My Biggest Failure as an Entrepreneur

"Wherever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision." Peter Drucker

I've struggled with the fear of looking stupid for most of my life, as many women do. In grade school, I was relieved to know I had a proven roadmap guiding me towards the "right way" to win--a method for making all A's. And my fear made me competitive enough to get them in any way possible.

I had an ego that was really tied up in winning those academic gold stars. If I was pegged as one of the smartest kids in school, how could I ever look stupid? It worked for a while, but when I finally finished graduate school (yes, it took that long) I was hit with a sobering reality: the system I once mastered to collect all my gold stars no longer existed. I was on my own.

This turned my biggest fear into my biggest failure as an entrepreneur. My mindset didn't allow me to trust myself and believing my intuition would see me through seemed impossible.

Being an entrepreneur meant pioneering a frontier without a one-size-fits-me roadmap for success. There are no safety nets or checks and balances. There's just you, the tools at your disposal, and debilitating self-doubt. As I stepped out into the business world I knew I had to compete, and the fear of looking stupid or failing immobilized me--causing me to play much smaller than I really was.

Many women suffer from the fear of looking stupid, as I did and do. It represents failure. And because of our gender's history we spend a considerable amount of time just trying to measure up to what we think people expect from us.

But we always have a choice. This fear mindset many of us women share is often the only thing holding us back. When we lean into this fear and recognize the strength of our own judgment and intuition, we're able to fight back and take control of our lives.

Albert Einstein's metaphor for whole, brave living is the best I've ever heard. He says, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." The wrong decision is better than indecision every time, because to keep moving means you keep learning, growing, and eventually succeeding.

Women tend to get caught up in the perfection of every decision, and it stops them dead in their tracks. It is more important to make progress than it is to be flawless, because every choice an entrepreneur makes carries risk--even if it's the right choice.

Being Smart and Successful for Dummies hasn't yet graced the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and there is no formula for being perfect anyways -- at least not today. We live in a unique time when innovation is our biggest commodity, but it demands a few failures along the way.

There are no bad decisions or ideas, just moves we make to get closer to the best decisions and ideas. Try trusting yourself--paying attention to your intuition and stepping out with it boldly. It's trading the need to be perfect with intentional vulnerability and the pursuit of wisdom. A whole life is an honest collection of wins and losses, not heralded wins and hidden losses.

There will be loss, and it's the key to success. So take a deep breath -- nobody is scrutinizing you as much as your self-consciousness wants you to believe. Constantly remind yourself that people are more forgiving than you think.

When you take a risk and come out on the losing end, it's never all over. It's a lesson learned to take you one step closer to the golden stars you're determined to find. Leadership that embraces its own imperfection is the kind that inspires the most loyalty from employees and fellow leaders.

Most of us learn to trust ourselves the hard way. Practice making decisions by making as many as possible. Celebrate your wins and learn from your losses with vulnerable grace. Choose to move forward with courage more often than your fear failing. After all, there is no adventure when you follow directions.

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