Business success is hard. Most people that dream of starting businesses never do. And, of those that do, most fail. Here's why...
- Fear of failure
- Imposter syndrome
- They don't really want it
I turned left when I should’ve turned right.
Barely over a year ago, I shot this video. I was feeling confident as I sat in my car watching others practice the maneuvers we’d all be tested on the next day to get our commercial driver’s licenses. I wasn’t the top student in the class…probably somewhere toward the top of the middle performers…like I am in most stuff I’ve done in life.
Anyway, I knew what I was doing…or so I thought.
The next day, I failed my first attempt at the test. And so did four other guys in the class.
Until now, though, no one that wasn’t involved that day knew I failed.
If you just watch the video, you assume I passed the test. And I did…eventually.
Are You Scared of Failing?
Do your friends talk about failure?
Mine don’t. Matter of fact, I’d argue we all feel pressure to present our lives as perfect; especially to our friends and family online. And we feel this pressure even though we know our lives aren't perfect and we know that no one else’s life is perfect either.
We all fall down, we all get embarrassed, we all mess up things we shouldn’t.
Letting any of these "failures" out into the wild on Facebook or other sites is rare; to be avoided like the plague. We’ll talk about fake failures (like, “I spend too much time at work”), but when it comes to the fears, doubts and insecurities that come with each one of our daily lives – i.e. the real failures – we try to act like they don’t – or shouldn’t - exist.
Every time I write an article on this site, I think about what my friends and family are going to think about what I’ve written. For whatever reason, I seem to be most concerned about what the people I used to do business with in my Zippy Shell business will think.
Even though most of them aren’t really a part of my life any more.
Surely, I’m not the only weirdo that thinks about that kind of stuff, am I?
I’ve written about how that business failed, but if you asked the majority of those people what happened, they’d most likely tell you I just decided to sell the business. Why is that?
It's because that’s the only part of the story I told them while it was going on…except for my accountant…she knew everything.
Reason #1 - Fear of Failure
Luckily, there’s no video of this event.
But the video in my head is as real as if it happened yesterday and the weird thing is I watch from a spectator’s perspective rather than from my own.
taken by MAJ Allen Hill licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike, unmodified
Back when I was in the Air Force, I was on an intramural softball team. It was the first game of the season, I was brand new to the unit and I was up to bat.
First pitch…ball one.
Second pitch…down the middle…strike one.
Third pitch…down the middle again…and I made good contact.
The ball was on its way to deep left center and I was on my way to first.
As I rounded first, the fielder was still chasing the ball so I put it in high gear thinking I could get a triple and maybe even a homer out of it.
I round second and all of the sudden, my legs and my body got out of sync. It was like my legs were running away with me and my upper body just couldn't keep up.
Before I know it, I’m sprawled out on the ground, halfway between second and third.
By the time I get up and make it to third, they tag me out and what started out as a heroic triple or homer becomes the inning's disappointing third out.
To make matters worse, when I get back to the dugout to get my glove, I look down at my right hand and my pinky is bent nearly 90 degrees to the right at the middle knuckle. I remember thinking, “Well, that doesn’t look right,” before I told the coach I had to go to the hospital.
NONE of us likes to be embarrassed. But what I learned was my failure was MUCH bigger in my head than it was to anyone else. The only thing I remember being asked about later was whether my finger was okay…nobody even talked about how goofy I looked...at least not that I heard...
So, like me, you want to create a digital product or online course. You want to build a mailing list. And your efforts aren’t gaining traction yet. So what?! Everyone has to start from somewhere and no one begins with a huge audience or successful products.
It takes time and we all fail along the way. Most of us fail many times. But we don’t talk about that…at least not openly…not most of us.
So when we launch our product and nothing happens or it takes us months to get over 100 subscribers on our list, we call ourselves failures and we quit. These “failures” that no one else even really noticed take up such a prominent place in our minds that we choose to quit instead of persevering.
We’re so scared of what others will think that we allow that fear to paralyze us when it should motivate us. The successful online entrepreneur isn’t the one that succeeds astonishingly on their first effort; the true success is the “overnight business success” that worked at it for 6, 8 or 10 years before hitting it big.
It’s easy to just let life happen instead of taking charge of it. It’s COMFORTABLE to do that; to be like 98% of the wantrepreneurs out there online. But if you want to succeed, you have to put that risk behind you…you have to choose reality over the self-pity in your mind.
“Which would you rather have? A safe life where nobody points at you…and you’re the same as everyone else? Or would you be willing to take a small risk — not a huge one, just a small one — and dip your toe in the waters of trying something new?”
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Reason #2 - What if they see me as an imposter?
Let’s be real…all of us feel like imposters sometimes.
