Failure and the Cycle of Achievement

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

I’ll never forget “that day.” That day of failure when my life took a turn to transform me from a working stiff to captain of my destiny. The moment is clear to me now, though a full decade has passed since then. The value of the experience has compounded over time, like your savings in a 401k plan.

I was walking down a dusty road on a spring afternoon, feeling the gentle breeze touch my hair like a reassuring touch. The sun sparkled on Lake Sammamish to my right, but thoughts of waterskiing those glassy waters was far from my mind. Despite the exquisite weather and world-class setting, I was in a dark mood. Wondering what to do next. Questioning everything….looping. I had just lost my cushy corporate job and the crush of providing for the family was on my mind.

There are a thousand reasons it happened. Any one of them would be good enough to explain the situation. But in reality, there was only one thing that mattered. I didn’t work there anymore. I was no longer responsible for the outcomes I’d been sweating over for the past four years. I no longer had to spend weeks away from home, closing deals on the road, traveling through Europe while my kids grew up. Suddenly I had all this time and freedom on my hands.

I also no longer had a paycheck! I had to find a new way to feed my family, keep our home, and set-up the teenagers for college. There were also braces and Karate lessons to pay for, prom dresses and not to mention the all-important date nights with my wife.

I didn’t know how to deal with these demands, and I found my confidence flagging – the kiss of death for anyone in Sales or Leadership. A quote from my mentor was echoing through my mind that afternoon, “Son, Sales is a great career. But you live by the sword and you die by the sword.” And there I found myself…dead. This was my state of mind as I wandered down that dusty road by the lake, trying to get a handle on the moment.

Failure and the Path to Challenging Your Inner Critic

Beep beep! A passing driver honked her horn at me, rousing me from my reverie. Was I walking too close to the road? Was I going to walk straight into a telephone pole? Did I have a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe? The answer was “None of the above.”

The driver was Liv Montgomery, one of the authors represented by my publishing start-up, Made For Success Publishing. She lived in the next town and randomly passed me as I was wandering down the lakeside highway. In a moment my cell phone rang. Later that week, Liv was sitting across from me over coffees, with Frappuccino’s whirring away in the background above the din of the early morning crowd. My shoulders were slightly slumped over a tall drip. “A tall drip” I think, “How appropriate!”

“You haven’t failed,” she states assuredly. “You’ve merely postponed success.”

She sounded like a motivational poster. I shrugged, taking the lid off my piping hot brew. I’d been steeped in Personal Development books from the time I was old enough to drive. I didn’t need a pep talk. I needed opportunity. But she went on anyway, scrappy and annoyingly unflinching.

“This problem you’re having is actually a good thing,” she quipped. “It holds the answer to your successes. All you need to figure out is where the solution is buried.” “Jeez, she was peppy,” I thought. She could afford to be. It wasn’t her mortgage on the line.

“I suppose I could give more bandwidth to this start-up now,” I conceded, “you know, ramp up sales on the audiobooks. I’ve got leads in Australia that I haven’t followed-up with yet.” I had about as much zest as a bear coming out of hibernation.

“Not with that attitude,” she said. “You couldn’t knock over a stack of dominoes right now, let alone a stack of pallets headed for Costco.” I had to agree. “You can’t let the world push you around, Bryan. Push back. It’s time for you to dig deep and find your resolve.”

I raised one eyebrow and looked at her through a wisp of steam. A light turned on. Somehow she had cut through the fog of my flagging ego and thrown me a lifeline. “You intrigue me, stranger. Go on.” And she did.

That afternoon, I faced the hard truth that I had been doing just that – letting circumstances push me around. It was affecting my job, my start-up business, my relationships – my life. In the interest of not making waves, I had allowed my ego to get squeezed. I’d lost touch with the fact that having a sturdy, resilient self-worth is an essential ingredient for success. Today, I call it swagger. But on that day, I had forgotten that.

It was time to use the resources I had, ruffle a few feathers and create some wins. I set to work and drafted a plan to double the business in the next 12 months. It was ambitious – definitely a reach – but it was the start of fulfilling a dream.

Nothing is ever wasted. All experience is useful. Just as every problem contains the seed of the solution, every failure contains the seeds of success.

Failure is feedback. It shows you your weakest links, lets you see where you need to shore things up. When you act on that feedback, it begins a cycle of achievement. When you lose your fear of failure, you can stand with poise, unafraid to take risks. When you learn to control it, failure is a by-product to be casually recycled instead of a calamity waiting to be overcome.

Time has winnowed away the pain of my failures, though I couldn’t see their value at the time. The wisdom contained in them now stands in brilliant relief. We keep the lessons and lose the baggage. We set new goals, get energized from a brief time out, and get back on the road to success.

It’s been a full decade to now, since my walk along the lake. The publishing start-up succeeded and the prospects continue to blossom.

We’ve all had our eyebrows singed by the fire of failure. Having faith in yourself and the strength to shake-off the funk can make all the difference. Remember, failure is the very fuel which will shape your journey to success.

Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best-selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.