The well-known and well-loved Nelson Mandela spent years fighting apartheid and racial segregation in his country. His efforts landed him in prison where he would spend 27 years of his life. However, not even 27 years in prison could stop Mandela or his dream for equality. After his time in jail, Mandela would become the first black president in South Africa, fighting for the justice he sought.
Years after his death, people still revere Mandela as the humble revolutionary who changed a nation and changed the world. But why does Mandela’s story matter to you as an entrepreneur? Though Mandela was not an entrepreneur himself, the lessons one can learn from his experiences are exactly what every entrepreneur needs to know.
Many Circumstances are only Temporary
Mandela’s original prison sentence was for life. Gradually his circumstances changed. He moved from prison to prison and began meeting with government officials while still serving out his sentence until the day he was finally freed.
As an entrepreneur, you may feel trapped or stuck in a rut that never seems to end. But quite often, it does. You find that key investor, or you finally start seeing your efforts on social media paying off. A continuous decline in sales is interrupted by a positive quarter or greater customer retention. When the going gets tough, remember that it doesn’t always last forever.
We don’t all receive life sentences, but we do struggle through many long-lived, unfavorable circumstances. Those are the times to push through and cling onto hope until the end. Those are the times to show others what you’re made of.
Every Experience (Good and Bad) is an Opportunity to Learn
You may not spend decades in jail, but you will face setbacks in your business. That is a guarantee. You will fail from time to time. Yet each challenge and each failure is a chance for you to grow. You can either use that opportunity to your advantage, or let it slide and miss out on potential learning.
We see an “opportunity” as something that has a potential positive outcome. But opportunity defined is, “a good chance for advancement or progress.” If we looked at every situation as an opportunity, even outwardly negative experiences, then we suddenly would have many more chances for progress before us.
Mandela understood this truth. He once said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.” In every circumstance, Mandela could find greater understanding and another chance to do more, even when he supposedly “lost.”
Of this message, one CEO, Jim Schleckser said, “I believe there are some obvious lessons for entrepreneurs to be learned from Mr. Mandela’s mindset. When you’re running your business, you are constantly taking on those calculated risks–like opening a new market, or refinancing your debt, or even hiring on a new highly paid vice president.” In these situations, Schleckser learned that when you use even failures as opportunities for learning, that’s when you achieve greatness. He said, “The most successful organizations have learned that to thrive over the long run, they need to use failure as an opportunity to learn and to figure out how you can do better in the future. That's what continuous improvement is all about.”
What Matters is the Legacy you Leave
Entrepreneurs dream of building empires, of leaving lasting impressions and making their mark on the world. Mandela made quite a mark on the world, but he never tried to draw the attention to himself.
Selena Cuffe, a CEO who works closely with the Mandela family, noted the quiet yet powerful demeanor that always followed Mandela. She said, “This great man could have taken most of the credit for his accomplishments, but instead, he actively and consistently chose to stay humble. Rather than focus solely on himself, he actively encouraged his offspring to stay true to themselves and pursue their passions, as long as they did it in a way that honored their family and heritage.”
Honor and humility are not often the first traits that young entrepreneurs strive for. But they are of more worth than many others. By not being solely focused on greatness or ambition, Mandela became great. It seems like a paradox, that to become great you must first be modest and humble. Yet, Mandela showed us that this is what it takes to create a legacy that lives on. Not a focus on yourself, but on others.
The Outcome Doesn’t Amount to Everything
Looking towards an end goal isn’t a bad quality to possess. Doing so can focus your efforts on what will help you achieve your vision. However, obsessing too much on the outcome may keep you from seeing the good around you.
Another CEO, Pedro De Abreu, said, “The worst cases of depression that I see in entrepreneurs take place in the lives of those who think that they will only be happy when they make their first million, when they get funded, or when they achieve some sort of financial success. When those outcomes finally take place in their lives, they quickly realize that money in itself isn’t everything.”
Another powerful quote from Mandela speaks to those who find themselves discouraged because they have not yet reached what they hope to achieve. He said, “If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.”
Why would Mandela say that? Why would he live through brutal beatings, social oppression and imprisonment again? Because the journey is worth more than the destination, it’s about the journey itself.
Once you begin to realize this, running an online business becomes not so much a risk as it is an adventure. You will be able to think positively through challenges and use them to your betterment. You, like Mandela, will leave a legacy, not by focusing on your financial success, but by focusing on the people you are leaving that legacy for.
What will your story be?