The biggest myth is that it’s fun. The reality is that creating and running a business is an incredibly tough grind, and it’s emotionally debilitating. It can be euphoric, but more often than not, it’s terrifying. – Ben Horowitz

Terrifying indeed. For most of us, the journey in business begins with overwhelming feelings of excitement and hope. We envision great possibilities, and are consumed with the picture of a perfect ending. Then somewhere along the way, we realize our expectations were much different than reality. The scientific term for this is atychiphobia. We’ll call it by its more common name, the fear of failure. You probably know it all too well. However, it’s our mindset towards this fear that defines our strategic and tactical outlook on life, and in our business.

Here’s a familiar story: you experience an outside setback or attack and begin to lose your grip. Enter sin, going by the names of doubt and self-determinism. We begin to rely on ourselves instead of His power. God-reliance turns to self-reliance as we begin to question and look within for the answers to the turmoil that surrounds us. Self-reliance is the first thing that will upset the completeness of our life in God, and it continually produces a sense of struggling and turmoil in our lives.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. Proverbs‬ ‭1:8-9

We only need to understand more clearly the heart of God as we plan and pursue our plan. We must understand that it is not about our story at all, but our role within His greater story; however great or small. His desire for His children is not in our successes, but in our formation. The lessons He has for you are to be found in the journey not the final destination. Freedom from the fear of failure comes with our ability to shed that need for accomplishment; to see the journey through His eyes and not our own.

There are so many who the world now holds up as heroes, that didn’t see success during their lifetime. Jim Elliot and his companions, pursuing a mission to bring the name of Christ to the unreached, never lived to see the amazing movement of God in the lives of the Huaorani people. That movement was in the timing of God’s plan, not Elliot’s. After tireless work to end slavery, and despite failing health, William Wilberforce learned just three days before his death of the abolition of slavery in England. The Moravian Church, the oldest Protestant denomination, started a continuous 100-year prayer movement that resulted in the first missionaries being sent to the world, but the originators of that movement never experienced the incredible fruit that resulted.

Often, failure comes for a season and becomes a catalyst in our lives. Nelson Mandela endured 27 years in prison. In responding to a comment that those years seemed to be a tragic waste, Bishop Desmond Tutu provided a different perspective. He described how Mandela had entered prison an angry young man who saw violence as justified for overthrowing an unjust situation. When Mandela emerged 27 years later, Tutu said he was a forgiving, patient man who was ready to lead. Bishop Tutu saw that time in prison as crucial to the man Mandela became. A man whom our sovereign God could use to change a nation. God was in control and knew exactly what He was doing.

God used many men and women during Biblical times to accomplish great deeds. These were also the same people who experienced great failures. Think of Abraham, David, Sarah, Rahab, the apostle Paul. They all lived, never being assured of what they would see or accomplish, with only the certainty of their call. They couldn’t focus on the daily road bumps and frequent twists and turns in their path, which many times led them astray. They had to keep their eyes on the ultimate prize.

So, what does that mean for you? How do you plan? Here are some practical ways you can hem yourself in and approach the daunting path before you. No guarantees there won’t be failures along the way, but you will be better equipped to understand and deal with them.

1. Know your limitations

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Identify and fill the gaps with those who possess what you do not have. No one person possesses every single skill to grow and mature a business. Behind the figurehead of a successful business (think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates) is a team of incredibly diverse and hard-working individuals. Evaluate the critical elements of your business, and determine those areas in which you are better off leaving it to a professional. Consider outsourcing certain roles like finance, customer service, product fulfillment. Free yourself up to work on the business rather than in the business.

2. Ignore the pressures of the industry

Scaling too quickly has brought death to many businesses. Just look at the recent failure of the highly-touted Homejoy. Give yourself the opportunity to build a strong foundation for your organization before you scale, become excellent in what you do, and resist the temptation to be all things to all people.

3. Schedule failure into your plans

Budget the time and money for a project or opportunity, and budget for that opportunity to fail. What will be the cost to your business if it fails? Can you recover from the failure? Know the consequences of failure, and know what it will take to recover from a costly failure. Make sure you have done contingency planning. Always back up Plan A with a Plan B.

4. Seek the advice of those who have gone before you

I like to think of it as learning from the stubbed toes of others. Look for those who can mentor you and challenge you in your assumptions. There is much wisdom to learn from those who have already participated in a battle and lived to tell about it.

Even with the greatest efforts applied to planning and execution, you may still find yourself failing. And the scary part is—that’s actually ok. Just keep in mind that there is great wisdom and lessons to be learned in planning and pushing forward. Trust in His sovereignty and His hand to bring you through. It is the journey dear sister, not the destination.

Discussion Question:
Has the fear of failure been keeping you from moving forward? Or was there a time when you pushed through regardless of fear? If so what was your experience? Share below!

Colleene Isaacs

Colleene Isaacs is a consultant for early stage start-ups, focusing on small to mid-size NGOs in a variety of industries. She loves to engage with old friends and new over a great cup of coffee discussing weighty issues that plague the world, our culture and our faith.

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