What would happen if your business failed?

Imagine the crushing debt. The disappointed faces of your spouse, children, other family members, and friends. The hurt and fear your employees feel when you tell them they've been let go. The humiliation of telling everyone you know that your business is shutting down.

And then there's that nagging thought you'd never be able to shake off: "I'm a failure."

I know what it's like, because I've been there.

When my first startup failed, I was $250,000 in debt. I had to fire all of my employees. Eventually, my fiance left me.

But looking back, I've realized that failure also propelled me towards the multiple seven-figure business I've since built. It may sound counter-intuitive, but there are many ways failure can help you succeed.

1. Failure shows you what doesn't work.

All of business--and life--is an experiment. Sure, you can look at what's always worked and what's worked for others, but in the end, you won't know until you try. Failure tells you what doesn't work, so you can pivot and find what does work, faster.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison

2. Failure reveals your strength, resilience, and courage.

When you fail, especially when you fail massively, you're forced to dig deep and unearth strengths you never knew existed. You don't even have to make a conscious effort to do this. As long as you wake up every day after a failure, you'll have to draw on all your resources just to put one foot in front of another. Once known, this fortitude can be harnessed again and again. Once you've survived massive failure, you're assured of your ability to handle any adversity.

"Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." Helen Keller

3. Failure shows you who your real family and friends are.

When you're down for the count and have nothing to offer anyone, that's a true test of just how much your family and friends love you. You'll be surprised how fast some of them disappear from your life. It hurts, but eventually you'll realize that it's a valuable piece of knowledge. The ones who stick with you through the worst times are the ones most worthy of your loyalty and love.

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. Failure makes you more approachable and compassionate.

There's nothing like falling flat on your face for teaching you humility. You'll realize you're not such a big shot, after all. When you're done feeling sorry for yourself and wallowing in your despair, you'll have something in common with the rest of humankind. You'll be better able to empathize with and help those who are going through a rough patch.

"Grief can be the garden of compassion.... Your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom." Rumi

5. Failure makes you hungrier.

When everything's going great, it's easy to rest on your laurels and become complacent. Your drive becomes like an unused muscle, flaccid and weak. But when you fail, you can't afford to be weak. You still have bills to pay and a family (or at the very least, yourself) to feed. And you have to redeem yourself! All this creates a hunger that will drive you to succeed like nothing else can.

"Stay hungry, stay foolish." Steve Jobs

I'm not saying you should try things haphazardly and set yourself up to fail. Knowing failure can catapult you to success doesn't make it any easier or more attractive.

It still sucks. It's still hard.

But you don't have to run away from failure, or let the fear of failure stop you from trying.

When you do fail--and you will--don't be ashamed. Squeeze as much value as you can out of it.

Learn.

Get better.

Grow stronger.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Failure is failure only if it happens in the last chapter. Otherwise, it's a plot twist.

Published on: Aug 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.