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Ability to recover from setbacks is arguably the most useful skill that you will need to master, at work and in life.
Ability to recover from setbacks is arguably the most useful skill that you will need to master, at work and in life.

One of the toughest things you will ever have to do, is to bounce back from setbacks. Yet, the ability to recover is arguably the most useful skill that you will need to master, in life. What you do, when you encounter these stumbling blocks will determine how successful you eventually become.

Novelist Richard Yates wrote in his critically acclaimed book Revolutionary Road; “If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes back bone to lead the life you want.” The only way to insulate yourself from any failure, is to never try anything.

I left paid employment to become a business owner in 1995. The biggest lesson I had to learn quickly over the past two decades is the art of recovering from setbacks.

I could say my failings were due to bad partnerships; a downturn in the economy; the lack of financial backing and so on. But honestly, they were due to my bad decisions.

But, I learnt to not allow these difficulties debilitate me for long. Let me give you an example.

My wife and I are the majority shareholders in a neighbourhood bistro, D’Legends, in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. It offers me an avenue to practice my cooking, where the feedback is instant. Customers either like your food or they don’t, and they have no qualms about letting you know directly, or through a bad review.

While this is gratifying, what is more important is that this bistro offers me a platform to test my skills for my “real” job. My ownership of D’Legends bistro has put me back in the frontlines of running a brick-and-mortar business. I have to deal with operational matters ranging from errant suppliers and underhanded competition, to bad reviews and government licensing complexities.

When I ventured into this business, some of my associates questioned my wisdom in getting back to an enterprise that required hands-on management. Especially since they felt this was a business, in which I had no experience.

But they did not know that D’Legends was not my first foray into the food and beverage industry.

My first entry into this sector was in 1999 when I set up a restaurant. At the time, I had day job too. I was the chief executive of a college of higher learning. Notwithstanding the gravity of that position, I went ahead and opened the restaurant.

The first few months went well. But juggling between both businesses required me to be an ace time manager; which I was not. I had no experience in the business, so I had to trust others; and that turned out badly. But, ultimately the business went bust after two years, because of my bad decision making.

I spent some time wallowing in self-pity. It was hard to see my own role in why the business had failed. I swore that I would stay away from this cut-throat industry.

But I bounced back and worked at my craft as an entrepreneur.

15 years later, armed with more experience, self-efficacy and belief, I have reignited my passion for the food business with a dogged determination to succeed at D’Legends.

My earlier failed restaurant business was not my only setback in entrepreneurship. There have been others.

How does one rebound from these failures?

First, take time to understand why it happened. Be introspective. Every time you think it was an external factor; actively stop yourself. Ask yourself: “what was my role in making that external factor impact my decision making”.

Next, get guidance. Soon after my first setback in business, I started seeking people who had a track record of being successful entrepreneurs. I wanted to learn from them. I worked at developing relationships with them. I offered them value; not to earn but to learn from them. I took their feedback seriously and absorbed what they said.

The third thing was that I figured out it was easiest to blame others for any failure. So, I learnt that no one else is to blame for my misfortune. I finally understood, what the Roman philosopher, Seneca had said all those years ago; that luck was when opportunity met preparedness. This meant I had to own my decisions, regardless whether the outcome was successful or not

Finally, when I failed, I had to decide if I was on the right path. I had to decide whether I was cut out for entrepreneurship. Or whether I was just taken by the romantic notion being my own boss. Failure and setbacks are the best moments to force yourself to take a step back and look around you, to see where you are, to reflect on your decision making, and to hit the reset button, if necessary.

Remember, just like me with my ventures, you will have setbacks at work at some point in your career. You might have that embarrassing moment when you fail publicly at work, or you get demoted or even fired.

Do not let your setbacks take you down, instead learn to bounce back, stronger.

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