Dan Clements offers practitioners steps to move their business forward in the new year.

By Dan Clements

I’m blessed with the opportunity to speak to many practitioners—on the phone, online, and on the stage.

As simple as it may sound, what differentiates those who make it from those who don’t is often the simple act of showing up. Not in the physical sense of arriving, but in doing the daily things that stack up over time to create a successful practice.

It seems in large part that successful practitioners do. And others don’t.

The crazy part is that most of the do’s are so small. They’re tiny actions like writing a few words. Making a decision. Dedicating a few minutes each morning to a project. Making a phone call.

But we’ve all been in that place where the do’s don’t happen. Why? What is it that brings us to such a full stop that an entire day—or much longer—can go by and we haven’t moved things forward an inch?

In countless conversations with practitioners over years, one thing has stood out: people are paralyzed by the fear that what they do will fail.

The fear is understandable—it’s been trained into us. Failure gets a bad rap in our culture. The word itself is packed with association, none of it good. We have failed businesses. Failed relationships. Failed job searches. Each failure is a disaster, a sure sign that we don’t have what it takes to make it.

And gradually that definition bleeds into the small things, too. We’re increasingly afraid to make ever-smaller mistakes. Waiting for the time when everything is perfect. When the risk is zero.

It’s time to change that.

Reclaiming Failure

Here’s the truth: failure is at the heart of almost every success.

You don’t have to look further than the closest toddler to see the principle at work. Children learn to walk by failing. Walking for them is not one seamless success, but a sequence of falls, stumbles and spills—a never-ending stream of failures, each of which points the way to a new direction, a new strategy.

For children, failure isn’t something to be avoided. It’s something to be pursued. So why do we let the world beat that out of us adults? Why don’t we embrace failure in practice with the same energy we did when learning to walk?

There is, after all, remarkably little to be afraid of. The stakes of growing your practice are low. How much does it really cost to write an article? Set up a blog, or a Facebook page? What’s your investment in giving a talk? What’s at risk when you decide to pay a visit to another practitioner, or meet for lunch? Not much. Just your ego, and that, I’m afraid, doesn’t get to count.

What, really, do you have to lose? We’re not running Superbowl ads. The cost of your next failure is far lower than the cost of not trying. You’re simply banging your toddler head on the coffee table of life. That’s it. You pull yourself up a moment later, and you keep going. One day you walk, the next you run. Then you wake up one day and wonder why it was ever hard at all.

If you can embrace this idea, then it’s worth considering that, like a toddler learning to walk, there are a certain number of bumps and spills to get through in growing your practice before you get it right. Doesn’t it make sense to get them over with as quickly as you can? To fail as fast as possible when the stakes are so low?

Give the talk. Make the call. Write the article. Knock on the door. Take the requisite falls, and stand up a little bit stronger each time.

It’s time to reclaim failure in your practice. To decide that that failure isn’t the moment when you stray from the path to success, but the moment when you know for sure that you just took one step closer.

Here’s to all the tiny failures you can muster up next year. Have a great 2011.

Dan Clements is the author of The Practitioner’s Journey, a practice growth guide for alternative and integrative health professionals.