What if I’m a computer programmer and don’t have the right degree or the certifications? What if the others I’m competing with have more experience? What if someone pokes a hole in my beautiful theory?
We all struggle with imposter syndrome. And it can easily stop us from even attempting our dreams. Or we overcorrect the other way and chase that ”right” certification or school or experience or personal network or…
It’s like we think once we get this magical amount of whatever it is we feel insecure about, the universe will suddenly open up and business success will be easy. For several reasons, this is just plain wrong:
- What actually happens when you reach that college degree or whatever you’ve been striving for is you find another excuse (like an MBA or more experience) to allow yourself to delay a little more.
- There are many examples of people with no connections, no formal education, no training and no money that have made it to the top levels of nearly every endeavor you can imagine. Sure, having some of these things can improve your chances of business success, but not having them doesn’t preclude you.
- Once you grab this mythical Rosetta stone, you still have to work tremendously hard to be successful. Like we talked about above...there is no such thing as an overnight business success. If you’re going to have to put in 6 or 8 or 10 years to gain experience (like Cal Newton writes in So Good They Can’t Ignore You), wouldn’t you be better off to start now rather than delaying a few more months or years?
STOP THINKING YOU HAVE TO ASK PERMISSION TO SUCCEED!
The only gatekeeper to your business success is your own mind. Get out of your own way and put in the work and you will be a success.
I’ll guarantee the success you reach won’t be the success you planned, but I’ll also guarantee it will be more satisfying than you thought it would be. With just a website, an email list and a little online business knowhow, you can take your digital products or online courses straight to the audience that will take you on this journey.
But will you? Most won't, honestly...
Reason #3 - You don't want it badly enough to do it!
There’s a story I’ve heard that goes like this…
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. "Master, I wish to become your disciple," said the man. "Why?" replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. "Because I want to find God."
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. "Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water."
"Air!" answered the man.
"Very well," said the master. "Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air."
Over the years, I’ve noticed something about myself. Just like the hermit in the story above, I say I want certain things; relationships, habits, possessions…lots of things.
And I know what is required to get those things: time, focus, money, discipline. But I choose not to do those things. Or, at least, not do them regularly enough to produce my desired outcome.
I’m sure you do that too…if you don’t think so, just ask your wife or your child.
But what actually produces change in my life, time and again, is when I get fed up “enough” with something to actually get serious and disciplined and accountable to myself and – possibly – others about it.
One small example of this is when I finally started flossing my teeth every day a few years ago…okay, actually I probably do it 5 or 6 days out of 7, but before this I never did it. I finally got a dentist I knew personally and felt like I’d be letting him down if I came in for checkups in worse shape than last time. But I also got fed up with myself and just decided to do it.
Another, larger example, is how I developed a daily prayer and devotional practice.
My point is the same, though, any change takes work. And if you don’t truly want it and aren’t truly motivated to do it, you will find reasons to sabotage yourself. You’ll continually find yourself on Facebook when you should be researching your market. You’ll spend whole evenings in front of the TV instead of designing your digital product or online course.
And, even more tragically, you’ll come up with a bunch of reasons an online business won’t work for you. But it will work for you…if you work for it and make the daily choices you know you need to make.
It’s funny, once I get started writing a blog post or reaching out to promote articles, I get into the groove and get things done. It’s getting started that’s the hard part. I find ways to delay and procrastinate.
It reminds me of going to a networking event or writing a paper in college. By the time I arrive at the event or start on the paper, I’ve imagined that it’s going to be 100 times worse than it actually will be. And when I look back on it, I ALWAYS think, “man, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
It just goes to prove; yours fears will ALWAYS be there at the start. Ignore them and start anyway.
The strategy I use to see if I want it bad enough:
I write down all my “invisible scripts” as Ramit Sethi calls them. All the limiting reasons I can think of why something won’t work. For example:
- I don’t have the time for this
- I don’t have the expertise for this
- I don’t have enough money for this
- What if I fail at it? What’s the worst case scenario I can imagine?
- Do I believe this can work for me?
And then, I break these down by intentionally flipping the context. I think, “if I knew that whatever I did would succeed:”
- How would I make time for this?
- Am I really limited by expertise or money or is that just an excuse?
- What would business success look like in my wildest dreams?
Then, if you honestly decide – after going through this exercise – that building a profitable digital product, online course or business isn’t for you, great.
That’s awesome! At least you made a conscious choice about your future. You should be proud of yourself.
But if you decide it is for you, take action. TODAY...right now!
To Do Today
- Go through the questions above and decide for yourself if what you say you want to do is actually what you want to do.
- If so, click here to follow my ConvertKit Product Creation Masterclass experiment to watch and participate as I create my first digital product and start my road to online business success.