Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!
Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure.
Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:
- Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
- John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
- Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
- Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
- Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
- Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
- Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
- Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.
Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.
I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?" This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.
Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"
- Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
- "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
- "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!
When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.
Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.
Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.
Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way.
We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.
Here's to your next fantastic failure.
Thanks for reading. John