Overcoming Setbacks and Failure

14 Feb
Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl rose from the ashes of Nirvana, achieving his own success

If you’re like most people, setbacks and failure can rock your world and sometimes permanently. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you are more resilient but still susceptible to quitting. But if you’re like successful entrepreneurs, you simply don’t give up. Notice I didn’t write “most” successful entrepreneurs—because successful ones are partially differentiated by the fact that they just don’t throw in the towel. Now, they may quit a project, quit developing a product or service, quit pursuing an idea, and quit many things, but they never give up their quest for entrepreneurial success in some way. In fact, as Seth Godin points out in The Dip, successful entrepreneurs (and successful people in general) quit often; the key, however, is they know when exactly to quit and shift their resources elsewhere. It’s a fine line, balancing dogged determination with flexibility.

Rock stars arguably encounter more severe setbacks than most entrepreneurs. I say this because they have, as an industry, a disproportionate number of unexpected deaths—the ultimate setback—to contend with. When was the last time you heard of an entrepreneur dying of an overdose, throwing the entire company into potential chaos? Even Steve Jobs’ death, as striking as it was, was somewhat anticipated, at least within his inner circle. And Jobs left Apple with a plan for continuity after his passing. I’m guessing Jim Morrison didn’t do that.

This all comes to my mind in the wake of Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters winning their Grammy this week. There are many debates about the Grammys—that they are highly political, that they aren’t a fair measure of artistry and significant contribution to music. But it still remains true that you don’t win a Grammy if you aren’t successful in some way. And so it is with Grohl and Foo.

It’s almost hard to remember that Foo Fighters rose from the ashes of Nirvana, and if you’re under 25 this isn’t even part of your memory. But imagine what it must’ve been like for Dave Grohl on that fateful day in April of 1994. Of course, the overwhelming tragedy was the loss of his bandmate and friend Kurt Cobain. But swirling in that personal loss was also the loss of Nirvana. Few bands have lost such a major member at the peak of the band’s stardom. And more important, it was truly impossible for Nirvana to carry on; there simply could be no Nirvana without Cobain.

Dave Grohl epitomizes the intrepid spirit of all successful entrepreneurs. He quit (Nirvana) but didn’t quit (his pursuit of greater success). Do you know when to quit but not quit?

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