Chairman, JetBlue Airways. Stanford Business School
Life can be tough. As my mother used to wryly remind me, “No one gets out alive.” We all have plenty of less-than-perfect moments. Not even the most gifted, telegenic and charming people live every day in the sunshine.
The same is true for entrepreneurs. Just as “bad things happen to good people,” every great entrepreneur regularly stares down the barrel of failure.
Graham Weaver, the founder of Alpine Investors and a frequent visitor to my business classes, reminds would-be entrepreneurs that the only failures they should fear are the ones of character and effort. It’s an uncertain world, and there are only so many things you can control. Even when you’re giving 100% and doing your best to be an honorable and ethical leader, things go wrong.
What you can control is how you deal with those setbacks. However stressful failure can be, if you pick yourself up and get back on the horse, you’ve passed the real test.
And when you do, you’ll start to see more silver linings than you expected. In pushing through failure, you’ll learn who your real friends are – the ones who know what you’re made of and believe in what you’ll do next. You’ll discover reserves of energy, persistence and confidence that you didn’t know you had. And you’ll feel a new sense of creativity, the ingenuity to solve hard problems, that might have remained fallow without the challenges.
One way I’ve prepared for my own unanticipated, but nonetheless certain, failures is by memorizing these 10 quotes:
- “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900 (wat ne dood maak, maak vet!)
- “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” Samuel Johnson 1709-84.
- “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
- “When it’s darkest, men see the stars.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882
- “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” – General George S. Patton, 1885-1945
- “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790
- “A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with the wind.” – John Neal, 1793-1876
- “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” – Anon
- “He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.” – Ben Jonson, c. 1573-1637
- “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes playing a poor hand well.” – Jack London, undated
One last quote I always keep nearby is this one from Theodore Roosevelt — about the value of “daring greatly”. It’s an excerpt of a speech he gave at Paris’s Sorbonne in April, 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
It’s nice to remind yourself that anyone who fails at trying to do something great is in pretty good company. This group knew that the best dreams can often temporarily disguise themselves as nightmares – better to press forward and leave the fear behind.