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People love an overnight success story, but in the vast majority of cases, that tale is an illusion. Success rarely happens overnight, and when it does it is often accompanied by a healthy dose of good luck.

In the real world, the roots of success often lie in failure, and successful entrepreneurs understand that having the courage to fail is a key underpinning of the entrepreneurial spirit. They know that every business failure is a learning opportunity, and they understand that the lessons those failures teach are as essential as they are frightening.

This does not make those failures any less scary, however, and even the most successful entrepreneurs have some pretty harrowing stories to tell. Those learning opportunities come at a steep cost, but the lessons they teach are truly invaluable.

Realizing Failure

For me, my moment came when I was washing dishes in the kitchen and suddenly realizing that my first venture was not going to survive. My reaction to that realization was both sudden and devastating — and I distinctly remember sinking to my knees and weeping on my kitchen floor. 

I thought about the trust others had expressed in me and my venture, of how they had invested their hard-earned money, and of how I had let them down. That revelation was hard to take, but in that early failure, the seeds of future success were planted — even if I did not yet know it. 

During what seemed like the worst possible experience of my life, I realized something invaluable — that I could pick myself up, take everything I had learned, and apply it to the next opportunity. Another key takeaway was the fact that nothing is ever lost over the course of a successful career, as long as you’re open and creative enough to apply the lessons of past failures to future challenges and opportunities. However, the fact that the roots of success are planted by failure does not make those failures less important or easier to swallow. 

My first failure still came at an enormous personal and financial cost. As I did the dishes on that fateful night, I was surrounded by my family who depended on me to put food on the table. My family included children, making the stakes significantly higher, especially given the fact that my 401(k) had been used to get the venture off the ground.

Though those stakes were high indeed, they helped redefine where success could come from. Looking back, I now realize that I needed to be humbled and that the failure of that first venture provided that — I needed to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with the rest of my life.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned was that failure is not the end of the world. Rather, failure is an opportunity, one that can pave the way for future success — and it was the beginning of mine. By learning that I could actually fail and still be alive, it allowed me to understand failure’s true power and the positive impact it has on success.