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Archive for May 16th, 2011

How We React to Failure Defines How Much Success Most People Can Attain

Monday, May 16th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

How We React to Failure Defines How Much Success Most People Can Attain

In 1954 the manager of The Grand Ole Opry told Elvis Presley, “You ain’t going nowhere son. Go back to driving a truck”. 

After his first audition the great actor Sidney Poitier was told by the casting agent, “why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and become a dishwasher or something”. 

Basketball Hall of Famer’s Michael Jordan and Bob Cousy were cut from their first high school teams.

Walt Disney was fired from an early newspaper job because his editor said he “lacked imagination”. He went bankrupt several times and had to fight the city of Anaheim over the plans for Disneyland because the council thought the park would only attract riff raff.

Henry Ford failed and went bankrupt five times before he succeeded and built one of the world’s great manufacturing empires.

These are only a few examples of people who experienced crushing rejection or outright failure as they attempted to make their mark in their chosen fields. Today each is recognized and appreciated for their contributions and greatness. Thankfully each persevered when confronted with extreme negativity.

Confucius once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail”. I do not know any successful creator, inventor, artisan or entrepreneur who does not have to overcome many obstacles on their journey. It is much easier for investors, buyers, distributors or sponsors to say no than yes, and so they most often do. The difference between people who are successful and achieve their goals and those who quit and make excuses is the ability to understand and fight through seeming dead ends, obstacles and perceived failures. 

One of my first mentors in the beauty and cosmetic industry often repeated the old maxim, “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. 40 years ago the toiletry field was amazingly well-populated with small, thriving entrepreneurial firms. The level of creativity these start-ups displayed was inspirational to a young man starting a business career. I knew almost at once that I wanted to participate in this type of endeavor. When the opportunity presented itself I seized the moment. The result was a quick wipe out. 

I learned much from my first commercial disappointment. What had I done wrong? How could I improve? Would I get another chance? More importantly, should I even consider trying again? The financial loss was crippling. Emotionally I was well dinged. Nevertheless, always in my mind, I knew I had to try again and keep trying until I had achieved my goals. I was hooked and driven. 

No one knows why some people keep trying and successfully overcome stacked odds while most others are too afraid to even enter the fray.  R.H. Macy failed seven times before his department store in New York City finally caught on with customers. F.W. Woolworth was not allowed to wait on customers because the owner of the dry goods store where he worked said, “he didn’t have enough common sense”. Beethoven’s teacher told him, “He was hopeless as a composer”. Each of these men became legendary giants in their fields. 

My firm evaluates hundreds of consumer product submissions and business plans each year. I am always amazed at how many people seek to improve their status by inventing and launching new brands. More perplexing is the number of these submissions that have true potential but will never reach markets. It is not the product, concept or service that is problematic. It is the people behind the projects.  

Achieving success in any enterprise is not easy. As I mentioned earlier, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it”. A certain type of courage and fearlessness is always present in successful people. Doctors face daunting time commitments and expensive educational hurdles before they can practice. Professional athletes work tirelessly all of their young lives to perfect their specific skills. Writers must write and expect regular rejection before they are published. Entrepreneurs will most often face rejection, financial hurdles and disdain before finding the formula that works for them. 

There is another old axiom that bears repeating, “To the winner goes the spoils”.

It is impossible to win if you don’t play the game. As people living fairly comfortably in the developed world become more risk averse, there is a growing population split based on income levels. In America this has been dubbed the “income gap”. Government bureaucrats and central planners are always trying to artificially close the distance between top earners and others. This will never happen.

High income people typically possess a valued skill, talent or drive to succeed. Lower income people, for many possible reasons, often lack these gifts.  

For many it is the fear of failure that encases them in lives devoid of opportunity. Others do try, but at the first sign of rejection or difficulty they retreat back into the safety net they have built themselves. No one knows why this is so. 

Failure is the great differentiator for most people. Some handle rejection and plod on, while others can’t overcome rejection and retire from the battle. The successful always find a way to overcome. As Frank Sinatra famously said, “There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?”