When Going Solo, Give Yourself the Freedom to Fail

This seemed like an appropriate post given the time of year, many law students newly graduated yet dreading taking the bar exam, not knowing if they will be employed or secretly coveting the idea of going solo but afraid.

I’m often asked, “Don’t most businesses fail?  Shouldn’t I be concerned I will fail at building a solo practice? Why don’t you tell us stories about people who didn’t succeed?” No, I don’t think you should be overly concerned you will fail and I can’t tell you about people who did not succeed at solo practice because I don’t consider closing a solo practice a ‘failure.’

This terrific article from Lifehack called Welcome Failure basically requires you to have preliminary failures in order to meet with great success and it comes pretty close to explaining my attitude.

Many great successes started out as failures. Columbus failed when he set out to find a new route to India. He found America instead (and because he thought it was India he called the natives “Indians”). Champagne was invented by a monk called Dom Perignon when a bottle of wine accidentally had a secondary fermentation. 3M invented glue that was a failure – it did not stick. But it became the basis for the Post-it note, which was a huge success.

Tips for succeeding through failure:

  • Recognise and communicate that when you give people freedom to succeed, you give them freedom to fail too.
  • Distinguish between two kinds of failure – honourable failure where an honest attempt at something new or different has been tried unsuccessfully and incompetent failure where people fail for lack of effort or competence in standard operations.
  • Make sure people know that honourable failures will not be criticized.
  • Get people to admit to or even boast about failures they have had where they tried something innovative that did not succeed. Make these into learning experiences.
  • In a culture that is very risk averse and keen to apportion blame take the issue head on by rewarding honourable failures. Publicly praise and reward those who have had them.

Even if the failure does not lead directly to a success it can be seen as a step along the way. Edison’s attitude to ‘failure’ is salutary. When asked why so many of his experiments failed he explained that they were not failures. Each time he had discovered a method that did not work.

Striving to be an entrepreneur is honorable.  I personally have always maintained that failure is not an option.  It doesn’t necessarily mean I fully ‘succeed’ at everything I do.  It simply means by virtue of the fact I have strived honorably for something, the very act of striving in an honorable way is itself the success and by extension this prevents the end result from being a failure.  I’ve always taken great pride in the act of pushing myself into unknown territory and being able to figure out how to not only survive, but thrive.  You should, too.

Going solo, literally building a business, something from nothing (and even the act of trying) is something you can and should be very proud of.  Whether or not you succeed isn’t measured by another’s definition of success.  Your success can only be measured against your personal yardstick, no one else’s.   Having clearly defined goals, personal and professional, will help you to create this yardstick as well as help you create your personal business plan.

Yes, I remain a cheerleader for the honorable choice of going solo.

Links of Interest: “Stop Telling Me What I Can’t Do

Another great Lifehack post: “How Fear of Failure Destroys Success

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