Rukky Ladoja: We need to talk about failure (30 Days, 30 Days)

“The main reason why youth development is so slow is that no one talks to them about failure…No one tells them to expect it as one of the steps to success…  Failure is just another step to success provided you don’t let it define you”

Earlier this month, I gate crashed the annual Mo Ibrahim Africa 2.0 conference in Dakar.  This year’s main subject, youth development, is one that’s dear to my heart and- if I might be so bold-my age.

Free buffet and coffee refills aside, the conference shone new light on several youth related issues. One of the more practical suggestions that have since stuck with me from a round table discussion about entrepreneurship is the idea of discussing failure.

“The main reason why youth development is so slow is that no one talks to them about failure…No one tells them to expect it as one of the steps to success…  Failure is just another step to success provided you don’t let it define you”

I found myself nodding along a little too enthusiastically.

As young people a.k.a “generation Y”, there’s a lot riding against us. Countless studies have predicted us as being destined to fail.  In response, we’ve decided to fight as hard as possible to prove them wrong. So, where our parents had three careers in the course of their lifetime, our generation have three at the same time. That Airtel ad that says being a millionaire at 29 is five years too late? It’s what we’re all thinking. No one wants to let the side down.

Unfortunately, this has meant that when it comes to entrepreneurial failure, Pinocchio’s nose keeps getting longer. We all want to have amazing, awe-inspiring answers when someone asks what we do for a living. So we either fake it to make it, or bow under pressure.  No one wants to be seen as a failure. And with good reason. Except your name is Steve Jobs, Failure is nothing to be celebrated.

It should however, be acknowledged. We really need to talk about failure openly before it tears us to pieces. Many of us will suffer several defeats in the course of our lives. Whether its personal, social, moral or professional, shit always happens. Our failures will be larger and occur more frequently due in part to the technological advantages we’ve grown up with and also because well, this is Nigeria. We need to accept that.

As though that’s not hard enough, the truth is entrepreneurship is a risky game of perseverance. The chances are you will fail seven out of eight times. It becomes important not to play the blame game but identify the problem and then try again. I don’t know what eventually turns it around, but I know the first step to achieving any success is recognizing the mistakes we made.

Personally and as a budding entrepreneur, when asked these days,  “how’s your business doing? I know that the standard answer should be “Fine! Great! We thank God!”  Over the last few weeks, I’ve stopped saying that.

If I’ve had a bad day, I try to tell the truth. Without self-pity or shame “It is not all fine. It’s hard, it’s painful and it’s kicking my butt”.

Of course this honesty is not always met with positive responses. There’s the risk that I’m cutting off a potential client or investor. Everyone wants to be associated with success. The other eighty percent of the time however, the reaction is not damaging. People are always willing to offer suggestions; some helpful and some just outright bragging about their own success.

But help is help. Just talking about that weight of failure is therapeutic. It helps you see clearly, make better decisions and most importantly stops you from beating yourself up.

So talk about failure. I’m not telling you to gather round singing kumbaya and making excuses. I’m asking you to get it off your chest.  A brief chat will do.  Talk about how you messed up on that project: analyse why you didn’t sing your best on that record. Do your best to understand why people are not warming up to you or your product and ask for help. Don’t let one failure define the rest of your career. Do your best to grow from it.

Plus, who knows, somewhere along the way, your story might inspire someone else.


30 Days 30 Voices series is an opportunity for young Nigerians to share their stories and experiences with other young Nigerians, within our borders and beyond, to inspire and motivate them.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (5)

  1. True. There are lessons failure teaches that success does not.

    And it is important to prepare for success and expect set backs (failures) along the way.

    Hmm, and you included the Nigerian factor. That's good, not denying the truth. It's not a limiting factor though.

    Great piece! Inspiring!

  2. Beautiful piece. Well done.

  3. I like your thoughts fellow. The best way to approach it is to…expect it and never make the same mistake twice

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail