This past Sunday, the great golfer Tiger Woods gave entrepreneurs and small business owners an important lesson: no matter how hard you fall, how much you fail, you can come back.

Woods has had more than his share of problems, humiliation, and, let’s face it, plain bad judgment. But on Sunday at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Woods offered a ray of hope and inspiration for all of us who’ve ever suffered the pain of failure.  Woods won his first championship after more than five years without a victory and with immense struggles. He has now won 80 major tournaments.

In the late 1990’s to mid 2000’s, Tiger Woods was the undisputed dominant master of golf. He was the number one ranked player in the world for more than five consecutive years, won the second highest number of PGA tournaments ever, and excited the golf world like no one before him.

But by 2009, everything hit the fan. He had high-profile marital problems, and thereafter a DUI, an arrest for reckless driving, and lost most of his highly-lucrative sponsorships. Then came serious physical injuries, leading to four back surgeries. His world had come crashing down.

If you own a small business, sooner or later, you’re going to face failure—of a project, a new product, a partnership, even the business itself. It will feel as if your world is crashing down too.

You don’t have to fail as spectacularly as Tiger Woods to feel like you’re a complete failure. You don’t have to have everyone know that you’ve failed to lose faith in yourself. Just having a few family members or friends or employees know you didn’t succeed can make you feel like your whole world has fallen apart.

Well, I’ve got good news. Regardless of your failure, of your setbacks, like Tiger Woods, you can stage a comeback in your small business or with your new startup. Like the ads from consulting firm Accenture used to say, you can “Be a Tiger.”

Take some lessons from Tiger Woods’ comeback to see what helped him recover and re-enter the winner’s circle:
  • Keep trying. Woods’ failures were front page news, but he didn’t let his humiliation or failures stop him.
  • Never believe you’re too old. Woods, at 42, may not seem old in entrepreneurship circles, but for an athlete, especially one with so many physical problems, 42 is a senior citizen. Last year’s winner of this tournament, for example, was 24.
  • Keep learning. “The game has changed, the body has changed,” said Woods about some of the work he needed to do to compete successfully. “Trying to get used to the equipment and changing equipment because my swing is changing because my body is changing. It’s been quite a year.”
  • Be humble. Woods’ demeanor shows he has been humbled by his setbacks. He was more engaged with the crowds watching the tournament. And in previous years, when he wasn’t ready to return, he acknowledged his shortcomings. “I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA TOUR… my game is … not where it needs to be. It’s not up to my standards, and I don’t think it would be up to yours.”
  • Be grateful. “Just the fact that I’m playing the tour again, just for me to be able to have this opportunity again, it’s a dream come true,” Woods said, acknowledging the pain and suffering he had endured.

Woods needed to learn how to lose to be able to win again. He had always been so talented, so dominant, that winning seemed easy. He had to start from scratch once again, work as hard—if not harder—than when he was just starting out. He needed to get humble.

If you run a successful company, it’s easy to get complacent, like Woods. Successful businesses often get in a rut, and eventually, they start losing, too. You often need setbacks to start innovating.

No less an entrepreneur than Apple-founder Steve Jobs echoed that sentiment. “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” said Jobs. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”


Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2018

This article originally ran in USA Today on September 26, 2018