Failure: The Ups and Downs of Business and Their Challenges

So now that I have told you about the small successes I have had so far, I want to talk about the failures I have had along the way. Many times before, I have felt like a failure or that I am not doing enough; I need to be better; I need to do more.

My career at McDonalds almost never happened. I had originally applied for a part-time job while still at school and got declined. Isn’t it crazy – I credit McDonalds as being a key foundation in business knowledge, and yet they declined my first application. I didn’t take this personally, and when I needed a full-time job I applied again. I got the job and the amazing business experience to go with it.

I almost got fired from McDonalds on two occasions. The first time was for giving away free food; it was to a complaining customer but still against the rules, and I walked away with a Final Warning. The second time was when I was going through a bit of a rough patch. I would work hard but then go home and stay up until all hours of the night, smoking and drinking. I would sleep through my alarm – might I add, these were midday and afternoon shifts. After doing this several times, I got hauled into the office. The boss told me he saw potential, but I needed to sort it out; otherwise, I was going to lose my job.

I have been made redundant twice. Once when I was a pesto salesman and once with the Silverspoon after the un-succesful first offer to buy the place. Both times I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with me, that I hadn’t performed or done enough.

I was in about $25,000 debt when I was 19 years old. This culminated in the court taking my car from me to pay for all my driving fines. They turned up to Maccas one lunch rush, asked for the keys, and towed the car away. I was left with a personal loan for the car, lots of driving of fines, and no car to drive. In the end, it was a massive turning point, but at the time it felt like my world was crashing down around me.

At the time, almost 100% of my income was dedicated to paying off this debt. After my basic living costs, and then paying off debts, there was about $10 a week leftover. It was like that for about 2 years until I paid off the final debt and vowed never again to borrow money to live outside my means. Since then, we have always used savings (except for buying a business and a house, both of which we paid off very promptly).

We looked at so many cafes for sale before we managed to purchase the Spoon. Some got really close, but each time they didn’t work out for one reason or another. For a while we didn’t even have $100 to spare, let alone enough money to buy a café, and I remember thinking that I will never be “good enough” or “have what it takes” to own my own business.

There were multiple times in running the restaurant where we were stretched to the max. Bills were coming in with not enough money to pay them. There would be days where it was just a really bad shift, service was slow, customers got angry, and staff were unhappy. The good thing about hospitality is it’s a really forgiving industry; you could totally stuff it up today, and tomorrow a new set of customers would walk in the door oblivious to yesterday’s drama. It was like a fresh chance to succeed every single day.

We felt the pressure to make decisions to fix and move the restaurant forward. This wasn’t always a success the first time around with many flops on the menu, bad coffees, meals being served, and marketing ideas that did not take off. Eventually though, through trial and error, we found a winning formula and stuck to it.

Over the years, I have tried numerous business projects that haven’t succeeded at all or to the degree I would have originally hoped for. Ideas that I have put huge amounts of time and energy into only end up fizzling out. Again, at the time, it makes you feel like you’re no good at anything. Each time, though, I tell myself that going through this process is an achievement in itself.

I have struggled with motivation and drive; they come and go like a rollercoaster. I can be very lazy. I love to come up with a great idea and get it started, but then I procrastinate doing anything that takes more than 10 minutes of my time. So, I don’t get things finished. If I spent as much time finishing the ideas I started as I did thinking about new ones, I would be about 50 times more productive.

I find it hard to make decisions; I am naturally quite shy and lack the confidence to back myself. Outwardly, I appear to take the bull by the horns and charge ahead, but inwardly, I secretly question every decision I make. I am constantly weighing what I “should have done.”

Basically’ I feel like I have stuffed up a thousand times before, and I know I will probably stuff up another thousand.

So, what do I do about all this failure?

Often it feels like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back. The two steps forward make me feel like I am on top of the world and nothing could go wrong. Then there is an unforeseen setback which brings me crashing back down to reality.

This cycle has happened over and over again, and it takes its toll on me. More recently, I have begun to expect the cycle, recognizing when I am on top, and also when I am low.

This actually fits quite well with the entrepreneur cycles discussed in an old guest post from 2008 on Tim Ferris’s Blog

When I am on “top of the world,” I remind myself to not get too comfortable, yet still enjoy and appreciate it. I know that this will pass, and when I am in a low, I remind myself of the other times I have felt like this and how the feeling eventually passed.

Some of the tools that have helped me in times of failure include the following:

– Learn to separate your personal feelings from the ups and downs of your project.

– Escape to a hill to pray(even if your not religious praying is a helpful way to decompress and reflect).

– Tim Ferriss – what’s the worst that could happen?

– Write lists of all your achievements.

– Write lists of all the things you have to be thankful for.

– It’s also helpful to think of other people who have been in worse situations and made it out alive. I think if they can do it, then, surely, I can.

All in all, I’ve learned never to let failure get the best of me, but to do whataver I can to overcome my own failings as well as the uncontrollable circumstances around me.