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How Setbacks Set You Up To be an Entrepreneur

Happy New Year! Let's get rolling...

As we all know by now, life is full of setbacks. Typically, though, setbacks are essential to learning lessons and becoming a stronger and more resilient person. Just like they say winter isn't for the weak, neither is becoming an entrepreneur. 

Nothing comes easy, especially starting a business. There are ups & downs. There are mornings full of dread. There are days filled with self-doubt. The ebbs and flows of taking a path of greater resistance are not made for the weak, that's for sure. It's tough, and sometimes I want to throw in the towel and find an easier path, but I know deep down that I need to keep moving forward, step-by-step, day-by-day. 

What I've been finding in my moments of doubt, is that I think back to professional experiences that have made me stronger, made me ready to face the challenges with owning a business. What were seen as setbacks or learning lessons at the time, now make me more ready. There's no room for sweating the small stuff, having business naivety, or taking things personally.  

We all have setbacks. You didn't get hired after the 3rd round of interviews. You had a negative performance review. You didn't get the bonus you deserved. You failed to close a sale. It happens to us all. At the time it feels really shitty, but when you look back you can see how much strength you gained from feeling beneath yourself. With setbacks come experience; especially the experience to handle any business or personal challenge with greater resilience. 

So how do professional setbacks set us up to be great entrepreneurs? 

1.  Being betrayed in business will force you to proceed with caution. 

When I was a yoga teacher I was burnt by a guy who owned a yoga studio in Chicago: I wasn't paid for a certain amount of classes I taught. It turned out that he didn't pay most of his teachers and there was a case against him in the city. Not only did he deny all of our pay, he would continually hire teachers, pay them a little, and then push them to quit when they didn't receive all of their money. He had a cycle of turning teachers over - and was scamming all of us. He was super shady; a few of us even went down to City Hall for a hearing with him after we filed labor complaints but he didn't show up or pick up his phone.  He proceeded to send us all creepy emails threatening us with his lawyer and to post our yoga pictures without our consent. It really got me down at the time. It wasn't necessarily about the money, but I felt completely betrayed and shocked that a person could own a business legally, betray his staff, and still stay in business. I even heard he was planning on opening other studios in cities around the country because people were starting to figure him out in Chicago. He was a total lunatic!

At the time I was in shock, especially because I assumed that people behaved with integrity and honesty in the yoga community, but yoga does not weed out the deceitful or insincere. It was a complete breach of a sacred contract. I think getting burnt in the yoga community helped me realized that dishonorable behavior could happen at any time, in any industry, ESPECIALLY if it happens in yoga. This experience teaches us to be careful in business, proceed with caution, and protect yourself and your image. There are total wackos out there, and unfortunately they can't always be stopped by local governments. Always be on guard - whether in yoga, finance, real estate, or photography. Get references, contracts, and payments up front. 

2. Unless you get a signature on the dotted line, it's not a sale.

There wasn't a single incident in this case, but working sales at Equinox taught me this very simple, but powerful fact: you do not have a sale until you collect payment. This is priceless knowledge for any business owner. The skills I gained from being in sales were extremely invaluable for being an entrepreneur - from anything from marketing yourself, getting creative in sales, and building your network of contacts. 

There were many instances when I thought I had a sale, but it did not come through - it took me leaving 5 voicemails and sending 7 emails to figure it out  - but even if someone says they will buy (your service, product, etc.), action speaks louder (and pays) than words. Even if a client or prospect says they will do xyz, get confirmation via payment. Don't get too confident or excited until this is confirmed. Stay humble and hungry. I would recommend anyone who wants to start a business to get experience in sales; it's critical that you can sell your self/skills/product because your business depends on it. 

3. Not everyone will like you or want your service, and that's okay. 

I have been taken off a yoga schedule without notice, passed up on a project, I have been told my sales style is "too aggressive", and people have passed over my services for photography. And that's okay. Not everyone will like my style or my purpose for being in business - but there will be plenty of people who do, others will fall off, and the ones that connect with me will follow and use my services. 

That's what is beautiful about business and entrepreneurship. Most of us spent years being told what to do and how to do it in order to please customers and clients; now, we can design businesses that are truly authentic to us. 

Shit doesn't always work out and many times you won't get the deal or sale. That's part of sales and being a business owner. 

4. Take charge, be curious, and ask as many questions as possible. 

At one of my performance reviews I was told that I ask too many questions and want to know too much for my level - that I didn't always need to know what was going on. It was at that point that I knew that company was not a good fit for me. Lack of transparency? Hierarchical? Criticizing me for wanting to know what was going on? When your employer tells you that you ask too many questions or "want to know" too much, it's probably a good sign that you are meant for something bigger. 


When you own a business you must be curious, creative, ask questions, and know everything that is going on. You must be "in the know" at all times. Thinking back to this "setback" makes me even more confident in where I am right now. 

What are some setbacks you have encountered? What did you learn and how will they help you be a better business owner?  Leave your answers in the comments! 

Be well,