Too often, famous entrepreneurs take on a public persona of nonstop wins. Whenever they make appearances on social media and television interviews, they paint a picture of overnight success. But if you focus on the most successful business owners of all time, there’s much more depth to their stories. 

For example, Shark Tank star Daymond John admitted in a Fox Business interview his biggest mistake was not developing financial skills at a young age.  “Whether you’re running a corporation or balancing a checkbook at home you need financial intelligence,” says the FUBU founder. 

Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx told CNBC she failed the LSAT twice before becoming an entrepreneur. 

When it comes to admitting failures, Richard Branson definitely doesn’t hold back. From a flock of birds damaging one of his first Virgin Atlantic airplanes to launching a car company that never made it to market, he is quick to share the numerous pitfalls throughout his journey. 

But at the end of the day, Branson, along with John and Blakely, is still categorized as some of the most successful business founders of our time. Their biographies are proof that failure should never define you. Instead they are the absolute best source for lessons in smarter leadership and management. Here are the top things to keep in mind when you are in fear of failing, and ways to use failure as a fuel for even greater success:

  1. Failure comes with leaving your comfort zone. If you’re not failing then you’re probably stuck in a place where you’re not challenging yourself. But playing it safe for too long can get stuck in a creative rut, or lead you to neglect greater opportunities to grow or innovate. 
  2. Condition yourself to fail. Many of us think of failure as one grand downfall. But we actually commit little acts of failure everyday. Recognize the little mistakes we make day-to-day; and instead of brushing them under the rug or shrugging them off, acknowledge them and take note of them. Log it in your journal or talk it over with a business partner. Acknowledging little failures and learning from them each day will make you realize you can navigate negative situations, and toughen you up along the way. 
  3. Anticipate failure. If you’re going out on a limb to start your own business, mistakes big and small are bound to happen. When writing a business plan or launching a new project, create a separate page where you list out potential obstacles or worst-case scenarios, then come up with backup plans and resources to ensure you can get through them all. 
  4. Innovate in the face of failure. But no matter how many safety nets you build for your business, there will be unforeseen catastrophes and forces beyond your control that can come your way. Covid-19 is perhaps the strongest example of this, as it impacted businesses big and small around the world. While many unfortunately did not survive the pandemic, some business owners used the time to get innovative and discover new pathways to survival, and even growth. Some, for instance, leaned on delivery businesses, or sold a new product line to cater to the times. The lesson here is to use challenging periods to get innovative and creative. 
  5. Be strategic, not reactive. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. During times of chaos it’s important to develop a strategy, garner advice from the right experts and confront problems as a brave business leader. 
  6. Don’t underestimate self-care for startup founders. Working through precarious situations may make us shift into hustle mode, or work late hours in hopes of finding a solution. But this is when tending to mental and emotional health is most important for entrepreneurs. Many emphasize the importance of exercise, therapy and meditation to reset the mind and steer through difficulties. 
  7. Embrace failure. Many of us are not conditioned to toughen up during hard times. Whether it is a new competitor in your field, or a scathing online review, or a partnership gone wrong, learn that you can persevere and manage through each scenario. Remind yourself that each problem that comes your way is a test and an opportunity to develop new skills, better leadership, and more grit, which is arguably the most important trait shared among John, Blakely, Branson and other superstar entrepreneurs we hope to emulate.