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The Art of Failing: Getting Back on Your Feet Again

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The Art of Failing: Getting Back on Your Feet Again



    As I write this book, the same thought keeps going through my mind...”I wish I'd had a book like this when I was in the darkest days of dealing with some significant failures in my life.”  In the pages of this book I will give you a good look into some of my failures, things that I failed at, and some things that just went terribly wrong in life.  As I go over these times, I relive the pain, embarrassment, and sense of loss those failings brought me, and believe me, it's no fun!  

    Failure is usually not invigorating.  It's not uplifting.  It's not encouraging.  It doesn't make us feel good about who we are.  Failure can often be painful.  No wonder we go to almost any length to avoid it.  The problem with seeing failure from only this one perspective is that it robs us of the chance to understand and embrace some of the most important lessons and gifts we can receive in life. 

    I've been following the 2012 London Olympic games, and I watched as Michael Phelps lost a swimming race to a teammate, Ryan Lochte,  from the U.S. Olympic team.  I've watched people fail in various pursuits, and have often heard the excuses that arise during those times.  Blaming others for our failure is quite common, but that is not the approach Michael Phelps took during the interview following his unexpected loss.  Michael told us that Ryan Lochte simply wanted the win more than he, Michael had, so Ryan had put in the hours that were required to bring him to the point of victory.  Michael quite obviously wasn't thrilled with his loss, and he will most likely use this as an opportunity to grow stronger, to learn the lessons this type of failure brings.  In fact, that is exactly what he ended up doing as he went on to amass more medals than any other athlete in Olympic history!

    Sometimes our failures are more poignant than an athletic loss, as difficult as that might be, especially at an Olympic level.   Failure in our career, failure financially, failing in a relationship, failing in our role as a parent, friend or child.  

    It was a Wednesday morning in the winter of 2008, and I was in Phoenix, AZ on a business trip.  I should have been having the time of my life, but I was as close to the bottom as I'd ever been.  If I had been sure that my life insurance policies were paid up to date, I would have gladly found a train to dance with that day.  There is usually only one outcome when a moving train meets a Toyota Prius, and it doesn't go so good for the Toyota!  I would have gladly made that choice, because in my mind at that time, I could better provide for my family through life insurance if I was dead, than I could alive through my business.  

    Obviously I didn't dance with that train on that morning  in Phoenix, and today I am so grateful that I didn't!  But at the time, I had given up almost all hope that I could make it through the results of failing in different areas of my life.  I was a relatively normal person, I had a wife and three children who loved me, I had some really good friends and some family I was close to.  So what had brought me to the point where I was ready to flush it all down the toilet and end life that morning?  Failure.  Repetitive failure can do that to us.  Even small, seemingly insignificant failures, when piled on top of other small failures, can make it extremely difficult to get back up again!  We can lose sight of the truth about failure, which is: we can't avoid failing, it's going to happen to each of us in one way or another, and with the exception of rare cases, we will get through it alive.

    Since 2008 we have seen a lot of coverage of the recession much of the world experienced.  As I watched an episode of a reality TV show, dealing with wealthy people helping several charities they believe in, I saw a look I recognized in the eyes of a man struggling to provide for himself and his family during the failures that go along with a recession.  I recognized that look of hopelessness, because I had that look at one time too.  I see that look in the eyes of people who have failed in a relationship with someone they loved deeply.  The look can also be seen in the eyes of someone who has made choices that land them in prison, seemingly without hope.  If only there was a silver bullet that would fix our failures, take away the pain and consequences!  But, no matter how much we want this silver bullet, it doesn't exist.  Really!?  Does that mean there's no hope?  Not at all!  There is hope!  We don't need to live in our failures for the rest of our lives.  At least we don't have to let our failures define us, we can live beyond our failures!  There is hope!  I'm not going to give you some amazing secret that will fix all your problems, instead I want to help you see the opportunities inside your failures, and how you can get up one more time.

    Some days all we can do is to get up one more time.  After failing, sometimes getting up one more time is all we really need to do, it's enough for today!  You might be at the point where you don't believe that you are valuable any longer, and that's ok for now....just let me believe that you are valuable until you can believe it for yourself.  That's why I'm writing this book, because I believe that you have intrinsic value, regardless of the extent of your failings.  If I didn't believe that we all have great value, I wouldn't bother making the time to write this book and then promote it.  But I believe with everything within me that we all have intrinsic value as human beings and can move beyond our failings, we can get up one more time!

