The Success of Failure

This is one of many posts that have been sitting unfinished in my Drafts folder for months but I was inspired Monday night by a great presentation from Peter Flaschner on the power of Passion.

I had the opportunity on Monday night to attend a great series of presentations at Refresh Events here in Toronto.  The main presentation was on Passion and how we need to embrace and nurture our passions to achieve greatness. While I do have a draft post about Passion, that’s not the focus of this post. (I’ll procrastinate on that one for another day)

Have you ever failed at something? Was it a small failure or a Huge Gigantic failure for all to see?

Failure can be an embarrassing and humiliating thing. It can cause humiliation and anxiety which can have detrimental effects on ones health. These effects fall under my categorization of bad things.  There is another side to all this failure that falls under the category of good things.

While our initial response to failure is a universal desire that a hole would open up in the floor and take us away from the situation, the real benefit from failure is embracing it and feeling the moment and making the failure a positive and great learning experience.

When you fail, it’s not necessarily about you.  It is often not a personal thing and has no bearing on you as a person so it’s important to not take failures personally. There are always exceptions and you will have to be the judge of when a failure may be personal and figure out the lesson you need to take away from it.

What is failure anyway, why do we fail? Many times, failure is a result of pushing the envelope. I watched a video produced by Honda where Indy car driver Danica Patrick explained how as a race car driver, she is trained to bump up against the outer limits of her comfort zone on a consistent basis to expand her ability to succeed.  Sometimes this can result in spectacular failure for all to see but without that push to achieve greatness, she would not be able to win Indy car races.  This is especially significant because she is a Woman competing in a sport that has been dominated by Men for as long as automobile racing has been around and has had to work harder to earn the respect of her fellow drivers.  It has paid off.

Failure is not a bad thing as long as you learn from it.  Albert Einstein said “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you fail at something, be sure to learn from the failure so that you can try again and do it differently.  A fantastic example of this lesson comes from Thomas Edison who, when asked about failing so many times in his pursuit of a better filament for the light bulb said “I have not failed 10 000 times. I have successfully found 10 000 ways that will not work” (accounts of this statement vary but the general message is the same)

When we fail, it is in our best interest to examine the failure and determine the cause of the failure and learn to not make the same mistake again. True greatness comes from people who take the risks and take the chances that no one else has the courage to take.  When combined with personal belief and passion it can be an empowering and powerful thing.  I can’t think of a more appropriate example of this than Walt Disney.  When Walt had his idea for a theme park, he went looking for financing.  He approached the banks, which were all independent at the time, for money. Walt Disney was ridiculed.  The banks told him he was crazy but he had a vision.  He was persistent. He learned what resonated with the bankers and what didn’t. He would not take no for an answer.  Walt Disney was turned down 302 times and went bankrupt 5 times before he was able to convince a bank to lend him the money for Disney world.  He didn’t let small failures stand in his way. (accounts of this story vary but the general message is the same)  Today, Disney is a multinational corporation which generates more than 30 billion in revenue annually.

The other thing to remember is that you are the determining factor in your own success and that nobody can tell you that you are a failure with any authority unless you give them that power.  Some of the most successful people were branded failures by people in positions of authority at one point in their lives.

  • Albert Einstien – didn’t speak until he was 4 years old, never graduated from high school and failed his college entrance exam
  • Beethoven – His music teacher said “As a composer, he’s hopeless”
  • Isaac Newton – Was considered ‘unpromising’ by his teachers
  • Thomas Edison – Was called ‘stupid’ and ‘addled’  by his elementary school teacher
  • F.W. Woolworth – was told by an employer that he “didn’t have the sense to close a sale”
  • Michael Jordan – was cut from his sophomore basketball team
  • Walt Disney – was fired from a newspaper job because he “didn’t have any creative ideas”
  • Winston Churchill – failed grade 6
  • Babe Ruth – struck out at bat over 1300 times
  • Soichiro Honda – was rejected for a job as an engineer at Toyota after WWII

It would have been easy for these amazing people to wallow in their failures, surrender their power and go on to achieve nothing more than mediocrity but they took these events that would be seen as failures by most of us and used them as a catalyst to strive for great success.

The real lesson here is that every failure is an opportunity to grow and learn and try again.

If you have not failed, you have not explored your boundaries to find your limits.
If you have not failed, you have not grown.
If you have not failed, you have not lived.

Failure is a fact of life and true living involves risk.

Here is a great video produced by Honda on Failure and Success.  I hope it inspires you to reach beyond your boundaries and fail so you can grow to achieve greatness.

So what are you going to succeed at tomorrow?

Just a note on overcoming failure.  We are all different and overcoing failure may not be as simple as ‘just get over it and move on’. Sometimes failure can lead to depression which is a very real medical condition.  If you feel that you fall into this category, there is help available that may involve medicaton or psychological assistance.  Speak to your Doctor.


Freedom Boxes

Do you know anyone who is the proud owner of some shiny new Freedom Boxes?

There is no easy way to prepare for being laid off.

It just happens and all of a sudden you are without work.  Sure, they try to make it better for you by saying things like “It’s nothing personal, we had to make some tough decisions.”

It starts with a simple “can you come into my office?” and there is someone in there that you have never met looking a little too comforting. “Please close the door, Have a seat” then the rest goes by in the blink of an eye.  BLAM! Blindsided.  You have been voted off the island and before you know it you are back at your desk with your new ‘Friend’ from the HR services company who is giving you your Freedom Boxes to pack up your stuff.

This has been happening around our offices over the past couple of weeks and there have been a lot of people laid off. In our department alone, of about 60, we lost 8 ppl.  The morning it happened, we could tell who had been affected because there were 2 neatly stacked Freedom Boxes at their desks.  Kindly placed there by the HR consultancy people who are managing the whole process.

