Failing Forward

Lessons, Tears, and Growth of an Entrepreneur

Photo by Twenty Ten Talent

I am a Rwandan female entrepreneur. (Whew! There you go.) If I was completely honest, I feel like such an imposter introducing myself this way. I have been nothing more, in reality, than a mere recipient of series of opportunities ushered in by luck and other psychic instances that I cannot explain. I am grateful to have experienced the joys of success and the excruciating pain that comes with the package. I am, of course, going to talk about my journey and how entrepreneurship was my greatest joy but also — should I say — the biggest pain in my ass.

I am not going to talk about the missed chances, the rejection emails and the disrespectful meetings. Obviously, most of you would know them by now. We’ve all been rejected at some point in our lives and that is the journey of entrepreneurship. I’ve wanted, as a young entrepreneur, for a sage in the field to pat my shoulder and say ‘Ha! I’ve been there! It hurts doesn’t it?’ I am no sage, but I will just share my awkward story and rebuild hope in those who are between a rock and a hard place.

Last year was, by far, the hardest year of my life; professionally and personally. I used to laugh out loud when people talked about existential crises. I usually told myself, ’What kind of weak person would go through a crisis like that?’ I think I was really tempting the universe because when it hit, it did hard.

My team approached me a few months ago with gloomy faces because there was no easy way to announce what they had to tell me. “We have bad news and terrible news. Which one do you want to hear first?” You know how they tell people to sit down before something terrible is about to be said, I never understood. How do you keep your head high when you know you might not be able to pay your staff, the taxes, and the company’s needs? How do you even sleep at night? I learned that you don’t. There will be a point in your life or your career when moving forward will not be a decision of courage but literally the only available option.

Many of us were born in this rat-race system where being number one was great and being number last was not too great. This taught me to fear failure like the plague. Failure, I was taught, could only come with shame. Forget those cute lessons that people tweet about these days. Before Twitter, you were a loser if you were a loser; there was no way around it. This fear was pretty nice in school, but its crippling ability almost killed me in my entrepreneurship journey.

At the glorious point of failure when the team felt like any other thing would be better than what I was bringing to the table, I was truly a loser. I looked and felt like one. I think combing my hair might’ve been a luxury. Our accounts were drained, the team was tired and the leader – oh well, let’s just say that I was barely alive. How badly can one lose and still maintain their dignity?

So, before the loss could eat me up, I decided to quit. I planned for it quite well. I told the team metaphorical stories about how their leadership should grow and how I think they should step up into more executive responsibilities. I even requested a cut in my salary in exchange for a few days out of the office. I was slowly digging my grave with dignity – or, so I thought.

Today, I think I am at a better place. There is no strong motivational conclusion to this journey because it hasn’t ended. I wish I could say something like I read this amazing book and now I am fully back and energised! (Woo-hoo! Yeah, no.) The fear of failure, however, isn’t as strong. I woke up the next day and the sun still rose, so did the moon. Life never stopped and it forced me to keep moving with it.

Failing forward is not an art or a skill. It’s merely a natural response to how the world moves. I learned that we do not seek the ability to get back up; we just kind of do it. I still wish that the rat-race allowed me to fail with joy a couple of times growing up. It would have taught me, today, that I can respond with grace and dignity.

Especially to those entrepreneurs who are braving this life: Be gracious to yourself; it’s going to be okay.

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