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Commentary: The Business

How Failure Leads to Growth

If you don’t try, nothing will change, says growth expert Elle Hill.

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WHY ISN’T SHE breathing?” my mom asked the doctor, her eyes darting back and forth between the syringe and me. An injection and a few moments later, my breathing returned to normal, but my childhood never did. Instead, I began my carefully curated asthma life.

Everything I was allowed to do was designed to avoid the risk of failing. I was swaddled tight and never allowed to push beyond what we knew I could safely do.

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After university, I sat in my first apartment in New York City and made a decision that changed everything: I would run the New York City Marathon.

I’d go out every night after work, in the yellow light of the street lamps, armed with my inhaler and my steroid pills. And I would run. I would run until I heard the first wheeze. And continue until my breath became too shallow and I couldn’t run anymore.

That first night, I ran for four minutes. I stopped. I took my inhaler. I walked back home.

I had an ache in the pit of my chest, not from the wheezing, but from the fear of failure: I might do this night after night, and still not be able to run. I had never done anything I wasn’t sure I could do before. But if I didn’t try, nothing would change.

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So, I repeated this for three weeks until I could run for 10 minutes. And five more weeks until I doubled that. In November of 1999, five months later, I ran the New York City Marathon in four hours and 35 minutes.

What I learned is how important failure is. It’s not a byproduct of success — it is the road to success. If you never fail, you’re playing it too safe. If you only act when you know you will succeed, you will never learn something new or reach your potential.

In the years after my marathon finish, I have had a new philosophy: I choose what I do next based on what intimidates me most. It’s why I started my own jewelry store, discovered it was a bad business model, and overhauled it. Each painful failure was a hard-won lesson that made me better, smarter, faster. And ultimately, I brought my company public in a $10 million IPO in less than five years.

Taking a leap when you can’t guarantee success is exactly what you must do to learn, to grow.

To succeed, you must first aim to fail.

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Elle Hill is an award-winning entrepreneur and CEO of Hill & Co. Fine Jewelry Launch & Growth Experts. Reach her at [email protected]

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