All marketers love to talk about success. Especially bloggers!
Nothing makes us happier than the opportunity to share tales of epic product launches, multi-million dollar handshakes, and awards that we’ve won, no matter how small.
(Yes I see the irony – save the comments)
But the failures..?
Not so much.
It’s not that they don’t exist. Every successful business owner will have plenty of battle stories to tell of bad business decisions, cash flow nightmares, and missed opportunities.
It’s just not as much fun to talk about as the good times.
Which is crying shame, not just because it creates the false impression that successful business owners never fail, but because often the lessons that can be learnt from failure or more profound than those gained from any number of successes.
And sometimes… sometimes… a failure is really an opportunity in disguise.
I know it’s a clichéd statement, but I don’t want to make excuses for it.
So in return… here’s a couple of true stories from my hurt locker. (Try not to enjoy them too much.)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a sports agent. I’m slightly too old to claim inspiration from Jerry Maguire, but if you’ve seen the film then you know the kind of life that I was dreaming of (helping sports superstars maximize their career and earning potential, not the mid-life crisis, drunken sexual harassment parts).
So that was pretty much my life plan.
Now I don’t know how it works in the rest of the world, but in Australia, when you get to about Year 10 (freshman in high school), you get sent out to do a week or two of work experience. You lick envelopes, make coffee, fetch dry-cleaning, that kind of thing.
It’s pretty crappy, but it’s supposed to give you some experience in the real world. (Just like with the international date line, we’re ahead of the game in Australia and do our internships in high school, not college.)
I can’t remember quite how it happened, but somehow I ended up doing my work experience at a company called Advantage International. They’ve changed their name a couple of times since, and I don’t know their current status, but at the time they were one of the largest sports management firms in the world.
For whatever reason, they didn’t usually take work experience kids on, but somehow I ended up with a work experience gig at their Melbourne office.
Pretty cool, right?
It gets better.
I was only there for a week, but I must have made an impression because, when I left, my manager, Rochelle, told me that if I ever wanted to, I would be welcome to come back and do some more work experience during the school holidays!
For obvious reasons, this conversation really stuck in my mind. Rochelle went on to say that I’d been amazing and that, although they don’t usually take on work experience kids, she would gladly have me back every school holiday, and that as long as I wanted some work, I would always have it.
I walked away that conversation, thinking, “Holy crap, this is awesome. I’m going to go back every school holiday, I’m going to learn the industry, get to know the people on the inside…”
I hadn’t even finished high school and I already had a big step forward towards the career of my dreams.
I never went back.
No kidding. I never went back, I never called them… nothing…
It wasn’t that I lost interest in a career in sports management, or anything like that. I just, for some reason that I’ve never really been able to put my finger on, let the offer dangle instead of grabbing it with both hands.
Success or failure?
Well, in this instance, I have to hold my hands up and say that this was a failure. An opportunity was thrust in front of me, and I let it go.
But, with the power of hindsight, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons. Such as…
1) If you miss a huge opportunity today, there will still be other opportunities in the future.
2) But when those new opportunities come along, they’ll count for nothing if you don’t take action.
Even today, I sometimes think back and mentally kick myself in the butt for not acting on that opportunity. But you know what? I didn’t let it define me. I worked hard and kept on the lookout for new challenges and opportunities.
A few years later I was presented an opportunity by an expert in property investment, called Steve McKnight. Today, he’s a friend of mine, but at the time I just knew him as one of the foremost names in the industry.
I put my name forward for a new teaching program that Steve had created called the Millionaire Apprenticeship Program (MAP), in which the students were going to learn how to go from zero to a million dollars’ worth of property management, in just 12 months.
Steve picked a real mixture of people, from different ages, financial backgrounds, skill-sets and so on. And it just so happened that one of the people who he chose to join his apprenticeship…
Now in case you’re wondering, this wasn’t a “get rich quick” scam. Steve wasn’t charging his students a single cent and he wasn’t selling any property of his own. It was simply free mentoring advice, and the only thing he was getting out of it was teaching experience that would eventually find its way into a book that he wrote.
I was 21 at the time, and this was a genuine and potentially extremely lucrative offer.
But I dropped out of the program about half-way through.
There were a number of reasons for this, but chief among them was because my Mum was suffering with some health problems, and she was getting really stressed over the route I was taking and it wasn’t helping her recovering (I still wonder how she bought up such a risk-taker, when she’s the complete opposite). I don’t blame her for a second for my decision, because… well… at the end of the day it was my decision.
Owning a million dollars in property would have meant me taking out loans for that amount, and my Mum, quite rightly, was worried about her 21-year old son having such a huge amount of debt at such a young age. She was worried about what would happen if things went wrong, and I started to get a lot of internal conflict, which led to me not putting as much effort into the program as was required.
And it reached the point where I felt it was better to let the apprenticeship go.
Success or failure?
On the one hand, if I’d stuck with the program, I might have invested in more property and amassed a much bigger portfolio.
On the other hand, dropping out of the program relieved a lot of stress that my Mum was feeling, and that, to be honest, I was feeling as well.
A told this tale to a friend of mine and he said that in his mind, I didn’t fail; I made the most of it while I was able to and for as long as I could.
And, rather than wasting what I learnt, I retained the knowledge so that I could use it in the future.
Two lessons then…
1) If you’re not totally committed to an opportunity, you might be better off moving your focus to something you can really put your heart and soul into.
2) Even if, for whatever reason, you’re unable to complete a particular training course, the knowledge you’ve gained up to that point can be of benefit in the future.
Success or failure is a matter of perspective, but most events in life can’t be neatly categorized as one or the other. Most things in life contain an element of both, but rather than trying to figure out the ratios, it’s better just to accept things as they are and learn as much as you can from the experience.
One of the teaching points I remember the most from Steve’s workshop was – and I’m paraphrasing here:
Don’t be afraid to take a shot; if you screw up, you can always get back to the position you’re in right now.
If you try a new career path, and it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your old job, or one very similar.
If you try and learn something new, but you’re not able to complete the course, you’ll still have more knowledge and experience than when you started.
I know it’s a tripe old question but really, seriously, what do you have to lose?
Try and recognise opportunities for what they are, but don’t beat yourself up if you let one slip away.
Learn from the experience and move on.
Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective.