Failure is the secret to success

Failure doesn’t have to be the end; it can be a start to something better.  

Failing sucks—no doubt. It’s something we all want to avoid. And after we’ve failed, we may be tempted to quit, stop trying, hide. But that would be a mistake.

For greater success is forged from the ashes of failure. 

He wanted to be CEO of Apple, the company he helped start, but his board didn’t think he was ready. Then Steve Jobs was fired, setting his life in a direction he never anticipated nor planned for, at all. But his firing led him to start NeXT, buying and growing Pixar, getting married, and, finally, Apple bought NeXT which brought Jobs back to his first company and led him to become its CEO. 

That’s not how Jobs scripted his life. But it ended up being better than he planned it, all because he got fired and didn’t give up. 

Failure, for Jobs, was the beginning of something new, something better. He didn’t know it at the time. But he continued to take risks and try to add value to the world. He continued to work. And he accomplished more than he would have if he would have stayed at Apple.  

Jobs’ failure multiplied his successes. Later in his life, Jobs called getting fired the best thing that happened to him. If he stayed at Apple would we have Pixar, Toy Story, and all of the other animated movies that we love? Probably not. 

When we fail, we must remember that failure isn’t the end. It’s painful, yes; it’s embarrassing; it sucks. But if we keep moving forward and pushing ourselves, we can still succeed. But even more so we have a higher chance of multiplying our successes. 

You may not become a CEO of one of the most valuable companies in the world, instrumental in and largest stockholder of the best animation studio in the world, or even an entrepreneur. But failure can still shape a life you never imagined for yourself. 

It happens because failure creates change. Just as it did in Jobs’ life, failing changes your life and work. It shakes things up. Your career, work, trajectory, etc. is forced in directions you never saw coming. But, in that lies opportunities to see things afresh, gain learnings, try new things. And you will be surprised by what you can produce, who you can become.

What changes will, or should, occur for you isn’t for me to say, but there is one thing for sure that will change. And it’s this.  

You. 

You will be different. Failure wounds, and you will have scars. Forgetting what happened is a fool’s errand. The memories won’t leave you. But that can be a good thing. 

You will see the world, others, yourself differently. The pain you experienced will be a part of your story irrevocably. And, after you’ve survived the agony, you will see yourself anew. You can be stronger, better, more capable. 

And as life presents new bumps and bends in your path, you will find navigating them easier. And you will be able to do things you never thought you could do. 

If you don’t allow failure to crush you completely, it can become an experience that helps you soar to heights you never thought you could reach. Because you are changed, better, greater. 

Pushing through failure helps us become the people we are meant to be. It’s an essential part of reaching our potential, the potential we never even knew he had, nor ever could have achieved without the pain of failure. 

C.S. Lewis is one of my literary heroes. He is one of the greatest thinkers and writers ever to marry ink to paper. 

But, he was a loser. 

Well, he wasn’t really, but he did lose. And it did something to him. 

He considered himself a Christian apologist, which is a fancy word for someone who defends his or her faith. Lewis wrote some of the best works that articulate what Christians believe about Jesus and why. 

Then in a public debate, in a club Lewis was president of at Oxford, he and a new female professor debated on one of his positions that he wrote about in one of his books. 

And he lost. 

It’s hard to say what it did to him. Some say that he questioned his ability to be a Christian apologist and had a lot of self-doubt. Others doubt that. Whatever happened to Lewis, we can be sure that it did do something to him and his work. It changed him. Just look at his bibliography. 

He was on a tear, writing a lot of Christian nonfiction. Then, after the debate, he stopped. And he started writing children’s books. 

Chronicles of Narnia to be precise. 

And Narnia became his most successful work in terms of popularity. If Lewis never lost that debate, it’s hard to know if Narnia would have ever existed. Out of the ashes of defeat, Lewis wrote his most beloved work. 

C.S. Lewis didn’t know what his failure would produce at the time. He probably did feel humiliated, embarrassed, or bad, at least. Losing hurts. 

