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Tue 19 Apr 2016 01:30 PM

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Guide to overcoming setbacks, failure as an entrepreneur

Abu Dhabi-based writer Sara Al Hemeiri shares the lessons she has learnt after suffering a number of setbacks and assures entrepreneurs that failure is not fatal.

Guide to overcoming setbacks, failure as an entrepreneur

Don’t feel sorry for yourself

Self-pity is not beneficial. Take the responsibility for your failure instead of throwing blame on others and victimising yourself. Stop all the reasons you accumulate in your head about why and how the universe is working against you.

If you take every failure as a handicap you will end up bitterly paralysed. Every failure is a lesson of what did not work, allowing you to broaden your wisdom.

Albert Einstein was nine years old when he started to speak fluently. His teachers thought he was slow. He got expelled from school due to his rebellious nature and his admission to Zurich Polytechnic School was rejected. Einstein did not waste his life away in misery over his failures, but instead worked his way to win Nobel Prize in physics by creating the Theory of General Relativity.

It’s not personal

Self-worth is the first thing to get attacked when we fail. We often associate failures with incompetence and shame. Failing at our attempts doesn’t make us failures.

In school Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” As an adult he had a hard time keeping a job, he got booted out twice for being unproductive. And when he explored his passion for invention, he did not succeeded right away. It took him 1,001 attempts to light the bulb.


When we hear about someone’s failure we always feel for them. We offer our support and sympathy, but we rarely ever offer ourselves the same courtesy. We judge ourselves more harshly, we except more of ourselves and we cut ourselves no slacks.

One of the greatest basketball players of all time did not make the cut to join his high school basketball team. Michael Jordan once said:  “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Analyse the failure

In order to understand the failure we need to study the steps that lead to the failed attempt. Was there something we could have done differently? Before building the biggest software company, Bill Gates failed with his business partner Paul Allen in his first business called Traf-O-Data.

Gates later on dropped out of Harvard University to develop his company what is world widely known as Microsoft.

Stop obsessing over the failure

Fixating on the failure outcome can be unhealthy and depressive if you allow the failure be conceived as a complete negative result. Steve Jobs faced many failures along his road to success. He dropped out of college after only one semester. He left his first job to go backpacking around India. The brain that created Apple was fired by the company’s board of directors.  Jobs took no time off to stage a strong comeback by starting a new company called NeXT that Apple acquired and later on took the brand to whole new innovative level.

Stop seeking approval of others

We often hesitate or stop when we think what our family or friends would say. Seeking validation of others would never satisfy you because you are controlled by fear of being judged.

Oprah Winfrey dominated daytime talk show for 25 years.  The hosting job was not handed to her. Oprah was told at the beginning of her career by her boss that she was “unfit for TV” and she then got fired from her six o’clock weekday news slot because the ratings dropped and then got demoted to morning TV.

Her demotion helped her find her niche. She now owns her own channel called OWN. Winfrey is also the only black female billionaire.

Talk about it

Don’t internalise your failure. Find a family member or a friend who has always shown you support, has been generous with their time listening to you vent and has made you look at the failure in a different light. When you are in a fragile state, finding the right person is paramount to help you stand up. Today thriller fiction is associated with Stephen King. Yet his start was filled with rejections. He used to be an English teacher who sold short stories in his off time. When he wrote his first novel, 30 publishers rejected it. King threw the book into the trash, but his wife recovered it and encouraged him to keep going.

Now King has published over 50 novels that are sold worldwide.

Break down

If needed, take some time off. Allow yourself to feel the negativity instead of staying in a state of denial. Suppressing emotions will only lead to a harder break down sometime in the future. Steven Spielberg  was refused three times from the University of Southern California as a result of his bad grades in high school.

According to Forbes Magazine Spielberg’s net worth is $3.6 billion from directing 55 movies and producing over 150 movies. He also won three Oscars in addition to other 166 awards. Years later, after he had proven himself to be successful at his field, Spielberg went back to school to earn his Bachelor of Arts.

Change your point of view

Regroup after taking some time off. Try to find a different approach - maybe the results were a failure because you took the wrong route, maybe the time was not right, or you weren’t ready.  Before Instagram rose to be one of the top downloaded apps on the charts for the past five years, the co-founder of the app Kevin Systrom had created an app, Burbn, which was complicated and didn’t gain many users. However, Systrom noticed how the ones using the app used mainly the photo sharing feature. So he worked on a simpler three step app (take a picture, filter it and share it) and it was an instant success.

Don’t give up

The road to success is filled with fighters who fought their way to their goal.

Giving up is only acceptable when you realise what you were seeking was not what you really wanted. Persistence is the key to success.

In his early 20s Walt Disney was told that he was “not being creative enough.” When he got fired from his job at the Missouri newspaper, Disney opened an animated company called Laugh-o-gram Studios that went bankrupt.

He failed along the way and faced harsh criticism until 1937 when the first feature length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released. Over the years Walt Disney won twenty Academy Awards.

Failure is easily thought of as a flaw in our character.

No matter how small and insignificant to others, to those of us who stayed up all night working on the task or even day dreaming about it in our off time, failure can be unbearable.

So what did Steve Jobs or Bill Gates have that most of us lack and thus struggle with executing our dreams?

The authors of “The Other ‘F’ Word” John Danner and Mark Coopersmith mentioned a set of principles that successful people have, which I assume are hard to stand by, but the alternative to them is unacceptable.

They challenged the status quo.

A failure to them was not absolute, but only proved that the approach they chose was not working and that there were countless other approaches they would get to try.