Just a few days ago, as the 2012 Summer Olympics got under way in London, it didn’t look good for Michael Phelps. The American swimmer not only did not win the gold in his first race, he failed to win a medal at all. Pundits and columnist across the globe speculated whether this was the beginning of the end for the heavily favorited competitor.
That is a far cry from the headlines now. With three races left, he has already set an Olympic record to become the most decorated Olympian of all time by winning his fifteenth medal – a gold – in the 4×200 freestyle relay.
One has to wonder what the headlines would be had Phelps believed that his failure in the first Olympic race defined who he was as an athlete.
It is a good lesson for all of us, but especially for those who have decided to go the daunting path of creating a company from nothing. As entrepreneurs, there really are no insignificant milestones, because we often live and breathe by the next success or failure. And for the bootstrapped startup, this is even more true – there are usually no cushion funds to ride out failed opportunities for revenue, lost clients or contracts. It gives each new challenge bigger-than-life meaning, and it is easy to lose track of the bigger picture, of where we plan to end up – not where we are at the moment.
But we are only defined by our latest failure if we believe that it defines us – as individuals, as entrepreneurs, as a company.
We need to remind ourselves as owners that a rejection from a potential a client is not so much a failure as an indication that either the two companies were not a good match or that there is something to be learned by the rejection to turn the next prospect into a yes.
Winning a sports competition is just as much about keeping one’s head in the right place as it is preparing physically – and it is no different for entrepreneurs. Our self-talk must keep our eyes focused on the bigger picture, and we must be able to see a current failure as something to learn from, not a death knell to a better future.