Look Back To Move Ahead - Common Sense Living Newsletter
Common Sense Living India

Look Back To Move Ahead

May 30, 2014


Soon after our nation's independence, a man from Gujarat took his meager belongings, small family, and big dreams, and moved to the city where dreams come true, Mumbai. Unfortunately, Mumbai is also a city where dreams often die; smothered by the large numbers of people fighting over scarce land and resources.

Fuelled by his desire to succeed and innate entrepreneurial spirit, this man sought out opportunity after opportunity. He tried to start businesses, a leather business, for example. He even traveled to Bangladesh pursuing an opportunity for oil. But he kept failing.

Businesses went under, finances got tighter, partners turned against each other, and relatives got resentful. Every failed business seemed at the time like the end of the world - a blow to his finances, and a bigger one to his self-respect. And yet, he persevered.

Finally, having learned many lessons from failure, he hit upon the formula for success in a store he opened in Colaba... then the shopper's paradise of South Bombay.

That man was my grandfather. And because he was able to learn from his failures, today my family manages a nationwide chain of retail stores, a brand that is a household name in India, which is his legacy.

Learning from failure is easier said than done.

We fear failure for a reason. It hurts. It debilitates. It humiliates.

But above all....it teaches.

But how? If it was so easy wouldn't everybody have learned these lessons and comfortably moved on to success? Everybody knows that 'after you fall you should get up and keep going'... and that 'failure is a stepping-stone to success.' We have all heard the inspirational quotes and seen the motivational posters...

There's also one that says 'Don't look back'. That is actually one I don't agree with. In fact, I believe the opposite. Here's a better idea:

"Look back".

Look back to see, with the clarity of hindsight, what happened. Dwell on your failure until every step that you took on the path to failure is as clear as a map. Stare at the roads on that map, until the right turns and wrong turns emerge from them. That is how you will learn where you got lost... what not to do... and not let history repeat itself.

Learning from failure, like anything worthwhile, takes effort. Here are some ideas that bridge the road from failure to success.

Write things down

When you start a new initiative, start writing about it. Then when you look back upon it, you can see the nuances of every decision you made, or the outcome of every strategy. To change a failure to success, you must be able to change your own decision-making process. To do that, you must first be able to identify that process. Seeing the steps in writing, and knowing what happened, will give you the objective clarity you could not have obtained from within the situation. Scrutinize every last detail, to weed out the failure-causing moves.

Start from the beginning. How did the idea come to you? What was your motivation? What was your planning process? How did you research the opportunity? Did you assess risks strategically? How did you prepare for contingencies?

You don't have to write elaborate stories or descriptions. Just keep a tiny notepad at hand at all times, or use a notes app on your phone, and answer the three W's - what, why and when - at every decision you make.

Get advice

As author Bill Nye said, 'Everyone you meet knows something you don't.'

If you are not already doing so, reach out to someone you trust and respect, who has already succeeded in what you are trying to do. Sometimes, looking back on your own behavior might not help you see what went wrong. Your decisions and actions are often intuitive, so it is difficult to be objective. Having another perspective helps. Ask your mentor/advisor for criticism. Not just constructive criticism... insist on the hard truth. Ask them to rip your failure apart, so that you can look inside it and see exactly what happened.

Before you do this, however, mentally prepare yourself. Accepting criticism, especially from someone you respect, is hard! Thicken your skin, remember your motivation, and know that eventually your mentor's respect for you will only deepen when they see your determination.

Don't repeat your mistakes!

This one may seem obvious. If you've painstakingly examined your failure to death, you will now know some of the things that went wrong. Why on earth would you repeat them? Could be

carelessness, habit, stubbornness, boredom, fear of trying something new, hope that this time it may work...

It won't... as Einstein said, 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results'.

So be mindful not to get stuck in a pattern caused by the same habitual mistakes. Keep questioning and analyzing your decisions even as you make them. When you try again, try new ways, try different ways, try inconveniently difficult ways, but do try.

Try again

Try again because this time, you know more. You may be poorer in resources (if you lost money in your failed initiative, for example), but you are richer in knowledge, which is a much more valuable resource.

The entrepreneurs I know aren't satisfied with their identities as just entrepreneurs. They quite fancy themselves philosophers too. They wax on about business philosophies and logically deconstruct every decision they make every day. This relentless analysis does not make for great dinner conversation (imagine talking about business all the time!) but it does make for great business success.

So remember to look back. And keep looking back until you have learned what you need. Then turn around, face forward, and march ahead to your success. Or your next failure... either way is fine, because now you have a plan.

Do you have any stories of learning from failure? Or any methods you use to overcome it? If so, please share them with other readers so we may learn from them too.


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2 Responses to "Look Back To Move Ahead"


01 Jul, 2014

I have seen in my own life, each failure has taught me a new lesson and afforded me a refreshed courage to draw the success a little faster.

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01 Jun, 2014


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