by Kathryn Main, founder of Money Savvy Kids
When I think about failure I truly believe I am an expert on this subject. I have failed in every area of my life many times - personally, financially, and in business. If you want advice on how to handle failure, ask an expert!
If you look up the word Failure in the dictionary the definition is: lack of success, non-success, non-fulfilment, defeat, frustration, collapse, foundering, misfiring, coming to nothing, falling through. Everything about those words/ statements are very negative.
Failure should not be treated as a negative. We should be taught in school that failure is a good thing, but we are not. If we fail academically we don’t pass the year, and the stigma attached to that failure follows you around for most of your life. Kids tease you and treat you differently because you failed. I know this because I failed grade 9 the first time. It was at that point that failure became such a negative for me. I dropped out of school months into my second attempt at grade 9. Why? Because the failure was too much for me to handle. I felt stupid and unmotivated to even try, so I didn’t. The teachers and my parents were not equipped to help me through that situation. No one knew how to teach me that failure was an opportunity to grow and learn. My mom let me drop out of school and that failure defeated me and has impacted on my whole life. Not having a matric did not serve me.
Will Smith says, “Fail early, fail often and fail forward”… well those words ring true for me. I have failed many times after that first experience, not just in business but in my personal life too. Failure might feel like the worst thing in the world, but with time you will see that failure is an opportunity to grow and learn. Your perception of failure changes tremendously. But who is teaching us about failing forward?
I stared my first business at 22 in the beauty industry. I walked into a ready-made business, an opportunity of a lifetime and made it work. In fact, I did so well I had people offer to buy into a partnership. I was a very naive 22-year-old at the time and took on much older partners - they were 40 at the time. They had money, a nice house and a lifestyle at the time I aspired to have. They baffled me with contracts I did not understand and when It came to the crunch they threw me under the bus and I walked away with nothing. My previous experiences with failure taught me that this was a bad thing, so what did I do? Naturally I defaulted to my negative behaviour patterns I took from when I was in high school. At the time the anger boiled in my blood and I was on the war path making it as hard as possible for everyone involved. I dug in my heels and said you will not do this to me again, I will not fail! It happened anyway.
The way I handled the situation just made me look like a complete idiot. At the time I felt like this was the end - the end of my life. I was now destitute and found myself having to look for a job. After working for myself for 4 years, working for a boss again was going to be hard. It was hard, and I hated it with a passion - I think I lasted 3 months in that job. This failure helped to launch me in a new direction. After I left the job I found myself again in a situation of what to do next?
I met this woman who lived in the same complex as me. At the time I had left my husband for the first time then too and was living alone. I had not just failed in business but also in my personal life. I was feeling like a complete and utter failure and had no idea which way was up. Philippa said to me, you look like you would be a good sales person” and boy was she right. I was. She gave me an opportunity and before I knew it I was moving and grooving in the sales industry in advertising and media. I loved it! Loved everything about it. At the time all I wanted was to work in an advertising agency. (FYI, now I have my own. So be careful what you wish for because you just might get it!)
The failure of my first business catapulted me into a new direction and industry. One I still work in today. That failure I would say was a positive one even though it did not seem like it at the time. In hindsight, it was the best change and one I needed in order to move into the next phase of my life. I have had many failures from this point, some small and some big. Not just in business and my personal life, but financially too. I found myself at 30 pregnant with my third child, no job, my husband lost his house and had to sequestrate, and I had over 300,000 debt. In 2014 I was inspired by my own financial journey to create a financial literacy business. I do not want the next generation to make the colossal financial mistakes I have made in my life and Money Savvy Kids was born. This business very quickly became my new obsession and I spent every free minute I had working on creating this brand.
By 2016 I had launched and was running a successful business with multiple income streams. I had my school model working and running, my corporate content leg was booming with contracts from FNB and WDB and more in the pipeline. I was lucky enough to be picked to go on an acceleration program sponsored by 2 big corporates. 2017 was looking good. It was on this acceleration program where my life again took a new direction. One of the corporates made me an offer I could not refuse. They wanted to buy my business. 4.8 million Rand and a 2-year contract were negotiated. Who can say no to that kind of deal especially when my business was still in its infancy phase. I wanted to see the impact of the brand I had built at scale. For months we met and negotiated contracts and navigated our way through the process. From day 1 the corporate representative told me stop trading immediately. I had warning bells going off in my head and my anxiety was heightened beyond words in these months. Things did not feel right. I kept pushing the feelings down and telling myself that this was the opportunity of a life time. I was on her program, she only had my best interest at heart.