    If you commit to read through this book in its entirety, you will find  that you're not the only one who has experienced failure.  You will also find that other people have gotten back up one more time, even in the middle of seemingly overwhelming failure.  I hope to help you get up just one more time.  You don't have to be ready to get up 500 times today, just one more time.  I'm not being trite when I tell you that you only need to be willing to get up one more time, because I'm speaking from intimate experience with failure, not out of conjecture.  This is not a book based on theory, but rather, one based on reality, on what really makes a difference in life. Please join me, especially if the idea of dancing with a train sounds like a viable alternative for you today.  Walk with me for a while, because I'd love to walk with you through the challenges you are facing.



Chapter 1: Failure: It's Unavoidable

   It's been over 100 years since the Titanic sank.  It was supposed to be the unsinkable ship, the ship that all other ships would be compared to.  People felt safe crossing the ocean on her, because she was, after all, unsinkable.  What could possibly cause anyone to fear?  There weren't enough lifeboats, the captain was a little too cocky, there were icebergs....but the Titanic was unsinkable, she was failure-proof.  We should have known better.  Titanic sank, thousands of lives were lost, and the idea of being perfectly safe crossing the ocean, sank with her.  

    The strongest, most robust economy the world had ever seen.  Unsinkable.  Who cared about sub-prime mortgages?  Who cared if people and banks and businesses were dangerously overextended?  After all, we lived in a time of unbelievable wealth.  What could possibly go wrong?  The U.S. Economy was unsinkable, or was it?  We should have known better.  Millions of lives were dramatically changed, fortunes lost, savings and investments disappeared, homes foreclosed.  The idea of the U.S. Economy being invincible sank with the trillions of dollars that poured down the black hole of bank bail-outs.

    I live in a region of Canada that has often been referred to as “next year country”.  Farming used to be the main industry in our province, and with farming came the risk of crop failure every year.  Farmers either took the perspective of looking to next year being better, or giving up and doing something unrelated to farming, hence the term “next year country”.  Over the last decade we have seen mining, oil, and biotechnology take over the role of the economic engines that drive our economy.  We don't depend on farming to the same extent we once did.  But I think we might have forgotten an important concept that farming constantly reminded us about...failure happens.  In less than 10 years house prices have shot up over 300%, people are remortgaging their homes to buy recreational toys, vacations, and vacation homes.  Debt is at an all-time high.  Our economy is unsinkable. It can't sink.  What happened in the U.S. and in Eastern Canada can't happen here, we're insulated from that.  This boom will just go on and on and least until we hit the proverbial iceberg.  House prices can't come down, they'll just keep going up and up.... at least until they DO come down, and likely with a crash.  We've forgotten the concept of “next year country”, the idea that failure happens, and we've forgotten it to our peril.  

    We want to avoid the very topic of failure, as if we can avoid experiencing it if we avoid talking about it.  Why?  What's the big deal with failing?  It's PAINFUL!  It's embarrassing.  It's costly.  It's uncomfortable.  It hurts!  But it's also inevitable.  We cannot escape the fact that we will all fail at some point. The emphasis by motivational speakers, including me, over the last number of years has been on thinking positively, and looking for the possibilities.  As much as it's important to cultivate a positive attitude, we end up losing when we do this at the expense of dealing with failure.  You see, failure is not necessarily a result of a negative mindset.  When I fail, it doesn't have to indicate that I haven't been looking for the possibilities, or thinking positively, it just means that something didn't work out as planned, or that I simply made some mistakes.  

    Here's a list of people who are known for their successes in life. But these same people were also known to have failed a number of times, in fact some of them failed a significant number of times, before and after they experienced success.  Often we look at people who have succeeded, and assume they don't have any idea what it feels like to fail.  Each of the people listed here succeeded, but they also failed, often rather spectacularly.  Take a look at this list, how many of them do you recognize?  Do you recognize them for their successes or their failures?

