People who say there is no such thing as failure have never either truly failed at anything or had to declare bankruptcy. Failure is not simply a blessing in disguise, a shut door that simultaneously swings open to a new one of superior realm of reward — leading you to think “if only I had failed sooner!”.
New age pseudo philosophers and social media influencers urge us to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow – “phoenix rising from the ashes”.
Losing your finger or hand is an opportunity to learn to play the guitar a new and different way. That may be the case, but it makes the reality of your loss no less devastating.
Failure is real and it’s scary. For me, the failure of my restaurant business MissChu was a highly public and humiliatingly brutal end, signifying the collapse of all my hopes and dreams. It was a torrent of shame; the knots in my stomach, insomnia and depression are all too real and only half the battle. To deny that failure exists is like refusing to admit defeat after a walloping on the sporting field.
Failing in life is painful with real ramifications. When you’ve applied yourself and pursued a passion that did not work out, it’s soul-destroying. You feel a sense of futility about life, a destabilising loss of direction and diminished self-worth.
The process of bouncing back from a public failure is just as hard, if not more difficult, than failure itself.
Sometimes I feel like a one-hit wonder, so a comeback is really important to me. My brand represented so many things: it wasn’t just about good food fast at a low end price. It stood for refugees in Australia and female empowerment. MissChu was such a trailblazer in the fast food scene, and it fell over on a high. Everyone was ordering MissChu and then news spread like a virus that it had gone into voluntary administration, almost overnight! So what happened?
It came as a shock to me when I found out that I was going to be insolvent within a couple of months. The news was delivered by my general manager, who had been with me for less than two years. The man I had entrusted to look after my business affairs. I was overseas in Japan speaking to investors who wanted to open MissChu in Japan and Hawaii at the time. The news of insolvency was all too surreal.
I was an emotional wreck but kept it together somehow. I had to for my staff, my network, my brand. The safety of the brand was everything to me and I couldn’t believe what was unfolding. There were so many screaming matches between me and the people I had entrusted to look after my empire. Anger, loss, grieving, repeat. This went on for two years after administration.
It’s all in the past now. It happened and that’s that. The blame is all mine. The emotions still feel raw and real. It never really goes away. It comes and goes in waves. The brand and legacy live on. I don’t earn a cent from the creation I founded, and it hurts. It haunts me everyday.
I was successful in setting up a scaleable business; however I did not set up the business structure to protect my personal interests. I should have set this up from the start, not when the machine was running hot. But these are learned lessons.
To me, success means trying even if you fail. It’s more important to me to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. So although I’ve lost a great brand, one that I had created and left behind, I don’t feel so bad. It’s a bit like that motto, it’s better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.
Failure can recalibrate you. The more times one fails the more one becomes resistant and resilient to its side effects. What side effects, you ask? People’s view of you is the main one.
It’s definitely true that people would prefer to be associated with a successful and healthy person. I lost so many friends and acquaintances when I fell over. It was as if I had leprosy.
Society, especially Australia, does not celebrate failure. Although I don’t think that any society truly celebrates failure, some other places such as the US are not as critical or judgmental as Australians are towards failed concepts or businesses – or even relationship breakdowns for that matter.
We love and worship success and heroes. We turn a blind eye to failures.
The minute news came out of my new restaurant opening, people started to reconnect with me again. My inbox got busier again. It was a comeback on all levels.
The process of bouncing back brings up existential questions. The same questions I had before I started MissChu — who am I without my business? What is the purpose of life? Do I want to work just to pay the rent? Have I really bounced back? Will I fall over again? Will I care?
I still haven’t answered all of these, but I know one thing. Although my failure was not a “blessing in disguise”, it was an experience I learned and grew from. I’m ready to give it another go.
Nahji Chu is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 8.30pm on SBS, which looks at the concept of failure and bouncing back.