entrepreneurial resilience

How Much Resilience Should Entrepreneurs Have?

Entrepreneurial success comes not from avoiding failure, but rising up from it

Quick, when you think about the entrepreneurial skills essential for success, what comes to mind? Many people might give an answer like: vision, passion, the ability to take risks, knowing how to network, or having an innovative approach to solving a problem. While all of these qualities and others like them are definitely important, resilience is one of the most overlooked, yet vital ingredients you’ll need to be successful as an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship Just Can’t Happen Without Resilience

In entrepreneurship, the path to success is not a straight one. It’s littered with twists and turns, potholes and speed bumps, and more detours than you’ll care to take. One day you’ll be feeling like you are on top of the world; the next day you’ll be standing in a deep, dark pit considering whether you should just walk away from the whole thing.

Success requires a certain acceptance that for all of the wins, you will also fall and make mistakes along the way. When things don’t go as planned, resilience is that vital ability to dust yourself off, pick up the pieces, refocus your efforts and move on–  bringing what you learned from the experience along with you. 

Best selling author, entrepreneur, SEO expert and marketer, Neil Patel often points out his personal string of mistakes and failures, including several poor marketing decisions, as being the catalyst and the stepping stones for his later successes in life, and he’s not alone.

The point is being a successful entrepreneur requires a special combination of self-confidence, determination and optimism combined with a heavy dose of humility. You need to believe on one hand that the world needs what you have to offer and that nobody else can deliver it in the way you can. But at the same time, you have to recognize your limitations, be comfortable with them, and strive to do what you can to overcome them given what you have to work with.

It’s the bridging of two seemingly opposing forces.

Many great would-be entrepreneurs (and even those who have already achieved some success) have fallen into the failure trap. This is particularly true for Millennials, those in their late twenties and early-to-mid thirties. According to recent study by the US Small Business Administration, less than 4 percent of 30-year-olds reported that they were self-employed on a full-time basis. While some experts may point to challenging economic conditions as a main factor behind this trend, the truth is the rate of entrepreneurship among Millennials is significantly lower than Generation X-ers (at 5.4 percent) and Baby Boomers (at 6.7 percent)– two generations that have experienced plenty of economic turbulence in their own right.

Why is this happening?

Some experts believe it has to do with a lack of resilience and a general, but persistent fear of failure that seems to be prevalent among this age group.

Defining Resilience

Though the American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity,” researchers have for decades been struggling to come up with a universal definition of resilience. This is largely due to the fact that resilience as a trait has several dimensions to it, and those dimensions can differ depending on factors, such as background and culture. For example, one recent study lists a total of seven different aspects of resilience.

Regardless of the paradigm used to define resilience, most qualities can be categorized into four core aspects:

1. Self-confidence. Possessing self-confidence and a positive self-image comes with a lot of other things, like recognizing your strengths and weakness and believing that you can make a positive impact in the world, as well as having a personal and collective sense of purpose and values. It’s relationship to resilience is that failure doesn’t equate to feelings of self-worth and won’t pull you too far away from what you know or believe to be true about yourself and your abilities. Resilient people are also more able to accept negative feedback. This is an important quality among young entrepreneurs given that they are more likely to pitch their ideas in order to gain feedback from friends, peers, mentors, and investors.

2. The ability to learn from mistakes and setbacks. Resilient people are able to learn lessons from the hardest experiences in their lives. They end up walking away stronger and better people. Failed ventures thus offer the opportunity for immense growth, and can be the stepping stones to future success. In fact, entrepreneurs who are starting their second business venture after an initial, failed attempt are significantly more likely to be successful.

Here is where many people tend to confuse resilience with grit or persistence. Though these qualities are related, with resilience a person changes and adapts as a direct result of the difficult experience. Simply moving on without making some kind of transformation — even a small one — is doomed to fail, since it’s human nature to repeat the mistakes of the past.

3. Strong emotional intelligence. Resilient people with a strong emotional intelligence know how to manage intense feelings and impulses and to exercise patience. They can effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings to those around them. They are able to form stable relationships with a healthy give and take of care and support. They can create trust, get a sense of what other people are thinking or feeling and offer encouragement to others. In other words, they know how to make an impact on those around them, and they also know how and when to seek out support and assistance in times of need.

4. Persistence and purpose. This includes realistic goal setting and the ability to work towards that goal without getting too distracted or discouraged. It also means having the mental stamina to keep trying and to keep knocking on every door until you succeed. There are countless examples of wildly successful entrepreneurs who had their promising ideas rejected dozens of times before they came to fruition.

This persistence in the face of adversity tends to come with a sense of purpose. Many younger entrepreneurs today are not motivated solely by money. Instead, they care more about being passionate about their work, having it match their values and being imbued with the feeling that they are making the world a better place.

Building the Resilience it Takes to Be an Entrepreneur

The amount of resilience an individual possesses can be a predictor of entrepreneurial success. Having an accurate assessment of your strength, courage, determination, and humility before executing an idea is in many respects just as important as the idea itself.  

But once you have that assessment, however, you need to get to work shifting your attitude towards setbacks and failure and building a solid support system. When it comes to entrepreneur skills, resilience is one that can be learned and cultivated. These changes won’t happen overnight, but every little step in the right direction is one step closer to success.

Here are a few tips to consider:

Keep reminding yourself of your “why.” Your mission and purpose gives you a long-term perspective. Focusing on your purpose is an effective way to deal with the hard times in life and maintain a healthy perspective. Though resilience is about constantly adapting, one thing should stay constant: your mission in the world.

Get used to focusing on the good in failure. It may not come naturally, but by forcing yourself to constantly seek out and acknowledge the positive points in a seemingly negative outcome, you can learn to find the hidden opportunities that you never would have seen had the setback not happened in the first place. Every setback and failure becomes a learning opportunity.

But more than this, you have to actually act on what you’ve learned from the experience. If, for example, a marketing campaign didn’t work out the way you wanted to, then try to figure out why and what changes you can make to get the results you are looking for.

Surround yourself with the right people. This is vital. Your support system can be made up of family, friends, co-workers, peers, and mentors, as well as hired consultants. The most important thing is that these people help you to get perspective and offer useful advice whenever a situation becomes unclear or uncertain.

Know when to walk away. Resilience is not about never giving up. Sometimes it means setting healthy boundaries and knowing when to cut your losses and walk away. You have to be smart about quitting the things that don’t work because by doing so you can free up a lot of time, energy, and money for the things that are working. This can be anything from turning away a low-paying client or stopping a marketing strategy that isn’t converting. On the other end, it could mean walking away from a venture you started when you realize that something was fundamentally flawed in the business model.

In short, resilience is a key ingredient in entrepreneurial success. But even if you weren’t born with this quality, it is something that you can cultivate if you truly want to. In the end, it will help you both in business and in life.


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