Fail forward: A lesson for all to learn — smart entrepreneurs don’t succeed by staying safe

Over the last five years, I have been traumatized by the thought of not having the answers. I didn’t want to appear inexperienced, uninformed and worst of all, as though I didn’t have my “stuff” together in all facets of my life. It seemed I did have a favorite answer; though just three letters, it had immeasurable impact.

“Can you meet me at 7 a.m.?” (insert favorite answer here) “Will you meet me at 7 p.m.?” (favorite answer) Can you coach Ally and Ann’s teams? (favorite answer) Will you join the board, volunteer, lead the PTA, host the party, take care of him/her, handle this, show up … you see the pattern.

The problem was, I thought I saw the power. What I didn’t see was that I was slowly getting weaker. I was disappearing in a sea of tasks and basking in incredulous (and rhetorical) questions like “How do you manage so much and make it look so easy?” I wore misinterpreted admiration like a badge of honor. (Did I mention that somewhere in there I started a business?)

Don’t cheat yourself

What I’ve learned (much of it through the patient, knowing nods and then cut-the-crap guidance of smart, strong female business leaders) is that despite being busy, I was cheating myself.

I was staying and playing in my safe zone. I kept busy with the things I knew I was good at and was confident I would do well. No one can see chinks in the armor if you wrap yourself tightly in a superhero’s cape.

I was physiologically affected by the thought that someone would think that I didn’t know what I was talking about or wasn’t beyond competent at what I was doing.

About four years ago, I joined Entrepreneurs Organization (I was wearing the cape at the time.) Lately, however, I’ve become OK with others seeing the scratches and dents.

Being a member of the Cleveland Chapter of EO, having a forum I am accountable to and having met and shared experiences with fellow entrepreneurs/superhumans from around the world, I slowly began to realize that we had each other’s numbers.

Wake-up call

The jig was up. No one is great at everything. No one has time to “fit it all in” and truly exist in a state of well-being.

And you don’t succeed by staying safe. You succeed by learning, by trying new things, by taking risks and yes, by failing.

The distinction between failing and defeat is whether you choose to fall back or forward. Failing forward means we learn from our mistakes, try again, create paths and celebrate the really small things.

Good leaders help others to fail. They encourage those around them to take risks, to make mistakes to learn and grow and get out of the corral.

For me, breakthrough has come from the realization that saying “No, I can’t” and “I don’t know” and “I was wrong” afford the opportunity to learn and grow, and that’s where the real power is.”

Christine Lobas is the founder and CEO of Studiothink. She has more than 20 years of experience in traditional and interactive marketing, creative direction and public relations. She also serves as communications chair for the board of the Cleveland Chapter of the Global Entrepreneurs’ Organization.