It is a horrible thing to have happen and to see happen.  It’s kind of like the death march when your co-workers are summarily walked out of the building after they have been given an opportunity to pack their new Freedom Boxes.  It is rather embarrassing for all concerned.   Especially for the person who has been let go.

It would be very easy to wallow in self pity for the next few days, weeks, months… but the reality is that if this has happened to you, then you have been given a chance to start fresh.  This is your opportunity. It is not often in life that you have an opportunity to have enough money to live on for a number of months with no specific work obligation while you explore the opportunites that you have been ignoring for so long.

While this is of little solace to those of you still in the self pity phase, take solace that in these unfortunate times you are not alone and the social stigma of losing your job is not as significant as it would be if financial times were all bread and roses.  There are people you know who are in the same boat as you.  People you know directly, people you know through friends, through friends of friends, etc…   The point is that you are not alone.  If you sit in your pity pool too long then you will be alone because all your friends will be out looking for new opportunities.

“What do I do?” you ask.  Well, I put it to you, What would you do if you had no obstacles?  You are in an obstacle free zone right now.  Take advantage of it.  This does not give you the opportunity to take a vacation.  It does not give you the opportunity to buy that new big screen TV.  It does give you the opportunity to take a course.  Go back to school, learn to weld, become a carpenter, learn how to sell on Ebay, master your Knitting skills, etc…  Whatever you have been wanting to do in your life for a long time but felt your job and the obligations of work were holding you back, well now is the time.

Break free.

Many people feel that there is a universal energy.  (I’m going to get all metaphysical on you here so bear with me for a minute.)  You get what you want.  I can hear you now. “What the F#@& does he mean by THAT!” I mean, that if you put out the message that you want to move on from your job then that is exactly what will happen.  That is the message you are sending to your co-workers, your managers, your boss, the universe, to yourself.  This will be reflective in the way that you work.  You won’t be putting your full effort in. You will be biding your time until you either quit or get fired.  This has been a message that I have personally seen over and over in friends and co-workers.  When asked afterward about how they felt, a good many of them said they felt ‘Relieved‘ because they were thinking about quitting anyway and this just forced them to move their ass.

This is the Universe, Life, Kicking you firmly in the ass and telling you to do something that means something to you.  It does not have to mean anything to anybody else but you.  If your life dream is to be a street sweeper then go and be the best damned street sweeper that you can be.  If you have always wanted to become a widget maker then follow your dream.  Be the best damned widget maker that the world has ever seen.

At the end of the day, they only person you have to answer to is you (and the minister of domestic affairs) so be the best that you can be and the rest will fall into place.

Tell the Universe what you want and with a little luck, the universe will deliver.

Embrace your Freedom Boxes


It’s odd how the same message keeps coming up in life.  It’s the universe’s way of telling you that you have not yet learned the lesson.

One of the consistent things that re-occurs for me is the need to totally own your obligations or responsibilities with a sense of clear direction.I have great difficulty in establishing a clear vision.  There is vision there, it is just not clear.  Having a clear vision is needed if you are to experience great success.

This clarity of vision is a trait that has been demonstrated time and time again by people who have had great success in their lives.

  • Richard Branson
  • Bill Gates
  • Steve Jobs
  • Barack Obama
  • Michael Phelps
  • Ted Rogers
  • Walt Disney
  • Tiger Woods
  • Michael Jordan
  • and countless others…

The consistent theme with all of these people is that they had a clear sense of purpose and they owned it.  They did not let anyone stand in their way on the way to success.

The difference between most people and these wildly successful people is clear vision.  Successful people have a clear vision and they know what they want.  Most of us don’t know what we want and we meander through life just experiencing it as opposed to shaping it to be what we want it to be.  Life is not some linear existence that we are destined to follow.  Life is a fluid, moldable, experience that is meant to be defined by each and every one of us.

Think about the times in your life when you have had success.  these times probably coincide with a clear and focused objective or goal.  You probably didn’t let anyone get in your way and you followed through to completion.  These were times when you defined the road and took charge to shape the outcome for whatever part you played in the success.  We all have the ability to experience these smaller goal based periods of clarity but tend not to apply the same tools for major life altering goals with huge lasting impact.  Your goals do not need to be world changing for millions of people or solve world hunger of bring world peace but they do need to matter to you.  If the things that matter to you are life changing at a global level then step up and take charge.

Here is an exercise for you.  Write a Have-Be-Do list.  This is a list of 100 items that you want to have, be or do.  Take all obstacles, real or imagined, out of the equation.  There is no limit to what you can put on the Have-Be-Do list.  You must list at least 100 things.  Do it without guilt and with a sense of total deserving.  Silence the chattering monkeys in the back of your head that keep telling you that you can’t do it or that you are not worthy.  You will find this a very difficult task as it is uncommon for us to come from a place of total selfishness.  This list is for you.  Write it for you.  Do not write it with any other person in mind except you and your wants.  If your wants include another person then so be it but do not allow your list to be shaped by outside influences such as your job or your finacial situation or you inability to speak a language or any other obstacle that can be overcome.

Oh yeah, in the immortal words of Yoda “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.

Any list item that begins or contains a phrase like ‘Try to …’ does not count.  Be definite in your Have-Be-Do list.  Instead of ‘Try to make more time for xxxx’  change it to ‘Make more time for xxxx’.  It has a more definite and empowering phrasing that give you strength to follow through.

Once you have that list, Start to do those things and cross them off as you complete them.  You will be amazed at the power you find and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you start to achieve success based on a clear goal no matter how small.

Feel free to share or not. Ask questions or don’t.  The answers will be there when you need them.