In January 2009, in the midst of raging financial crisis and a deep global recession, I hosted an online entrepreneurship forum for laid-off engineers who were considering a switch to entrepreneurship. There were 220 people registered for the event, and 130 attended. About 145 questions were submitted, from which we synthesized some of the most commonly asked. Among those was one I want to close this volume with: How do you overcome the fear of failure?
When I was younger, I had an enormous fear of failure. I was quite used to winning, and I was very bad at losing. Since then, while I've been successful in many ways, I've also failed at various attempts. My attempt at building a product company out of India in 1997 succeeded somewhat, but the company did not become a revolutionary brand of the order that I aspired for, nor did it achieve any significant scale. Somewhere along the way, though, I developed the wisdom to take things in stride, embrace failure, learn from it, and rise above it.
When I look back on my journey to trace the development of that wisdom, I see one overriding theme. Very early in life, I developed a personal philosophy. An unlikely juxtaposition of ideas culled from various systems of thought - from the Upanishads and Vedanta, from Hindu scriptures, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged andThe Fountainhead, and certain Buddhist ideas of Nothingness.
The Hindu system of thought has a very powerful core concept: Tat Tvam Asi. I Am He. Instead of worshipping an external God, the Hindus believe that God is inside. A powerful way of thinking, since if the ultimate perfection lies inside you, and all you need to do is realize your own potential, then much of your fundamental self-doubt vanishes. At least at an existential level, the individual is complete within.
Ayn Rand offers a similarly individualistic perspective, although from a radically different point of view. Rand's heroes and heroines move mountains. Although reared in a communist and collectivist Russian background, Rand celebrates individual achievement and believes in one man's ability to make a difference. Many entrepreneurs I know have been influenced by Rand's writings and have drawn inspiration especially from the character of Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, who fights on against all odds with tremendous resilience. Similar self-confidence echoes in The Fountainhead's architect hero, Howard Roark, whose resilience and personal integrity propel him toward a vision of architecture condemned by his contemporaries for its bold originality and threatening innovation.
Yes, conviction and faith are incredibly important components of a sustainable personal philosophy, but where does it come from? How do you develop it?
This is a question you must ask yourself. I can offer pointers on what to study, but how your own psyche will respond to the stimulus - I cannot tell. This is a spiritual, experiential journey, and you have to go it alone.
I will, however, share three more components from my own bag of wisdom: laughter, compassion, and Nothingness. When the individualistic ideology overwhelms, when your head swells with self-aggrandizement, think of yourself in respect to the Himalayas. Or the Pacific Ocean. Or the universe.
We are nothing. We are insignificant. We are a single speck of dust in the continuum of time.
So why be afraid of failure?