Lewis stopped publishing nonfiction for a long time, but he didn’t stop writing. He was knocked down. But he got up and started anew. And children all over the world were (and continue to be) blessed. 

Failure can kill. It can destroy our drive, our will, our hopes, our loves. But we can’t let it snuff us out. We must move forward. Writers must continue writing, even if they are “just” children’s books; entrepreneurs must continue starting businesses; we all must continue moving forward. 

Remember that failure is a part of the process toward success. It’s an invitation to progress. 

In my life, there have been many times when I just wanted to pack up all of my toys and check out. I wanted to quit. I didn’t just want to stop school, work, relationships; I wanted out of life. 

I do not doubt that you’ve had your fair share of pain. You’ve lost. You’ve felt shame. You’ve felt stupid. And all you want to do is hide and never come back out. 

Failures will change us. And, if we let them, we won’t just become different; we will be better. If we continue to push forward, we progress to not only to becoming better than we were before but better than we could have ever imagined ourselves to be. 

Failure isn’t just falling down.

It’s where we rise up.

Want to change your career? Do this.

Have you ever wondered if you should do something else for work? You can. Of course you can find work that you enjoy. 

I’ve made my fair share of career changes, working at a church, a bank, and an interior design company before starting my company, a website design and development agency, specializing in Drupal and e-commerce.

Change isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be too painful either. You can find a way that is best for you. But you will need to seek it out, putting one foot in front of the other. 

Continue reading “Want to change your career? Do this.”

Can life and work really be balanced?

Work-life balance is a concept that doesn’t help us achieve what we really want.

What it’s supposed to do is help us find a way to make a living as well as pursue other interests outside of work. But I don’t think it does that because it is so nebulous. How will I ever know if it’s in balance? Can anyone know? Balance is so difficult to pinpoint when it comes to work and life.

Continue reading “Can life and work really be balanced?”

How can you be more entrepreneurial in your career?

Starting a company requires seeing the world differently. It’s like a lens that helps you see the world sharper, better, giving you a fresh view no matter which direction you look. With that perspective, a garbage can full of trash might even look like something amazing. It makes the ordinary and mundane somehow new and useful. It’s a mindset. And anyone can cultivate it.

From a cubicle, home office, co-working space, corner office, or garage, you can adopt the way an entrepreneur sees the world. Anyone can be entrepreneurial.

Continue reading “How can you be more entrepreneurial in your career?”

I had no idea midlife could feel like this

Another birthday came and went, and I’m solidly over the hill. But I don’t feel that way. 

In my thirties, I used to fear being forty. I dreaded it like one dreads a root canal. And it hovered over me like a black cloud. Probably the unknown was the cause for so much fear in me. I mean, What does someone do after they’re forty? I had no clue. It’s hard to see over a hill when you’re still climbing it. But now I know how stupid that was, pure ignorance. 

Continue reading “I had no idea midlife could feel like this”

What is it like starting a blog?

Starting a blog is stupid-hard. It’s kind of like cooking an elaborate meal every week, hoping someone will show up to join you, but then no one does. It’s always just you eating that food you worked so hard to make—alone.

Slaving over a piece of writing doesn’t mean anyone will ever read it. And you have to be a glutton for punishment to do that over and over and over, again. It’s not surprising that over ninety percent of blogs fail after their first year.

Continue reading “What is it like starting a blog?”

What it’s really like starting a business

For years I’ve said that starting a business is like jumping off of a cliff and learning to fly.

Somehow I flew.

Rent wasn’t cheap. It was 2008, and I was living in New York City. I was in my early thirties, single and stupid enough to leap off of a cliff without a parachute. All I had was a dream to be my own boss and some savings. So I wasn’t that stupid.

Jobless and hopeful, I went looking for my destiny. Friends kept on asking me when I was going to look for a job. And when I told them I was starting my own business, they laughed.

