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“I now understand that failure is not final or fatal,” says this entrepreneur and author.

You know the old adage: In order to get over any fear, you have to face it. The fear of flying? Get on a plane. Fear of heights? Jump out of a plane. (With a parachute, of course.) But how does that work when you have a fear of failing? Do the same principles apply? Based on my personal experiences of hardship and defeat and coming out on the other side today with renewed faith and strength, I’d say the answer is “Absolutely.”

In my new book CEO Of My Soul, I talk about the process of overcoming great failures in my life—both in my professional and personal worlds. For nearly 10 years, I owned and operated a chain of day spas in Washington D.C. and Maryland. In 2010, I had to deal with the collateral damage of closing my locations, filing for personal bankruptcy, and surviving another failed marriage.

What were some of the factors that helped me turn the page on what was arguably the most difficult chapter of my life? First, as my grandmother always says, “Give time, time.” She meant that if you allow time to pass, the raw emotion of any situation will subside as new thoughts, feelings, and experiences layer over the pain. Your open wound will form its callus of protection and strength.  

Secondly, you must force yourself to address the “administrative process of pain” directly. For instance, when you’re dealing with painful things like death, bankruptcy, or divorce, there are procedural matters that you have to face: You have to go to court, you have to go to the funeral, etc. These tasks are all part of getting closure. Closure is at times an excruciating process, but you can’t heal that wound without administering that Bactine, am I right? Remember when you were little and your mom put it on? First, it hurts, then it heals.

Failure can also be a blessing because it can be a detoxification process.

I remember the day that I had to sell every single item in my salon before I closed. Chandeliers, candles, salon chairs, massage oils—all of it. Most of the people I had to sell to were friends and customers! Talk about humiliation and hurt. It was an extremely emotionally and difficult day. But once it was over, each day got incrementally better. Well, at least it didn’t hurt as much as That Day.

Third, I recommend finding your inner Dory. Remember the pleasant little companion fish in Finding Nemo with short-term memory loss? Try to have a short-term memory for pain instead of an intricate and long-term file cabinet for the worst experiences in your life. I think people get stuck because they get used to the pain.  Lots of people believe it’s normal to feel that way. It’s not. Pain is a symptom that something is wrong. Just like you treat a physical wound, you should address emotional wounds in that same manner. The goal should be to fix it, learn the lesson, and be pain free instead of emotionally re-injuring yourself over and over again.  

Dealing with emotional pain is difficult. And forgiving yourself is even more challenging. I couldn’t do it alone, and I don’t recommend anyone try. Why? Because you’re hurt! You’re angry! You need people who see you objectively and in the best, most rose-colored light possible. This will help you get your strength and courage back. I needed strong people to help me start to believe in myself again. For me, my parents are positivity rock stars but I also developed a new professional/career support group as well. Friends and colleagues who were going in the right directions and were willing to share their compass with me were heaven sent. I also did a lot of things to make me my project, per se: I went to church, to a counselor, to yoga, to music festivals, and volunteered at my children’s schools. Because I no longer had the stresses of my relationships and businesses as a distraction for my own personal pain, I was able to focus on me. Failure can also be a blessing because it can be a detoxification process: It may be removing toxic people, places, things, and thoughts. You can ultimately chose what you replace them with.

And finally, accepting responsibility is key to overcoming failure. For me, I had to really ask myself what went wrong, and what was my part in it. It’s very easy to blame others when you’re going through a painful season. But when you do the work and put that spotlight on yourself and the areas in yourself to improve or change, that’s where the magic happens. It allowed me to understand the decisions objectively yet release myself from a lot of shame and disappointment. And you know what? Once I did that, I was able to start enjoying myself again. It wasn’t easy—it took six years to really heal the open wounds that I had with the failure of my businesses and relationships—but it did happen.

That self-love journey was the biggest surprise about failure. When, in spite of your errors, you can accept yourself and learn from your mistakes, you will grow and go on to improve the quality of your life. Fear doesn’t have such a foreboding hold on my life and decision-making process these days. I’ve dealt with failing, learned from it and now I’m able to live life on another level, with a little more strength and courage.

I’ve now turned the page on a chapter in my life, and I’m living another. I have a new business that in one year, is more financially successful than in any of the eight years of my previous business. And I recently got engaged to my best friend who also happens to be one of my business partners. He’s a great advocate for me and encourages me to reach new heights both personally and professionally. But I don’t believe the relationship, either personally or professionally, could have existed without me developing a deeper, more loving relationship with myself first. I allowed myself to heal from failure. I grew stronger and developed an affection for that stronger, more courageous person. Honestly, I like her a lot and think she’s pretty awesome! I now understand that failure is not final or fatal. We all have the ability to regenerate, and I hope that my story is an embodiment of that.

This article is part of our Money series, focusing on both the hard currency and our feelings of self-worth. Read more articles in the Money series.

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Tomi Akitunde is the founder of mater mea.


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