My favorite definition of an entrepreneur is this: “An entrepreneur is someone who fails and gets up and keeps going.” It’s about what you do after you failed that really matters. Entrepreneurs are not necessarily smarter, more ambitious, or more talented than anyone else; what we have is the ability to take knocks and get back up again quickly—and then find another way forward. We have a kind of Teflon coating that protects us from the sticky gunk that comes flying our way, sometimes daily!
So why is it that many of us aren’t comfortable taking the very risks that will allow us to build our business from “mom and pop” to mom and maven? Why don’t we want to take risks like raising money, dreaming big and hiring additional staff?
Part of the answer may lie in two unconscious drivers that keep us going in circles on what I call the Entrepreneurs’ Hamster Wheel, working super hard but not really getting ahead. One is our self-limiting beliefs, and the second is our “pretty and perfect” socialization. Many of us were raised getting rewarded for getting the right answer and looking good, more than for taking risks or taking knocks like our guy friends did on the football field or basketball court (more on “Pretty and Perfect” in an upcoming post!).
When I work with women entrepreneurs in my Double Digit Academy fundraising bootcamp and talk about how I struggled with my own self-limiting beliefs before being able to raise money, I always get a lot of “Amen, sister” head nodding. We each have different beliefs to contend with, but we all seem to have stories we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do. This set of beliefs, which sometimes takes the form of paralyzing internal chatter, comes from years of socialization. The good news is that these beliefs are not as intractable as they might appear. We can learn to shed behavior and beliefs that no longer serve us, and replace them with empowering ones.
The Five Most Common Self-Limiting Beliefs among Women Entrepreneurs
- “If I fail it will be disastrous, so I won’t risk too much.”
- “I can’t run a multimillion-dollar company because I don’t have the business experience.”
- “I won’t be able to have a personal life if I am the boss,” or “I’ll seem too domineering and men won’t want to go out with me,” or “My husband will resent my spending so much time away from home.”
- “I couldn’t do something big like that alone. I would need a cofounder to take the business to scale—ideally a man who’s good at the numbers side of things.”
- “Someone else would do a better job than I would.”
Do any of these sound familiar? One thing you can do to start whittling away at the power of your own self-limiting beliefs is to say them aloud, write them down, and come up with their positive opposites. There is something about seeing them on paper that helps you realize they are not the Truth; they are merely ideas you’ve held on to and have built a fortress around. Once you see your limiting beliefs in all their absurd and infuriating glory, you can begin to take away their power.
In a way, the best thing that can happen to you as an entrepreneur is to fail early on, so it doesn’t loom ahead of you as some horrible pitfall to be avoided at all costs.
Even Sara Blakely has a failure story. Blakely is the billionaire founder of the tushy- and tummy-flattening undergarment empire Spanx, grew up with her entrepreneur father asking his kids each night at the dinner table, “What did you fail at today?” He wanted to send the message to his family, and especially his daughter, that failing is just part of life. Failing should be shared and celebrated because it means you are trying new things. Apparently that worked for Blakely, because she failed at not one but two careers before she launched Spanx with a $5,000 investment. Spanx now makes more than $250 million in revenues and sells to more than twelve thousand stores in fifty countries. Blakely was also the first woman to sign the Gates/Buffet “Giving Pledge” and is donating her billion-dollar estate to charity.
What is your biggest fear about failure? That people will think less of you? That you’ll lose your money? Or someone else’s money? That you don’t have the skills to go big? Say it out loud, write it down, or if you’re willing, share it with me in the comments – seeing the words on paper really do help take the fire out of the fear.
Let’s keep exploring these issues that I like to call “the elephants in the room for women entrepreneurs” and build up your Teflon coating along the way!
Until next time,