Acumen Fund is committed to sharing the learnings we have collected over our past 10 years. In this spirit, we have published a document called “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.” Each week on the Acumen Fund Blog, we will be posting the next lesson in this series of “10 Things,” along with a guest response from a valued member of our community.
6. If failing is not an option, you’ve ruled out success as well.
Very often, the difference between success and failure is perseverance. It’s how long we can keep going until success happens. It’s getting up one more time than we fall down.
I remember one of the low points in my life, when my second book was rejected by 37 publishers. By about rejection 25, I was tempted to say to myself, “hey, you know, there’s something wrong here. Maybe I should be looking for a different career.”
I remember running out of money and walking, depressed, down St. James Street in London and seeing a Barclays Bank. I walked in and, armed with nothing but a lot of chutzpah, asked to speak to the manager and asked him for a loan. Even though I didn’t have any assets, the banker — whose name was Ian Bell — gave me a loan. It changed my life, because it meant I could keep things together for another 12 rejections.
And then I got an acceptance. In fairytales there are helpful animals that come out of nowhere to help the hero or heroine through a dark and difficult time, often helping them find a way out of the forest. Well, in life too, there are helpful animals disguised as human beings — like Ian Bell, to whom I still send a Christmas card every year.
It is far easier to see these helpers in hindsight than when we’re staring down failure in the present. But in time, as our successes and failures accumulate into experience — and if we are lucky, wisdom — we begin to see that, as my mother taught me, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.
It’s a lesson to be learned over and over again. Of course, it’s not easy to continue making your way through the thicket of failure. And that’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people to lean on. And for me, it’s been my network of supportive women friends — both in my professional and my personal life. I call it a “fearlessness tribe”: women who will always be in our corner, always there for us, whether we succeed or fail. Your tribe is there to give you honest feedback and to support you when the going gets tough…and, just as importantly, to help you celebrate the good times.
Understanding this means not letting the fears in our heads get in our way. Not letting that voice of doubt, which I call the obnoxious roommate living in my head, have the last word. Because, as Montaigne said, “There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened.”
So, yes, if you want success you’re going to have to accept failure, too.
Click here for the full “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.”