Friday, August 9, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Fail, Just Make Sure You Don't Let Lessons Go Unlearned

At lunch the other day, my mother and I were sitting next to a man who was eating alone. Typically, these individuals stay within themselves, but our conversation piqued the man's interests so he spoke up. We ended up talking about an array of topics, but most important (to this blog) was the fact that he owned a business. The man's name was Sam and as we got talking about his ownership, my mother threw in a line she's begun saying with pride: "My son's opening a hostel over in Grand Rapids." While that was, at one point, more true than it is now, my partner and I have put the project on an indeterminate delay. So I told Sam this and he replied with a piece of wisdom that many have forgotten, telling me, "You're young enough to fail over and over again and still come back from it."

The word "failure" often strikes fear into the hearts of people, be they world-class athletes, a high-schooler taking a standardized test, or a small business owner shuttering the doors. Each of these types of people has their own environments and thresholds for defining failure. But even with different definitions, many people fail at failing because they let valuable lessons slip by while they wallow in their own self-centered concerns. For business owners, this may mean losing a major source of income--maybe even their only source of income. But even when times are tough, a strong entrepreneur keeps her or his analytical mind open. Consider examining the decisions that led to the closure or downsizing of your company--basically, what got you to where you are now? Was there anything you overlooked? Could you have asked for help at any point? If so, why didn't you?

While my partner and I were working hard on Stay Hostel, we were doing our best to generate awareness and keep interest alive. While interest was high--we even met someone who said "You're the
guys opening the hostel?!?"--it did not lead to any major financial assistance. One of the best things we received was the help of a real estate agent who would let us get a better look at prospective properties, free of charge. As I've said before though, money was an issue (because we didn't have any), so purchasing a property was largely out of the question, for the time being. We had chosen to go nonprofit in order to generate donations but then we realized that we were the only people who were really doing any work for the project. We had a board member acting as our treasurer, but he was too busy to put too much time on the ground. Another board member was present at one point, but he backed out when he realized that he had spread himself too thin.

Eventually, the fate of the hostel was left up to a single decision--that's how I see it, at least. We were
Uncle Scrooge says you've got to be "tougher than the
toughies, and smarter than the smarties!" You'll only get
smarter and tougher through trying and failing.
offered work at the Wayfaring Buckeye in Columbus after staying a single night there. Opportunities like this are pretty rare, from what I've seen, but good networking can bring them about. The issue was that I couldn't afford to pay rent in two places. But a buddy was looking for a place to stay, so there was hope. In the end, he decided not to take my place and I was prevented from gaining experience as a hostel manager. Soon after, we decided that we would dissolve the nonprofit and chase a for-profit endeavor, if we ever chose to ramp the project up again. Considering this a failure on our parts, we dwelled a bit on it. But soon we realized that we had spent a year honing skills we never knew we possessed: networking, organizing, interviewing, social media marketing and web design, just to name a few. While we may have failed, we developed ourselves and will take the skills we've gained and the lessons we learned into the future.

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