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The World Is Run By C Students: The Connection Between Risk, Failure and Success

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When I was president of the Junior League of New Orleans 20 plus years ago, I remember reading an essay as I passed the gavel to my successor about the connection between failure and success. While the essay probably rests in some paper file in the attic, the message resonates today, as I build my public relations agency.

The essay centered on the premise that one cannot fully appreciate success until she has experienced failure. The narrative went on to challenge us as women to take risks to the limit, pushing ourselves even at the peril of failure. At the time I thought the advice was profound, albeit out of sync with my own modus operandi. Maybe I needed to try this failure thing. To that end, the more I concentrate on growing my own business today, the more likely I am to take risks. The difference, however, is I am still unwilling to push the envelope as far as the abyss of failure.

Maybe I need to admit that I am a first child, Type A personality to the core. It has never crossed my mind NOT to excel. It was expected that I would get A's. I envied those who could throw caution to the wind, appreciating the experience rather than focusing on the outcome, abandoning (or even just bending) the rules for the sake of enjoyment. Heck, I can't even run a yellow light without fear of being caught.

What is the connection between experiencing failure and appreciating success? Does one have to experience illness in order to appreciate health? Lose her vision to appreciate sight? Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, tells the story of how her father routinely asked his children at the dinner table about their failures, commending them for trying. I cannot remember ever being asked by my parents about my failures or for that matter ever asking my children about theirs. It was all about being the best you could be in whatever course you chose.

Maybe there is a lesson here. While I don't advocate wishing failure on someone, I certainly am more open to taking risks, as long as they are reasonable. Business buzz like "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" and "There is no such thing as a lost opportunity; if you do not take it, someone else will" come to mind. These adages serve as beacons as I become a more proficient business owner and entrepreneur. Taking chances is critical to achievement.

One of the most successful people I know, who happens to be an entrepreneur extraordinaire, says that the world is run by C students. It is this group, he believes, that has the proclivity to take risks while still guided by reason. My father, who is a perfectionist with a capital P, believes the answer is moderation. Yes, go for the gold, try new things, open your own business. Certainly as we assume risks, we must also be prepared for failure; however, mitigate that threat with the knowledge that will lead you to triumph. And when you fail, keep going. That failure becomes another tool in your toolbox for success.

Betsie Gambel was named the 2013 U.S. Small Business Women in Business Champion for Region VI, which includes Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas. She was recently inducted into the Southern Public Relations Federation Hall of Fame, making her the first Louisianan to be recognized with this honor.

Betsie graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.