I handed over all my content with no signed NDA or contract yet in place. When it came time to sign contracts I was made to sign a contract with a third party, so this company could get their BEE procurement points. They told me that. Again, warning bells going off in my head. I still did not listen and was still not trading and turned down a corporate contract worth over 1 million at the time. 8 months later this deal fell apart and did not go ahead which is not surprising considering fronting was involved. I knew better. I did not listen to myself or those warning bells going off in my head. I was at the lowest point of my life and 3 years of hard work had come to a complete stand still. I had not traded for 8 months and now was in financial trouble. Emotionally I was broken. So, what did I do? Of course, I defaulted back to my same negative patterns of handling this failure like it was the worst thing to happen in my life. I sat on my couch for 3 weeks and watched desperate housewives. I had zero motivation to do anything. It was at this point I decided I need to change how I was handling this situation. I could no longer feel defeated, so I made some changes, but I had to dig deep. The old negative patterns were pulling me in telling me, “You failed. You are a failure.”
So, what did I do. I started small. I read the book “The Secret” again. I needed to change my energy and my thought processes I needed to unlearn all the negative behaviour patterns I had cultivated as a teen. After the book I watched the movie and then realised it was time to kick it up a notch and started running. When I say running it was more like walking a bit and running a bit for 20 minutes a day. When I was more confident and running 4Km I would pick a route with some hard hills. As a ran those hills I would tell myself, “You will not quit, you are not a failure, you can do this!”
During these running sessions I would give myself pep talks and I started to ask myself what happened where did I go wrong? I started to have a more positive conversation with myself about the failure. I did affirmations daily and started to be grateful for what I did have. When I found myself having that negative conference in my head I would try and recognise what state I was in and how I was feeling. And I would try and shift my state to put me into a better state, so I was letting go of those negative feelings and rather start having a positive conversation with myself. I would do things that helped to put me into a positive state. I would go for a run, get on my yoga mat and listen to affirmations while doing some hatha yoga, I would listen to music loud and sing at the top of my voice. All these small acts helped me to shift my state. Over time I would wake up and ask myself “how am I feeling today?’ Before my feet hit the floor, I would choose to be in a good state and mood for the day. I would set my intention for the day and do my affirmations before I was out of bed in the mornings. A routine I still follow.
At the end of 2017 I wrote the book “Raising money savvy kids”. I had to relaunch myself into the market place. I knew that my old school model was not sustainable at this stage and decided to concentrate my efforts on corporate contracts. I’m now working in Africa with financial institutions making a real impact. I am setting up my first MSK Franchise in Mozambique and translating all the content into Portuguese. I have a few new Corporate clients and briefs I’m working on and things are really starting to turn around again.
Again, in hindsight the failure was good for me. I grew so much as a person. I changed so many things about myself and my life and everything I do now is geared towards positivity and learning. I choose to spend time with myself daily. Even if its just 20 minutes of reading or yoga to keep myself in a positive state. When I’m in a positive state it does not matter what happens I’m ready to handle all situations because I’m in a state where I can cope with anything even failure. As a mom to 3 boys, one being 16, you can just imagine the situations I have to deal with. I choose to deal with their failures very differently to my own. I ask them things like, “So what is the lesson you learned from this experience?” ‘What could you do differently next time?’ “How did your behaviour and actions effect you and the people involved?’ I am teaching them to fail forward.
I failed forward on this one. I learnt so much and now I’m ready to fail again because I know I will whether it be personally, financially or in business I will fail forward. So, fail early, fail often and fail forward!
Kathryn Main is the CEO of Mainmultimedia and Money Savvy Kids. A long time entrepreneur in the advertising and marketing industries, Kathryn saw the importance of ensuring children grow up with sound money savvy skills that can only come from being financially literate. Read all about her journey in her book Raising Money Savvy Kids.