“It is hard to fail,
but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
It was late Spring, 1981. Having returned to Colorado in 1980 with a brand new Engineering degree, I found myself now sitting beside a crackling campfire under the star-filled night skies of the Rocky Mountains contemplating my life.
It was one of those moments Hollywood can base an entire movie around. Complete with panoramic views and an inspiring symphonic overture to highlight the significance of the occasion.
It was here, the Colorado Rockies, removed from the aspects of modern civilization, that I was fortunate enough to have lived the formative years of my youth. And it was here I returned to make a decision that would, ultimately, effect my journey in life in ways I could never have imagined at the time.
And it was that night, as I sat leaning against a tree, that I set forth on the path of what would become one of the epic failures in business that would eventually allow me to succeed on my journey – provided I learned the lessons to effect future change along the way.
“A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step”
– Chinese philosopher Laozi (c 604 bc – c 531 bc)
Yes, I took that first step . . . then rushed headlong into a disaster worthy of reflection in the journals of business!
What the business was is immaterial. I would have failed no matter what it may have been given how I approached it. The importance of the experience is what lessons it taught.
In less than a single year, at the age of 25, I had maxed my credit limits, was almost $100K in debt, and facing a future of unknown ramifications. Basically, a single decision taken without proper consideration had led me to a crucial fork in the path along this journey. Do I write this off as somehow being the end of my business life, return to what I had, or evaluate what went wrong and correct it? I chose the latter.
“Failure is success if we learn from it.”
One of the hardest things for us to do is identify our mistakes in life and then honestly evaluate the outcome. We, as mere mortals, tend to look for reasons to justify what we have done rather than how we may have been wrong. Everybody does it to some degree.
I could go into the volumes of clinical evaluations as to what can be learned through self-introspection, but this is long enough without that aspect! Suffice it to say that there are benefits of learning how to look towards our past to determine the future.
Once the -life sucks- aspect had passed, I delved into the reasons behind the failure. How did this happen? What did I either do wrong or fail to do in the first place? Were there external influences that affected the outcome? What did I actually do right?
I could have blamed my own failure on some magical -outside- influence. How it wasn’t fair. That I should have been given more opportunity, etc.. But that is not the reality of the situation.
The answers I found with regard to what caused this were many, with most pointing to my own lack of proper preparation. There was no one to lay blame on but myself for allowing what had happened.
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again,
only this time more wisely.”
You may be asking, did I do anything right?
Yes, I TRIED!
Had I never stared at the stars and envisioned a different future, taken action to realize it, and failed . . . I would never have begun to learn the lessons to succeed.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I tried my hand at building a business again. It took that long to resolve the financial burden I was under, to evaluate/overcome my limitations, and prepare for the next path on the journey.
Fortunately, because of what I once did wrong, when presented with the next challenge I knew that I was better prepared to meet it. And meet it I did!
So why have I presented some of the (boring) details of my past here today?
Becuase it is important to know that no one is perfect. That we all experience the same excitement, and reservations, at what the future may hold for us. And to realize that the potential for failure is not an excuse to never try!
I can not think of a single person who has never experienced failure at some level in life.
What sets aside those whom ultimately succeed over those that don’t is simple. They learned from their mistakes, and those of others, as they moved forward on their journey.
Once I determined what I lacked, finding the resources to overcome those limitations were of utmost importance. I was fortunate in having access to a wide array of people (pre-internet) that were willing to share the knowledge their mistakes had given them. The power of listening to, and learning from, others can never be underestimated.
And no, this was not the only time that I have made bad decisions in business. But through each, I gained a better understanding of how to progress on the journey and overcome obstacles, while never making the same mistake(s) twice!
One of the most important lessons learned for me was that we do not have all the answers, nor can we achieve what we seek alone. That we must humble ourselves to the knowledge that we lack, and never stop seeking that which we do not know or those that can provide it. It is only by admitting our faults that we begin to better ourselves.
Reach out to others. Listen to what they have to say. Prepare yourself today for what tomorrow has to offer.
Perhaps in some small way, through my mistakes you too may learn. It is by helping others that we find our true worth.
