this problem say about me? Do I want to deal with it?

Unfortunately, emotions often beats facts. And this is where many founders go into a mode of denial.

Denial of failure

Denial is when you just got aware of a problem but don’t want to deal with it. Even though you know you should. Maybe you just don’t want the problem to exist. You don’t want to be unable to sell. What would your friends think? All the people who don’t get how life as an entrepreneur is. What would they think of you? Maybe it would be more hard work than you think you can handle right now. So you just lie. First to yourself, then to others. Most founders, when asked, how their business is going, are lying. Partially, because they have to convince themselves. That everything will turn out right.

So you pretend, that it either isn’t there, it isn’t a real problem or it is not your problem to solve. When you admit, how things are, you can still deny them. You simply blame someone else. Here are some of the most common things people say in these situations:

  • The market isn’t ready
  • People don’t value good work
  • No one is willing to invest in sustainability
  • My customers don’t understand my product
  • The regulatory environment doesn’t support innovation
  • This happens to everyone, it’s not a problem

You would be surprised, how many business owners tell a variation of these stories.

Denial sometimes strikes later as well, when you tried a lot of things and none of them worked. This leaves you with only two choices: You failed in solving the problem or the problem is unsolvable. And who wants to admit being unable to solve a critical problem? It feels easier to reject responsibility for the solution.

I can totally relate to this. It is hard to accept failure. Even though, everyone fails. Regardless, if it is the first product you build or the first that fails in a 50 year success history. At one point, everyone fails. Every company sooner or later builds a product that just doesn’t fly. Maybe with the exception of airplane companies. But you can fail with grace, if you learn how.

When I started my entrepreneurial journey, I failed hard. I had wrong and naive ideas about how our product would look like. What our target market would be. Who would need it and how much. How to market, how to sell, how and when to build. It was the first business though, how could I have know. That made admitting failure easier. After all, failing and being a failure are not the same. The failure in failing lies in how we handle it.

We can either face the unknown and embrace new ways. Admit things not to be as we want them and act on it. Try new solutions. Walk a path we don’t like. Do something, that challenges our beliefs. Or we reject having to do something about it. But when critical parts of your business fail, it is always your choice, how to handle them. This makes it your responsibility as well.

So whatever you do, make sure you are being honest with yourself. Look at the facts. Then act on them. You are not alone in this. No need to tell stories. Tell the truth. More often than not you will find someone who can help you out.

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