We’ve all heard the stories about famous failures that ended up being stepping stones – Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team, or Thomas Edison’s 9,000 light bulbs that didn’t work before one became illuminated – but it’s hard to remember the lessons therein when we’re staring up from the bottom of a deep well with seemingly no way to climb out.
The truth is, when you’re searching for water, you’ve got to be willing to take your chances falling into a well. Successful entrepreneurs don’t build wealth without taking risks. What’s important is not to lose faith, remembering that there is always a way out, and to never stop looking.
If we never feel sad or feel sorrow, can we really appreciate and understand the jubilation of joy and happiness? Likewise, failures teach us how to succeed.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never.”
Winston Churchill’s great 1941 speech sums up the attitude that all entrepreneurs must adopt. Even the best ideas take time and dedication to bring to fruition. From securing financing to incorporating a company, the paperwork involved in starting a business has convinced more than a few budding idealists to tuck their tail between their legs and head home.
After years of working with a local paint and wallpaper company, an acquaintance of mine felt that he’d built enough contacts and customer confidence to build his own business. Always excited by the entrepreneurial spirit, I visited his first big project, taking pictures to help him start a website. Months later, I called to check on his progress. Faced with the confusion of handling employees and the required costs and paperwork, he’d returned to his old boss and begged for his job back. It was simply easier.
I wish I’d been around to encourage him with Churchill’s words. Under the financial pressure of dependent employees, my friend ran back to security. But he’s already talking about starting over. Which leads us to our next point…
The old Boy Scout motto is well worth remembering, long after we hang up the kerchief and ugly socks. Jumping into a great idea with all our time and money can be foolhardy if we haven’t thought out every possible outcome of our endeavor.
A great new invention or device can turn into a full-time job, and eventually significant wealth, but don’t quit your job before you even obtain a patent. Take things step-by-step, so that the bumps in the road don’t derail you. If you’ve got a vision, follow it wholeheartedly, but make sure the bills are paid first.
Keep Your Eye on the Sky
Last December, I went skiing for the first time in years. Confident as the 18-year-old daredevil I once was on the slopes, I soon had a rude awakening, face first in the frigid snow.
Collisions like that shed light on thoughts we never would have had. I laughed out loud, staring up at the blue sky, and enjoyed the rest of my day without another fall (or another unnecessary attempt at the double black diamond run).
By keeping ourselves in check while also keeping our eyes open, we can allow our passion for an idea to control its inception without foolhardily chasing a lion into an alley.
Persistence is Key
Have a good idea that you’ve developed, run by a handful of trusted advisors, and researched all the details needed to make it happen?
Remember Winston Churchill – never give up. Perhaps the famous Brit was channeling Abraham Lincoln, the most famous ‘failure’ in American history. After losing his mother and struggling as a business owner, Lincoln ran for state legislature and lost. He was denied admittance to law school, then borrowed money from a friend and went bankrupt. But two years after his first run for state legislature, he tried again and won. Then his fiance died, followed by a series of political losses, including U.S. Congress, Senate, and the vice-presidential nomination. After his second loss running for the Senate, he won the presidency, and is still heralded as one of the great leaders of our country.
What better example does our country offer toward the value of failure? Each pitfall is a learning experience. Success and failure are not black and white; rather, failure is an integral element of success.
A few final examples: Super Glue, one of the most ubiquitous household items, was discovered during World War II. While chemists were searching for a substance to make clear plastic gun sights, they accidentally struck on the mind-blowing bonding formula. Fortunately, the accidental discovery’s potential was recognized and pursued.
Similarly, penicillin was discovered in 1928, when Alexander Fleming accidentally left a petri dish uncovered and a bacterial culture became contaminated by a blue-green mold. Fleming had his eyes on the sky and saw the big picture, and millions of lives have been saved by his unintentional discovery (and his persistence over the next ten years of perfecting the drug).
Finally, who is not a fan of John Grisham’s books and movie adaptations? But The Firm and A Time to Kill nearly never made it into readers’ hands. Grisham, an unpublished attorney, wrote A Time to Kill after witnessing a riveting trial in Mississippi. Rejected by 28 publishers, Grisham finally found an unknown publisher to print 5,000 copies. Despite that uncertainty, he began writing The Firm the day after he finished A Time to Kill.
That sophomore effort spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and became the best selling novel of 1991. Then, and only then, did he quit his day job.
From Lincoln to Grisham, the proof runs throughout history: failure exists to prepare us for success.
Working with self storage users all over the United States, Tim Eyre helps customers store their stuff in places like self storage in Boston and Gardena self storage. In his spare time, Tim likes to get outside for a game of basketball or a round of golf.Subscribe to the Podcast