What can losing teach you about winning in business?

Sarah Dowzell

Written by Natural HR Founder, Sarah Dowzell

Last month was my first venture into the world of business awards. I had entered the West Midlands Tech Awards in the Woman in Tech category.

On entry, I was realistic: this was my first awards entry and I was sure of other great competitors. But then I was shortlisted to the final three. Prior to the shortlisting I had no ambitions but the competitive streak, present in many entrepreneurs, soon began entertaining the idea of winning.

Regardless of any rational reasoning my ambitious brain remained hopeful right up until the name of another brilliant and talented woman was read out.

My heart genuinely sank. I wanted in that moment to feel pleased for the winner, but instead I felt like I’d lost. I felt like I’d failed. That reaction and how I disliked feeling that way has I’m sure been responsible for many of my business successes. However, that sinking feeling got me thinking more broadly about what it means to win at business and whether as entrepreneurs and business owners we’re honest about our real journey’s ‘to the top’.

Resilience is key

Whilst I’m sure many of my male counterparts also require levels of affirmation and validation in their working world, it is shown in many studies that women often seek this more.

I know personally throughout my career, I’ve felt a sense that I need to prove my worth in the working world and have pushed myself to be increasingly more qualified and to seek out more experience and further enriching opportunities so people can see, whether that be by certificates or letters next to my name, that I deserve to be where I am.

The difficulty comes when affirmation isn’t given or when an exam isn’t passed or a business decision doesn’t go quite as you want it. I’m lucky (and have worked very hard and spent a lot of time considering options) that I haven’t had to face any significant ‘failures’ but know there are many brilliant entrepreneurs and business people who have and have since used those as learning opportunities and grown from them. This resilience and the ability to self-affirm is key to success but I wonder how many people are open about their failures and how that made them feel.

Instagram ‘business lives’ are not reality

This leads on from the last point, if as business leaders and entrepreneurs we are not honest about our journeys, then are we doing a disservice to those venturing into this world? Are we perhaps making it all look too easy?

Having been told I was a ‘role model and an inspiring strong woman’ by my 13 year old cousin who follows me on Instagram over the festive period, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps my social media did not fully represent the life of a business owner.

Don’t get me wrong I love what I do and I am incredibly proud of the business I have (on good days I also believe I’m a strong woman!), but do the glamourous dresses of award ceremonies, canapes and drinks at networking events, features in magazines and ‘good-news’ only shown on my social media really represent the journey I’ve taken to get here? Winning at business is not presenting a ‘success only’ front, particularly if you’re a figure who others look to. For me winning in business in 2019 will be about sharing my real journey and I hope from that I can still inspire, many other young women to consider this path and leadership more broadly but not under false pretences or in a way that would make any of their ‘downs’ seem like the end of the world; or at least the end of their shot at being a successful business owner/leader/entrepreneur.

The entrepreneurial streak takes you high but can leave you low

What makes me successful as a businesswoman, is the very same set of traits that make any lows very low. I am a highly self-critical individual and one who is unrelentingly competitive. I hold myself to very high standards of work – as well as doing the same for the service I want my business, Natural HR, to offer.

This driven mentality makes me who I am and has made me successful but it was also the reason my stomach sank and why I walked away from my first award ceremony feeling totally dejected. A month or so on and my rational brain has returned. I see now that it wasn’t a failing. It was an achievement to be shortlisted among that small group of exceptional women.

Winning in business should be about being able to see the wins when they are there and celebrate those, despite what your gut might tell you in the immediacy of that moment. Of course, I’ll strive to win an award, but I’ll also make public if I don’t and appreciate the opportunities the experience provided me with.