How the fear of failure can ruin your business

February 10, 2022

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Tips from fuckupper, Shahr Savizi co-founder Fuckup Nights YYC

Failure. What is the first thing that comes up for you when you think of failure? For most of us it’s fear, another bad four-letter word. That perception is exactly what co-founder of Fuckup Nights YYC, Shahr Savizi, is trying to flip the script by normalizing conversations about failure aka fuckups.

On top of life as a co-founder, Shahr is also the Director of Development at the University of Calgary, working with philanthropists and business leaders to advance medical research. She has spent the past decade focused on the philanthropic landscape of Calgary where she gets to bring people together on a common platform to accomplish a goal with maximum impact.

In my conversation with Shahr for our podcast episode, “How the fear of failure can ruin your business”, we explored some of the differences in how men and women perceive failure and how the fear of failure can impact our business and even be its downfall.

Fuckup Nights goal is to help entrepreneurs and businesses embrace failure and normalize talking about them and embrace the lessons they teach us. A lot like our goal at The Finance Cafe to challenge old narratives around money, credit and capital, changing the conversations so we can embrace the stories our financials tell us rather than ignore them. Their motto “we live life without filters by sharing stories of failure” resonates with us wholeheartedly.

At each event, Fuckup Nights gets three to four people to speak to a room full of strangers and share one epic professional fuckup . They get vulnerable with their story of crashes and burns, soured partnerships, recalled products and failed launches. Why? Because they believe “it’s not just about the successes but the failures that lead to them.”

In the spirit of Fuckup Nights I will share one of my own failure stories. I was kicked out of university in my second year. It’s not something I’m proud of and it took me nearly 10 years for me to tell my own mom. In the close to 25 years since then, I completed my degree, obtained my Chartered Professional Accountant designation, joined as a partner of a mid-sized accounting firm in Calgary, started one business and co-founded another. I don’t say this to brag but as a reminder that we should never let our failures define us.

I find it intriguing that typically women are more likely than men to be perfectionists. We will hold ourselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, negotiating a contract, until we are absolutely, 100% sure we can predict the outcome. For example, often women will only apply for a promotion or job when they meet 100% of the qualifications. Men on the other hand are confident when they meet only 50% or 60% of those qualifications.

In one Forbes article the writer states, “Think about the difference between 60% and 100%. I say, let’s be confident and act when we’re 70% sure. If we’re shot down, take it like a guy on the football field and shrug it off. None of those 2 weeks’ worth of negative self-talk anymore.” The writer then touches on another gender difference, citing how men generally attribute a failure to external conditions while women, on the other hand, take it internally. We often go right to personalizing it by saying things like “I knew I wasn’t good enough.”

Shahr further illustrates this during our conversation, sharing how recruiting women speakers, to share one epic fuckup at an event, is considerably more difficult than recruiting men. She says they have way more women declining, and I can appreciate why because it’s very uncomfortable. As I shared my failure story on our podcast my voice was quivering, even all these years later!

That is why I am grateful that we are having this conversation both on the podcast, this blog and within The Finance Cafe community. As women entrepreneurs we need to be mindful about not letting our failures define us and more importantly recognizing we can learn so much from what has happened in the past, including with our finances.

Shahr attributes this tendency for women to avoid sharing their failures to imposter syndrome, “We are always afraid that someone is going to find out. If we don’t talk about our failure, then we are protecting ourselves a little.” Shahr believes it’s the opposite stating, “it’s actually very liberating to start talking about our failures.” Through these speakers, event organizers have noticed that once people start to share and open up about their perceived failures it creates valuable connections because we all experience failure, it becomes a bonding experience.

I was curious about that and how women at events respond when they hear others sharing their stories. Shahr said the biggest thing she notices is how it inspires courage in one’s own entrepreneurial journey and the bonds that grow from the connection that vulnerability allows. “How we define failure is different for everyone so having a diverse panel talking about failure from different perspectives, especially from a women’s entrepreneurship perspective, she explains, gives a broader lens to people.”

One of my favourite TED talks is by Reshma Saujani, she encourages us to be brave, not perfect. I asked Shahr if she believes that as women, we find being brave over perfect harder than men. She replied, “as women we tend to hold ourselves to a higher standard and often compare ourselves to others. We are harder on ourselves,” she says, “I don’t know if it’s society, because of how we are raised, but for some reason we always seem to strive for perfection, as mothers and career women.”

I agree and think it’s often easier for us as women entrepreneurs to focus on our failures rather than celebrating our successes because of that leaning towards perfectionism. Even in this interview I felt the need to preface the successes I shared after getting kicked out of university with the statement “I’m not bragging.”

The Founders

One of the things I’ve found useful when I’m in one of those spaces, hyper focusing and over analyzing a perceived failure that is bringing up fear and doubt in my business, is to put pen to paper. That process allows me to see in black and white that in my mind I’ve created the failure to mean something much bigger than it is. Taking the time to reflect on it and write it down allows me to see it more objectively and let’s be honest, realistically. The other thing I find when I allow myself to celebrate my wins, rather than just minimizing them and focusing on the failure, is that the list of wins is inevitably always longer. Allowing the failures to inform what action I take within my business, without personalizing it or being afraid of it, transforms it into an opportunity rather than an obstacle. The same can be said for our relationship with our business finances, if we can embrace the story our numbers tell us they then empower and equip our decisions surrounding them.

This is what I love about what Fuckup Nights does, it normalizes failure and the conversation around failure as a necessary part of the entrepreneurial process. This is vital to recognize as women entrepreneurs. The fear of failure can force us to “play it safe”. Playing it safe can minimize innovation and earning potential, hold us back from taking strategic risks and can limit our ability to scale our businesses. While Fuckup Nights is changing the conversation around failure, The Finance Cafe is on a mission to change the way we, as women, talk, feel and think about finances.

So how do we embrace failure? Shahr believes that we can do that by seeing failure as the steppingstone to the next phase in our entrepreneurial journey. She explains, “at Fuckup Nights we try to celebrate the failures in a way that it led to something. Looking at it from a lens of what did this failure lead to, what lesson did I learn and how did it change my approach.” Flipping the script to failure being normal and taking the shame out is how we can embrace it.

Serving on the board of the Famous 5 together, Shahr and I had the opportunity to do workshops with girls where we talked about the acronym FAIL as, First Attempt In Learning, which is exactly the mindset to have.

One of the things that Shahr has found fascinating is that almost all of the speakers when they are approached say, “I don’t think I’ve really failed though, and we say well, we are pretty sure you have. Once we start talking about it you can tell that the successful entrepreneurs don’t see failure as failure, they don’t put that heavy label on it.” They have embraced failure.

At The Finance Cafe we talk a lot about money mindset. I feel that if we don’t have a clear understanding of what we think or how we perceive something, like our money or fear of failure, it can impact our business or even keep us from starting one.

The Philosopher and poet, Suzy Kassem has a powerful quote I love, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” If we allow the fear of failure to keep us hostage, it keeps us from chasing our dreams so let’s embrace failure and let go of the fear.

Has a fear of finances held you back? If it has, you are not alone and that is why The Finance Cafe is here.

Learning how your relationship with money impacts your entrepreneurial journey and learning to understand and embrace the story your numbers are telling you, are just a couple of the ways our flexible, self-paced, online financial literacy program will help you on your way to being a successful women entrepreneur and create the life you dream about.

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