We all hit rough patches in business. Small business owners—you know what I’m talking about. Maybe a product launch isn’t as successful as you’d hoped it would be. Maybe you’re seeing a lull in customer traffic for some reason. Maybe you’ve lost one of your key employees. Maybe you’re just burned out and need a break. These kinds of things happen to all of us from time to time.
Fortunately, some of these issues have practical solutions. A product re-design. A change in marketing strategy. A hiring push. But what do you do about that feeling of discouragement that can sap your motivation? Problem-solving skills tend to go out the window when you feel defeated.
For me (and for many other business owners I know), the key is knowing that I’m not alone. I turn to the wise words of others who have gone before me and who have encountered similar, or even worse, roadblocks. Thanks to the power of the internet, quotes about success are easy to find, and many of them are very simple, yet so helpful.
Here are a few of my current favorite business success quotes—I hope you find the same encouragement in them that I have!
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, author
Anyone who has started a business knows: Setbacks are part of the process. There is no such thing as a failure-free business venture. But the business owners who succeed are the ones who brush themselves off after a stumble and keep going.
And sometimes a setback is actually the key to a major step forward! After all, if Apple had never built the Lisa (which was, by all accounts, a commercial and technological failure), they would have never understood how to build the right kind of home computer, and the Macintosh may never have been invented. No Macintosh means no iMac, no MacBook, no iPod, and certainly no iPhone. Could you imagine if Steve Jobs and the rest of the team had just given up back in the early 1980s?
“Talk about your failures without apologizing.” – Brené Brown, author, research professor at the University of Houston
Because setbacks are such a normal part of doing business, it’s important to be able to talk about them. First of all, you can’t learn from an experience if you can’t discuss and unpack it. As business owners, if we are afraid of sharing our failures with others, we miss an opportunity to build solidarity with other entrepreneurs and to learn from the wisdom of others who have made similar mistakes.
The reason it’s important to do this without apologizing is because an apology implies wrongdoing. Now, if a particular setback you’ve encountered affects others, then it makes sense to apologize for that piece of it, but recognize that many failures happen as part of the normal learning process. Does a five-year-old child need to apologize for spelling “chair” wrong the first time he or she tries? Absolutely not. Similarly, there is no need to apologize for being new at business ownership. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to be better for it. Setbacks are hard enough to overcome without throwing shame on top of them.
“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.” – Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group
I love this spin on the idea of setting goals. We all hear about goal setting and how we should “shoot for the moon.” But Branson’s take on it—to set challenges—is so much more practical and achievable, if you can apply it.
Here’s the difference: Goals imply a destination. Goals are where you want to end up. Challenges, on the other hand, are the things you need to overcome to get to the goal. The goal is the finish line, but the challenges are the steps between where you are now and where you will be when you cross that finish line.
It’s a subtle shift in mindset, and some of you may be thinking, “Why call it a ‘challenge?’ Can’t I just set smaller, more specific ‘goals?’” Of course you can. You have to do what works for you. But one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I fight harder when I feel like I’m the underdog. In other words, I’m much more motivated and energized by the idea of overcoming a challenge than I am by trying to achieve a goal.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude.” – Gen. Colin Powell
Ask anyone who has had success in life, and I bet they’ll all tell you the same thing: It wasn’t an accident or a twist of fate. Success never just falls out of the sky. Successful people have habits that make them so—they have specific thought patterns and behaviors that keep them driving forward and learning as they go.
Sometimes, someone can look like an overnight success. That happens a lot in the entertainment business—we’ve all wondered how someone obscure suddenly has a song playing on every radio station in America. The thing is, if you look deeper, what you’ll find is that that person had spent the previous eight years driving themselves across the country in a van, on their own dime, playing in every tiny venue and dive bar who would have them. They had been selling CDs out of their van, building their platform one fan at a time. They had been practicing successful habits until the “big break” came.
And that “big break” will look different for everyone. For many, the “big break” isn’t so big—it’s just a slow, steady climb up the mountain. But that, in and of itself, is success.
“If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live.” – Thomas Merton, theologian
Finally, there’s the reminder to keep balance and perspective in your life. As a small business owner, it’s easy to make “business success” the one and only goal. It’s good to have purpose, and it’s good to have laser-like focus, but chasing success rarely leads to satisfaction. If there’s nothing else pouring purpose into your life, the chase can become empty, frustrating, and discouraging.
Balance can come from anywhere—hobbies, family, volunteer work, spirituality—but without something to bring you joy, the inevitable setbacks in business will be that much harder to bear. So don’t give up on pursuing success, but also don’t forget to enjoy all that life has to offer.