I CAN say without any hesitation that the most valuable personal skill anyone can ever develop is the ability to withstand, and bounce back from setbacks.
When things go wrong; and often they do, you must have the wherewithal and personal strength of character to brush the debris off, and continue moving forward.
For most people, at work and with life in general, it is the fear of failure and setbacks that ultimately stunts their growth.
In his book, Revolutionary Road, novelist Richard Yates wrote most pointedly “…if you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail…it takes backbone to lead the life you want.”
Of course, the easiest way out is to sequester yourself from any failure. And you can do this by never trying anything. But this also means that you are never likely to succeed at anything. You will end up leading an absolutely mundane life.
You must accept that failure is a real possibility in all parts of your life. But learning not to allow your failure to debilitate you is the key for continued growth.
For example, I now own a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2015, when I first decided to make a serious foray into the food and beverage industry, many people questioned my choice. My friends who were in the sector counseled me to rethink my investment. They argued that this was such a fickle and volatile business to be in.
My purpose was clear, though, I pressed ahead.
I opted to make the investment because the restaurant offered me a platform to test my skills for my “real” job as a management consultant and leadership coach.
I wanted to be in the front line of running a bricks-and-mortar business that entailed dealing with human resource management and operational issues, ranging from errant suppliers to underhanded competition, as well as bad reviews, and government licensing complexities.
Also, what many people didn’t know at that time, was that it wasn’t my “first rodeo” in the food business.
Two decades ago, in 1999, I started my first restaurant in Melaka.
Ironically, at the time I was also the chief executive of a college of higher learning. Notwithstanding the seriousness of that
position, I went ahead and opened a restaurant with some investors.
The first few months went well. But juggling between both businesses required me to be a skilled time manager; which I was not.
I had no prior experience, so I blindly trusted others, and that turned out pretty badly. Unfortunately, the business went bust after just two short but expensive years.
I spent some time wallowing in self-pity, because it was hard for me to see my own role in why the business had failed. And of course, I decided that I would stay away from the restaurant business.
Fifteen years later, armed with experience and self-belief, I got back into the sector.
How does one come back from failures like this?
First, take time to understand why the failure 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?”
I had to examine everything that happened years earlier, and decipher my role in the failure of that business.
Next, seek guidance.
When I was contemplating buying this business, I started seeking people who had a track record of being successful food business owners. I spent many hours observing them and talking with them.
I needed to learn from them, and I worked at developing relationships with them.
I took their feedback seriously and absorbed what they said. This guidance has helped me navigate the intricacies of the business.
The third thing I figured out is that it’s easiest to blame others for any failure.
So, I learnt that no one else is to blame for my misfortune.
The Roman philosopher, Seneca said luck was when opportunity met preparedness. You must understand this.
This means that you have to own your decisions, regardless whether the outcome is successful or not.
Therefore, I realised that when I bought this new business, I had to take complete charge of
everything and that its success or failure would rest entirely on my decision-making ability.
Allow your failures and setbacks to force you to take a step back and look around to see where you are; to reflect on your decision-making processes; and then hit the reset button, where necessary.
Remember, just like me with my food businesses, you too 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
Perhaps this can be your skill to learn this coming year. Developing the ability to not let your setbacks take you down, but instead use them to gain strength and bounce back.