Things looked laughable. My appearance went from beautiful suits to shorts, clean shaven to scruffy. Before I was jobless, my practice was to be the first one out of my apartment; afterward, I was barely out of my bedroom after my roommates left. I was feral.

I was free-time rich but paycheck poor. Every day was free and open. Time was entirely my own to do with as I pleased. There was no routine, structure, external motivator.

The only thing I can compare it to is college: When you got dropped off your freshman year, and you realize that your parents are no longer with you to tell you what to do. You could skip classes, drink beer in the morning, if you were into that, and do whatever whenever you wanted. My life was like that, except I was in my thirties, not eighteen. And I had an NYC sized rent to pay.

The freedom wasn’t free. The price was stress. It was heavier than anything I had ever felt before. It was the fear of failure.

Some days it was too much. So in the morning, I would walk out of my apartment building, in shorts and scruffy, to watch a matinee movie. It was five dollars of relief from the vice grip of stress my head was in.

And what added to that was the waiting. When entrepreneurs tell their stories, they sound so action-packed. But what they don’t mention are the long periods of silence and solitude that fill the gaps between the action.

It can drive a person mad. Those parts are dull and miserable. They involve deep bouts of fear, worry, being curled up in a fetal position on the floor, murmuring unintelligible prayers to God. But they are a part of the process.

I had to learn to be still and pray (not in a fetal position) and get zen. I also watched Iron Man five times in the theater. But that’s beside the point. I had to learn how to wait well.

Curbing my spending habits was a part of survival. When I worked for someone else, I ate every meal out every day. When I started my own thing, I cooked.

Well, calling it that is generous. Bachelor food was all I could conjure up. So I didn’t cook. I microwaved.

Two hotdogs on a tortilla, with a piece of American cheese, slapped on top of the dogs, nuked for about a minute was my go-to meal. Then I took that hot gooey mess and wrapped it up into what looked like a weird burrito and devoured it like a wild animal. It was cheap, fast, and delicious. It was bachelor bliss.

Figuring out what kind of company I should start was harder than I thought it would be. I daydreamed, took walks, begged God, read books, and pounded my head against the wall. Then, instead of me finding it, it found me.

When I wasn’t watching movies in the middle of the morning or enjoying my James Beard Award worthy meal, or daydreaming about my future, I was meeting with people.

One of them was a client of mine from the bank where I used to work. We got along well. He was retired. I was feral. We both loved ideas and business and had the same faith. His favorite sushi shop and pub were our usual haunts. And we’d chew food and words; they were sweet memories.

One day, he asked me to help him with his hotel, which became my first paying gig. He hired me to build him a new website. I was relieved. I actually had income. It was a gift.

That relief quickly turned into a new terror. Now that I had a paying project, it dawned on me that I would have to deliver on what I promised I could do.

The only problem was that I was utterly under-qualified. I wasn’t a developer nor a designer. Sure, I had led a small volunteer arts group for my church, and oversaw the design of that website. But this was different. Real money was involved. And this website was for my friend’s business. I didn’t want to fail him. I didn’t want to fail myself. But I pushed forward, taking one step at a time.

But let me tell you something that income felt incredible. It was very different from getting a paycheck from my jobs. This was someone paying me–directly. And the payment resulted from my meeting and talking about what value I could provide. It had originated from my work. Yes, it was mostly luck, but there was still a smidge of something that I did. I showed up. And money started to flow. It felt like magic. It was magic.

The project finished with my client sending me to Northern Ireland to stay at his boutique hotel to take pictures of it and the surrounding landscape. It was a dream. And the best part was that my friend appreciated the work and even recommended me to others. He was the gift that kept on giving.

When I reflect on that time, I see how little I did. Yes, I jumped off of that analogous cliff, but somehow I was guided by something or someone. The timing was just right, the experiences I had prepared me just enough to try, and I had a network that worked in my favor.

I didn’t learn to fly.

I was lifted up.


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