Confessions of a Failure

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Think of the business people you know to be highly successful. They may represent different kinds of businesses, even non-profits. They probably represent different sizes of businesses – from a one person solopreneurship to multi-national conglomerates. They likely do entirely different things from manufacturing and selling products to offering personal services – and everything in between.

What is the first thing most of them have in common?

Most of them, at one time or another, have failed. Some of their failures are highly visible – and legend (think Donald Trump running for political office.)  Some of their failures are never to be spoken of (meaning we have no idea what they are.) In some cases they lost millions of dollars or years of time.

What is the second thing those who failed have in common?

They all learned from their experiences – and tried again – and found themselves succeeding far beyond what they might have achieved otherwise. Why?  Because they all learned – very well – the hard way.


True confessions:

In the early 1980s, I started a crafting business where I made stuff and sold it at flea markets and craft fairs. I had a blast!  But I ended up FAR in the hole because I didn’t understand how my time equated to making enough money to keep myself afloat. As a business woman, I was a failure.

A few years later, I started and built a publishing business, just as desktop publishing was beginning to make the scene. Now that I better understood how time equated to income, I was able to price and plan my work, even hire staff to help. My marketing knowledge helped us grow very fast, and very strong. It was a thriving business, going very well – UNTIL – I took on a business partner who turned out to be a shyster, who cooked the books, and who forced me to close the business.  A nightmare! It took me years to recover from that experience.

After that I began to read everything I could get my hands on about entrepreneurship and building a business. I figured out what I had done right, what I had not done well, and what I had done wrong.  I consulted with small business advisers (through my local SBDC – Small Business Development Center). I networked with other small business people and consumed as much information as I could. I embraced the idea of coopetition instead of competition, and I learned to trust my intuition more than simple paperwork and planning, because that was specifically what had gotten me into trouble with my publishing company….

Then I tried again in 2001, starting my marketing consultancy (with a focus on moving small businesses to the web). My business grew and thrived, based on what I had learned the hard way, and the questions I had subsequently known to ask before I started again. Then, after my misdiagnosis odyssey in 2004, I sold my marketing company for a sum of money beyond what I ever expected – so I could focus full time on patient empowerment and patient advocacy.

So why do I confess to you?

Because failure is not what most of us think it is – and – because it happens to most of us. Failure is about picking ourselves up at least one more time than we fall down.  It’s not the falling down itself!  It’s learning from the mistakes we make and using what we learn to be better than before.

Since starting the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, I’ve relied on those great business tenets I’ve learned through my failures and have made sure of two things:

1.  that we grow this organization making smart business choices and strong alliances for its members

2.  that the information and support available to members will support success, or at least prevent as many total failures as possible (or at least will give members a soft place to fail.)

However – with a caveat:  Just joining the Alliance doesn’t mean the good information available will simply osmose! The tools and information are available….  it’s up to members to seek it out, to read and study and practice good business. The same is true for the patient advocate handbooks – just buying them doesn’t make you immediately a smart business person.  Read, implement and adjust.

But I’ve digressed…

What I worry about are those people who dismiss this kind of advice, thinking they don’t need it at all, or passing over it because they think its too expensive.  I promise you that if you think you can succeed at private, independent advocacy without relying on business advice, and understanding business tenets, and knowing who can help and who to ask questions of…. well…. then….

You WILL fail. And, at least for advocacy, there’s little chance you’ll be able to pick yourself up to succeed unless you make a concentrated effort to learn from your failure.

If you feel as if you are a failure, or that you’re bordering on it… The only time it’s too late to make a correction is when you give up. Seek business advice, ask about doing things more effectively and efficiently, begin delving into all there is to learn about the business of advocacy. That’s your road to recovery – and success.

Have you failed – only to succeed later? Please share your story below.

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Agree? Disagree?

Share your experience or join the conversation!


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