With Sincere Thanks
“The only limits we have are those you impose upon yourself. Remove the limits!”
9 thoughts to “Failure In Business – Lessons Learned”
Another post that made me reflect on my own past and business ups and downs, successes and failures. Thanks Richard.. I have to agree that while failing is not a fun thing to go through at the time, I have probably learned and grown more from those failures than from any of my successes. One of the hardest things to accept at times is that you NEED someone else to help you attain your dreams. Self-reliance was something to strive for in my family and asking for help meant you were weak. As I have grown up and been exposed to more of life, I have had to let go of that deeply ingrained belief and found that the opposite is what makes you strong. Ask questions, ask why, ask for help….sometimes I still need a reminder, so thank you Richard for the gentle nudge.
I can relate to how difficult it can be to ask for help from others. Having been an only child, and raised on ranches where the nearest neighbor could be several miles away, you learn to rely on yourself more than others.
Which, in retrospect, helps to explain why my first foray into business ended as it did. I thought I had ‘all the answers’ I needed. Was I ever wrong!
Humility is a hard attribute to cultivate. Admitting to ourselves we may not be as ‘awesome’ as we think we are is one thing, but asking for help – and thus letting OTHERS know we are not superhuman – well, that takes a strong person to do! It does not show weakness, but wisdom.
Thanks, Carla, for the insight you have provided.
Hi Rich I am very impressed with your writing. You write very well! And yes we do learn from our mistakes. It’s the only way to learn. No one can do anything perfect the first or second time.
Theodore Roosevelt’s quote is awesome. “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” It is really important to try and keep trying. And perseverance is really important. It means not to give up, to keep going and keep trying.
I have been taking ballet classes for 20 years and started at age 41. I was determined to learn how to dance ballet. I wished as a child I had learned, but I was too depressed to do it at the time. It was really hard when I started dancing. it takes many years to mold your body into a dancer body. It is still really hard, too. But I know what I am suppose to do and need to keep practicing as hard as I can. You need to dance all of the time for your muscle memory to learn what to do and if you can only go a few days a week, it’s super tough. Ballet isn’t natural, so you need to do it all the time to be able to do it.
You might wonder why I put so much effort into an activity. Well, it’s a good work out, keeps me in shape and I love the people that are there. I do get enjoyment out of getting better at it which I have done over 20 years.
I am quite impressed Barbara! To take on the challenge of ballet, the personal devotion, level of dedication required, is an accomplishment of its own right. Not many people would attempt it as a child, let alone at 41,
I am sure that the enjoyment you receive is passed on to those around you, enhancing their lives in the process. The example you demonstrate by not giving up, continuing to grow and better yourself from within, can inspire others to achieve more. You have ‘given’ far more than you may realize to others over the past 20 years.
If this is not a definition of ‘success’, then I am at a loss for words.
I can but aspire to accomplish in my life that which you have so eloquently demonstrated in yours.
This is pretty much a must read for anyone that is starting a business! Heck, even if you are running an established business, this is something we should take to heart. Great stuff man, love reading your stuff RT!
So much great information is found here at Plus1. I try and add what I can.
If people knew how many mistakes I have actually made over the years, they would seriously question how I managed to stay IN business! But as the comments above demonstrate, this is how we learn. And those that don’t learn, well, they are no longer around to read this anyway!
It is an ongoing adventure. Every day we are presented with new challenges, and opportunities, to grow from. I look forward each day to what tomorrow may bring. My hope is that what we offer will encourage others to do so as well.
Succinctly put Mr. Taylor…
Failure at something is not necessarily an end to that thing. Make it an opportunity to succeed on the next try, with the extra knowledge one gained from the first attempt.
Knowledge. It is a primary objective not only in business but life. And in both cases, it many times requires us to jump through the hoops of -experience- to achieve.
The more we expose ourselves to new ideas, the greater the chance we will -at some point- fail. As you said, though, this is not the end. It is the beginning. The opportunity to take that experience, learn from it, and move forward. Better prepared to achieve the goal(s) due to the knowledge gained.
Your viewpoint is correct Mr. Goodwin, and one that will allow you to continue on your journey. Thank you for sharing.