  • Henry Ford
  • Michael Jordan
  • Martha Stewart
  • Thomas Edison
  • Babe Ruth
  • Sylvester Stalone
  • Mother Theresa

    Here's my point, but you've likely picked up on it already...We will all fail!  It's unavoidable to fail at some point in life !  In fact, often by attempting to avoid failure at all costs, we put ourselves in line for even bigger failures.  People who fear failing financially often don't invest time in learning how to invest, they just hire someone to manage their money for them, to run their investments, and simply give them quarterly statements telling them how their money's doing.  These people may or may not actually read these statements, because they are too afraid of finding that their money isn't doing well.  Instead of learning something about wise investing, and then hiring someone to help us invest our money, we choose to know as little as possible about the topic.  This way, if we lose money, we can blame somebody else, we don't have to face our failure, it's somebody else's fault.  So instead of learning what we can do better next time, we blame our advisers, and then find a new adviser, give them all our remaining money and refuse to learn about wise investing.  We might be able to tell ourselves it's not our fault that our retirement nest-egg is gone, but the fact remains...IT'S STILL GONE!  We haven't learned, we haven't been able to change our investment patterns because we haven't faced our failures, we've tried to avoid them.

    In case you've made the assumption that it's only people who don't have a post-secondary degree who will try to avoid facing failure, let me put that idea to rest.  In his book,  Forbes Best Business Mistakes, Bob Sellers quotes Ian Bremmer, who holds a PhD from Stanford, 


What the PhD learns is how to hedge, because you have to be right all  the time.  And the only way to be right all the time is if you  can never really be wrong.#    


Really?!! A PhD has to pretend that they are never wrong?  In other words, in order to have anything to teach your students, as a PhD, you must act as if you never fail.  Here is where I call B.S., because the reality is, we learn the most from our failures, not from our successes.  When we have come to the realization that we have failed, and quite possibly, we've failed in a very spectacular fashion, then and only then, do we actually have something worth passing on to the people we influence.  Ok, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, I'm not planning on getting into the idea of the lessons we learn through our failures till later on in the book, but the idea that we have to pretend that we never fail if we are going to influence others, with our vast amount of knowledge (I hope you caught my sarcasm here), we must fake our omniscience, our infallibility.... is simply ridiculous!

    But  let's get back onto the path we're supposed to be on.  If we try so hard to avoid failure, that we will even pretend we never experience it, we need to ask what is the cause of  this fear of failure?  I could list dozens of reasons why we fear failure, but rather than give you my reasons, why don't I simply ask you to answer this for yourself.  Why do you fear failure so much?  Maybe you've never thought of the reasons behind your fear, so what I will do is just give you a bit of a kick-start here.  Here are some potential reasons we fear failure:


People have ridiculed you in the past.


The place in life, inside a family, that should be the one place we should be able to fail with support around us, can often be the most cruel when we do fail.


Do you feel you need to keep up a facade in order to retain your pride?


You don't feel you measure up to the people around you?

Lack of Confidence

So you try to act confident by not admitting you actually fail at times


Maybe your particular culture sees it as a weakness to admit you failed.


Maybe your supervisor/boss tries to make you feel your job is in jeopardy if you fail.


Maybe you're simply too arrogant to admit that you fail. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence will allow us to admit our mistakes, while arrogance can't afford to admit mistakes.


    These are all potential reasons we avoid admitting our failures; they're not necessarily good reasons, but they're reasons.  Even good reasons to avoiding facing failure can harm us and keep us from becoming all we can become.  I hope that as you have read through the list of people who have failed, the people and projects that were thought to be infallible, and the reasons for our denial of failure, you realized how ridiculous it is to try to deny that we fail.  Failure is a part of life.  We will all fail at times, it is inescapable!  So, if you agree with me that failure is not something we can avoid, read on.  If you haven't come to that point yet, either go back and re-read this chapter, or wait till tomorrow and come back to this book.  Why? Because by tomorrow you will have failed at something again and now that we have talked about the reality of failure, you might not be able to deny it any longer.  

    At the end of every chapter I will have at least one question I invite you to answer, in order to help you make the insights we'll find together applicable to your life.  Please take the time to answer these questions, they will help make the lessons we learn a part of our response to the challenges of life.  



Chapter 1 Questions:

  1. Write down 2 of your latest failures
  2. What was your initial response to them?
  3. How did your failures make you feel?  Can you identify why you felt this way?








© 2012 Todd Reimer. All Rights Reserved.