If you’re like me, you’re probably reflecting on the events of this past year—your highs and lows, your successes and failures. And if you’re especially like me, you are prone to beating yourself up for your failures.
After many years of feeling guilty for my mistakes, I am finally learning to see my failures as stepping-stones to success. Some of my biggest failures over the last two or three years have involved business decisions that didn’t go quite as planned.
Although I wasted a lot of time spinning my wheels, I learned several valuable lessons from these experiences. There is a real value in looking at our failures from an objective and analytical standpoint. If we can take the emotion out of a situation and see it for what it truly is, we can learn a great deal from it.
Let me emphasize that the mistakes I’m sharing have nothing to do with the businesses or organizations themselves. Many others have been involved in these specific business areas and done quite well. However, these were mistakes for me, for reasons I’ll explain. Not only that, they were embarrassing because they showed my rush to judgment and lack of due diligence on more than one occasion.
As I share these, I hope it will be an encouragement to reflect on your own failures and learn from them.
Failure #1: Multi-Level Marketing
In the summer of 2014, I borrowed a little over $2,000 to purchase a membership in a multi-level (MLM) marketing company that sold health products. Several people in my extended family had joined the business and loved the products. One person I knew was doing very well in the business, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
However, I didn’t think it through very well. Although I loved the products, I was a total failure when it came to marketing and spreading the word about my new business. I felt very awkward about talking to family and friends about the business, although people were generally gracious and kind.
I didn’t have a problem with the structure of an MLM business, but I just wasn’t cut out for that type of direct sales work. It didn’t fit my personality at all.
Why I did it: I thought it would provide a decent side income.
Why it failed: I didn’t count the cost before joining the company, and my personality wasn’t suited to network marketing.
What happened when I quit: I didn’t recoup the money, but I honestly breathed a huge sigh of relief because I had so much anxiety.
What I learned: Make sure you are well-suited to a business before you get involved in it.
Failure #2: Part-time church job
In the Fall of 2014, soon after I quit my MLM business, I agreed to take on a part-time job helping coordinate worship volunteers at my church. My church has two campuses, and at that time the smaller campus (where we were involved) was going through some transitions. Since my background is worship ministry, I agreed to coordinate the volunteers in this ministry area.
It’s not that I didn’t want to help—it’s that I truly didn’t have the time that the job required, and I should have known better. But instead of having the courage to say “no,” I said “yes” because I wanted to help, and I truly cared about the worship ministry.
As the job required more and more time, I started to become resentful in my spirit. The job was getting done, but my attitude was going downhill. (That’s unusual for me because I’m almost always an upbeat and positive person.) It came to a head one day when I found myself having a fairly heated discussion with our campus pastor over some worship issues that were, in retrospect, very minor.
Looking back, I was in the wrong because I was making mountains out of molehills. But because of my stress level, I was emotionally out of sorts and irritable. I realized that I wasn’t doing the ministry, or myself, any favors by continuing in the role.
Just for the sake of clarity, let me emphasize that this was in no way the church’s fault. It is a fantastic church, and the leadership was completely supportive of me in this role.
Why I did it: I wanted to help the ministry navigate a transition period.
Why it failed: I was quick to say “yes” to a commitment instead of considering whether I really had the time to do it well.
What happened when I quit: Here’s the interesting part. As soon as I quit, a young man in our ministry stepped up to fill my shoes. He did such a great job that our main campus hired him as a full-time tech team member!
What I learned: Sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do because it gives another person a chance to step up and lead.
Failure #3: Fulfillment by Amazon
In the summer of 2015, I was introduced Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). This type of Amazon selling allows you to ship your items to Amazon, which them fulfills and ships the orders to buyers. It sounded like a win-win to me, and I knew many people were doing very well with FBA, so I decided to give it a shot.
I started by selling hundreds of my own books. I knew it was going to take some work, but I wasn’t prepared for the immense time it took to scan, label, organize, and ship the books. I was just starting out, so of course there was a learning curve, and I was OK with that.
However, when my books began to sell I was pretty disappointed in the huge cut that Amazon takes from your sales, not to mention my own expenses. After more research, I realized that the most of the truly successful FBA sellers were either 1) high-capacity sellers, or 2) selling high-priced items. It was going to be difficult to become either one of these.
If you’re tempted to call me naive, go ahead … because I truly was. I thought that making a decent side income on Amazon would be easier than it actually was. By the time all was said and done, I made less than $1,000 from this endeavor. And I devoted most of that summer to work on my FBA business.
Why I did it: I wanted to make a decent side income.
Why it failed: I didn’t realize how much work it was going to take to make it a viable business.
What happened when I quit: Nothing. I sold my supplies and simply stopped sending in shipments to Amazon.
What I learned: It’s vital to perform your due diligence before launching into a new business area.
The unvarnished truth
Let me get down to brass tacks. Do you want to know the real reason I got involved in the MLM and FBA businesses? It’s not because I wanted to make a side income. No, the real reason is that I was afraid I wouldn’t be successful with a writing-related business.
The blatant, unvarnished, embarrassing truth is that these businesses were more or less an excuse to avoid facing the truth that perhaps I couldn’t be a successful writer. If I could distract myself with side businesses, I would never have to face that cold reality.
I would have much rather put my efforts into writing, speaking, coaching, editing, and so forth. But I didn’t have the confidence I could make it work. So instead, I let myself get sidetracked with these other pursuits where I wasted an enormous amount of time and energy.
It truly breaks my heart when I think how much further I could be today if I had focused on my writing instead of those businesses. The end result is that today, I am focused on my writing and am going full-steam with my efforts to make it a viable business.
I have made some truly dumb mistakes in my life, and these are only a few of them. But they have taught me to stay focused in my areas of strength, and to avoid getting distracted by the lure of an easy path. I hope you can learn from my failures and avoid doing the same in your life.
What are some mistakes you have learned from in recent years?
Originally Published on KentSanders.net