Where I Live, Entrepreneurs Are Afraid To Talk About Failure -- And It's Hurting Their Businesses

'Fail fast' may be a Silicon Valley motto, but that's not the case across Africa. Here, failure is often stigmatized. And yet, not talking about it is leading to even bigger failures.
Lesley Donna Williams in Johannesburg, near her Impact Hub business incubator. Source: Alissa Everett

Lesley Donna Williams saw the bus only a second before it made impact. She was driving fast across Johannesburg, South Africa, trying to make it to an important meeting, when she turned at an intersection without checking for oncoming traffic. The bus T-boned her. Williams was whipped around like a rag doll. The car was totaled.

That’s when she did what she describes as “the most ridiculous thing.” She got out of the car, surveyed the damage, called the cops, called insurance and went to the meeting.

These were stressful times at Williams’ company, the Johannesburg arm of Impact Hub, a global network of business incubators and co-working spaces. She was pulling 16-hour days and feeling alone and adrift in a sea of risk. She barely saw her family. Friends had stopped calling. She felt sickly all the time. Her doctor told her that her immune system was compromised. She ignored him.

Related: The Key to Work-Life Balance? Integration of Those 2 Concepts.

“I was so disconnected from my need for self-care that I wouldn’t acknowledge that I was just in a bad car accident and that I should take the afternoon off,” she says. “Or at least cancel my meeting. It didn’t even occur to me that it was an option.”

Every entrepreneur has been there at some point. Limits are pushed, and personal well-being is ignored in favor of serving the endless needs of the business. “Entrepreneurship is traumatic and a very intense experience, and I think every entrepreneur goes through more or less the same thing,” says Raphael Afaedor, co-founder and CEO of the grocery delivery company in Lagos, Nigeria. But it would take years for Williams to understand

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