Your startup is gone, it’s never coming back, and you are in mourning. An entrepreneur whose business fails grieves similarly to anyone who has lost a loved one. The pain of losing a business is not only about a significant loss of income, but can send your entire identity into turmoil.
Most entrepreneurs define themselves by their business projects. They calibrate self-worth by what they accomplish or do not accomplish. In other words, if a project fails, then they are failures. If a project takes off, then they are wonderful. It’s the universal entrepreneur reaction.
The loss of a startup is very much like losing your job, as characterized by Debbie Mandel a while back, so don’t be surprised if you experience:
- Sleep disturbances, and difficulty waking up in the morning
- Eating and craving the wrong foods or stimulants
- Cocooning at home
- Loss of ambition; the perception that there are no other opportunities out there
- Submissive or abusive behavior
The knee-jerk reaction is to ask, “Why me?” or to cast the blame on the powers that be: “The economy killed me,” “My partner was a jerk,” or “Investors stole my business.” However, the blame game is an energy drain and will leave you without the energy to move on.
We have to assume responsibility for our actions, rather than play the part of a victim. Try answers like: “My timing was wrong,” “I picked the wrong partner,” or “I’m better at bootstrapping.” Everyone will respect your integrity, and you will be ready to tackle the world again more quickly.
Similar to Dr. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief for a death, losing a business requires processing each stage in order to adapt to the changing daily activities. Everyone falls down, but not everyone picks himself up. Here are some suggestions to survive the normal stages and turn failure into triumph:
- Denial: The psyche needs to protect itself and absorb what has happened little by little, instead of all at once. Recite the business loss story over and over to take the sting out of it; distract yourself with positive friends, outdoor activities, or your community center.
- Anger: Release anger in a healthy way through exercise, visualization and breathing. Exercise intensity or length of time should correspond to your anger level. Reinterpret the scenario with compassion; be kind to yourself, and everyone else.
- Bargaining: This is “the what if or I should have” stage. Be aware of negative thought streams to objectify them, and have a logical discourse with your thoughts. Then you can invest your energy into moving on.
- Depression: The sadness sets in and the feelings need to come out. Maybe you need to have a good cry. Laughter is always a wonderful pick-me-up. It will release feel-good chemistry. This will help reset a realistic optimism. Tap into positive friends.
- Acceptance: This is the point where we think and feel that the loss really happened. We accept the blow to our self-esteem and the disappointment. This is the time when we are ready to rebuild our balance and confidence.
It is how we handle this failure that will determine our next success. Because we are acquainted with loss and failure, we will not fear it again like the first time. Paraphrasing Thomas Edison in finding the right filament for the light bulb, now you know a thousand things that don’t work.
Thus, the best way to stop mourning a failed business is to start another one, relishing all the lessons learned from the previous experience. Investors are convinced that entrepreneurs often learn more from a failed startup, than a successful one. If you approach the next one with a newfound sense of passion, your peers, investors, and your customers are likely to do the same.