Article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald –

The reality is that 80 per cent of all start-ups will fail. With a whopping four-out-of-five businesses crashing and burning, you’d expect to read a lot more stories about what went wrong.

Failure is normal, ignoring it isn’t.

In the world of click-bait bravado, honesty has fallen by the wayside. We’re in great danger of creating an unhealthy precedent that failure should be neither seen nor heard. What we hear is an abundance of selfie-stick-inspired epiphanies about finding ‘true north’ and ways founders have ‘crushed it.’ What we rarely hear is the truth about failing and the toll it takes emotionally and financially.

Starting a business is gruelling. It’s no less daunting for a first time founder as it for a serial entrepreneur. It takes guts and grit to persevere, even when you feel like you’re pushing tonnes of shit up a very steep, heartbreaking hill.

When it comes to entrepreneurs sharing their vulnerability, we’re failing at failure. I’ve been to countless startup events and conferences where entrepreneurs spoon-feed audiences manufactured, self-inflated stories about their rapid rise to the top. These fables bypass failure and create the illusion that success unfolded instantly and effortlessly.

When we create an illusion that success is instantaneous, we misrepresent the reality for the next generation of entrepreneurs. We’re creating cohorts of misguided founders who innovate for the wrong reasons and don’t have a framework for dealing with failure.

With only 20 per cent of ventures surviving, it’s no wonder there’s so much admiration for those who have made it. When we hear or read stories of success, it proves to us that beating the statistic is possible. The problem is as much about the questions we ask as it is the answers we give. We’ve become so obsessed with success that we’ve forgotten that failure is a very healthy part of it.

The longer we gloss over the truth, the more we normalise the misconception that failure is reserved for the unlucky. We’ve created a playbook that says if you do fail, make sure you fail fast, pivot and start again.
Those who have failed, whether it’s in a relationship, exam or a business, know that there’s nothing fast about getting over the hurt and pain that often accompanies it. The danger of living by a fail-fast mantra is that you gloss over the lesson, squash the pain and move on – thoughtlessly.

Bringing failure into the dialogue gives others permission to be vulnerable; the more we talk about it, the more we normalise it. To smash the stigma, we need to be honest enough to have these conversations on a bigger stage and talk about failure as much as we talk about success. The journey is not one-dimensional. The common denominator of our collective stories is imperfection, as well as the gamut of emotions we all feel when we fail.

Because there’s an assumption that entrepreneurs are serial and that ‘hustling’ is entrenched in their psyche’s, there’s an underlying pressure to move onto their next big thing. The assumption that achieving success makes you Midas, breeds nothing but greed. Facebook communities and startup blogs create a hustle-or-die culture where if you’re not starting something, your obsolescence is imminent.
To make entrepreneurship accessible, we need to steer the conversation away from hustling towards honesty.

This ‘always on, ‘always hustling’ mentality is unrealistic and unhealthy. When we share our realities in one-dimension, we perpetuate the fallacy that ideas and inspiration are endless. We begin to believe we’re impervious to failure, and continue to throw shit at a wall and hope that something sticks.

The issue with glorifying serial entrepreneurship is that we shift the metric of success from impact to income. By creating a fail-fast, hustle-hard culture, we’re prioritising profit over innovation and impact. We’re starting for the sake of starting; we’re starting to keep ourselves relevant, we’re starting for the wrong reasons. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with serial entrepreneurship. Somewhere along the way, we’ve jumped to the unhealthy conclusion that success is formulaic and all entrepreneurs have a voracious appetite for success.

We owe it to the next generation of entrepreneurial hopefuls to set more realistic metrics for success and shift the narrative that he who hustles hardest is a hero. This requires a brave step towards authenticity and owning the spaces in between success.

To make entrepreneurship accessible, we need to steer the conversation away from hustling towards honesty.

It’s time to shift the dialogue and paint a more real picture about the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed without failing. We need to redefine entrepreneurship and accept the fact that failure is par for the course; let’s learn how to fail well and own it.