Dealing With Past Failures

We’ve all heard the stories of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and many others in our history who “failed their way to success.”

The idea of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” features prominently in the lore handed down to us about the American Dream.

Nevertheless, our contemporary society seems obsessed with failure.

Print and TV news almost exclusively features scandals, disasters, and catastrophes.

To be fair, the media reports whatever attracts the greatest audience, so it’s unfair to blame news outlets for our culture’s fixation on failure.

In sharp contrast to popular media, all the gurus of success from Wallace Wattles to Anthony Robbins (and including Napoleon Hill) emphatically stress the importance of celebrating and focusing on one’s successes while learning from anything one might consider “failure.”

On his way to creating his most famous invention, Thomas Edison, the story goes, made 10,000 attempts to create an incandescent light bulb.

Rather than considering these efforts as failures, Edison said he had simply first discovered 10,000 ways a light bulb wouldn’t work.

This lesson was critical to my early success.

Most people would consider my childhood to have been a recipe for failure. My father was a raging alcoholic who frequently acted out in violence.

After one of these episodes when my mother was hospitalized, social services removed me from my home.

After several troubled years in foster care, I wanted more than anything to fit in and be accepted and loved.

To fit in with the other kids in high school and to gain their friendship, I did something really foolish.

I stole a beer truck, took it for a joy ride, and used the beer to throw a huge party.

My popularity skyrocketed, but it was short-lived.

The authorities wanted to make an example of me, so they arrested me two days before my graduation.

The local paper printed my picture and called the incident, “Williston’s biggest beer bust.”

Though I was still a minor, I was prosecuted as an adult and charged with a felony. I went to prison for a short time.

People have one of two responses from spending time in prison. The majority of convicts feel that somehow they are the victims.

This outlook leads to behaviors that result in longer sentences and return visits to prison.

Fortunately I was among the minority of inmates who respond to prison as a wake-up call. After just a few days in prison, I declared to myself,

“This is not where I am going to spend my life. Whatever it takes, I am never coming back here.”

I wasted no time making good on that promise. While I was still in prison, I took two semesters of classes toward my AA degree in automotive engineering.

When I got out I continued my classes.

Within a year of my release from prison, the paper ran a second article about me.

This time it praised me for making the dean’s list in college.

My felony conviction, which still stands, could easily have ruined my life.

Instead I used it to focus my energy in a positive way.

Fast forward to the present. Having taken this important advice to heart (celebrate successes and learn from failures), I am sometimes still amazed when people see massive failure where I see
extraordinary success.

Forgive me if this seems like I’m tooting my own horn, but it seems necessary to make this vital point. So far in my career I have documented forty-six individual millionaires who
acknowledge me as the mentor who empowered them to achieve their business and financial successes.

In spite of this being what I consider one of my great accomplishments, not infrequently someone will ask, “If tens of thousands of people have joined your marketing organizations over
the years, why are there only forty-six millionaires? What do you say about the thousands of failures who never made a nickel?”

I ask them how it works in other industries and movements.

How many people have set out in high school or college with a dream of becoming professional athletes?

A great high school coach probably trains thousands of players over his career, and he wouldn’t he consider himself blessed to have one of his students go on to become a star NFL player?

How about the healthcare industry? Should we measure the success of the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry by how many people fail to recover or who die while undergoing
treatment? Or should we focus on those who are healed?

Consider the publishing industry. Tens of thousands of books are published every year.

I understand that 95 percent of those sell less than 200 copies!

Less than one percent sells more than 1,000 copies. A tiny handful achieves bestseller status. Then there is the question of how many books that are purchased actually get read!

The Bible is the bestselling book in history, but how many people have actually read it all the way through?

How many people have mastered its themes and values in their own lives: generosity, hospitality, patience, humility, faith, hope, and love?

Does our failure to apply this wisdom to our lives mean that God or the Bible’s authors should be considered failures?

The parable of the sower featured in the previous chapter agrees with the philosophy of the success gurus and suggests that we celebrate the seed sown on good soil that brings an abundant harvest—and not let ourselves be troubled by the seed that fails to bear fruit.

What you desire from life determines what you make of failure. If you have a dream, and you desire a way to achieve it, you look at failure as a stepping-stone.

But if you want your life to be stable, predictable, and untroubled, you will find in failure a respectable excuse to settle for the life that you have.

Every time you tell the story of your failure, people will listen with sympathy. Either way, failure serves to fulfill one’s desires, so let’s all be thankful for failure.

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Robert Hollis
Email: Robert@RobertHollis.com
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