Seven Ways To Turn Past Failures Into Springboards For Success
Perhaps your professional life isn't going exactly like you
thought it was supposed to go. Maybe you've made a series
of bad decisions or even one really bad choice that you can't
seem to bounce back from. Maybe you've been downsized or terminated.
Maybe your best-laid plans have failed and circumstances beyond
your control-from market downturns to bad weather to a key
player's incompetence-have put you in the danger zone, or
even out in the street.
You may not realize it right now, but you do have options.
You could wallow in self-pity, or remain angry at those whom
you blame for your current situation. Or you can turn your
past disappointments into great accomplishments. How? Just
follow the path of the heroes who've gone before you. They
will show you how to transform past adversity and failures
into springboards for success.
Tip No. 1: Take An Objective, Not an Emotional Look, At
Where You've Come From.
Thomas Edison believed there were no such things as mistakes,
only eliminated options that brought him one step closer to
his goal. There is no such thing as "failure," he claimed,
only lessons to be learned.
Most people find it difficult to see a failure in an analytical,
impartial fashion; many of us were raised to believe that
if we failed at something, we were failures. Therefore, as
adults, we take failure personally, believing our lack of
success indicates a lack in our character. Instead, we must
look at the situation objectively, as a matter of cause and
effect. The fact that we fail in business situations does
not mean we are failures, but rather that we didn't create
the right cause to achieve the desired effect.
If you find yourself in a stuck emotional state, go back and
analyze the steps you took and see what you might have done
differently. Remove the emotional involvement; just look at
the raw data. Logically and dispassionately examine the course
you chose and determine why it did not yield the result you
wanted, and then consider why it was not appropriate for that
particular situation. You'll need to acknowledge what you
did that led to the failure, and take responsibility for it.
But, like Thomas Edison, you should take what you can learn
from it and move on.
Tip No. 2: Focus on the purpose on the other side of the
Happiness does not come from the elimination of pain, but
from the realization of your purpose. Keep reminding yourself
why you are doing what you're doing. Even less lofty purposes,
such as "I just work here to pay the rent and my car payment,"
can be transformed over time if you look at the higher purpose
for why you might be there. Perhaps you will make contacts
that will help you in the future. Perhaps you are trying to
save money to put your kids through college. The key is to
look beneath the surface to find the spiritual meaning.
To succeed, you'll need to look at the higher goals you've
set and determine their importance, then focus on what is
good, important, and meaningful to you, rather than on the
mundane aspects or the things you hate about your job. If
you develop a strong enough reason or purpose to keep going,
and you can focus on that purpose, you will succeed at each
of the steps you take toward your goal. Without a sense of
purpose, you will lack motivation and consciously or subconsciously
doom yourself to failure.
Tip No. 3: You can't see the whole parade from where you
You never know from where you stand whether what you are experiencing
will turn out to be good or bad until enough time has passed.
A seemingly hopeless situation may be exactly the disaster
you fear, but it may also turn from catastrophe into triumph
in ways you are unable to predict.
When people get stuck in "Why me?" mode as a result of a severe
business loss, they require a mindshift in order to recover
a sense of belief, hope, and inner strength so they can move
on. If we can look outside of ourselves at others who have
overcome adverse circumstances, we can gain the courage to
believe in our ultimate success. In your industry, who do
you know or have heard of who failed but managed to get back
on top, perhaps in another industry altogether? History is
filled with examples.
Soichiro Honda persevered through countless failures and setbacks,
over four decades, before his Honda Motor Company became one
of the largest automobile companies in the world. His inspiring
story demonstrates the power of perseverance in the face of
adversity and the necessity of innovation and creativity in
periods of failure and loss.
When we make a deliberate decision not to give up, then life
seems to present opportunities we hadn't thought of or couldn't
Tip no 4: It's not whether you have won or lost in the
past; it's the person you have to become in order to win in
After a business failure has led you to analyze the objective
data of your experience, you then need to look at the kind
of person you need to become to see the results you want in
the future. Beyond visualizing the physical objects or the
status you seek, you need to look within and say, "What kind
of person do I need to become in order to get what I want?"
To become that person, you may need additional education or
training in your field or another career; you may need to
hire a coach or find a mentor to guide you through the steps
to becoming who you want to be. Or you may require a character
shift, to be reborn, in a sense. Lance Armstrong, for example,
had never won a single Tour de France before he was diagnosed
with testicular cancer. Then it looked like his cycling career,
and maybe even his life, were over. He fought back hard and
won. Today he credits his great cycling success to the person
he became as a result of having cancer. He says, "Cancer saved
Tip No. 5: Accept that falling is a normal part of life,
but try to fall forward every time-in the direction of your
We are all continually creating our own destinies through
the choices we make and our desire and determination to see
them through. Perhaps you've suffered a major business defeat
such as downsizing or termination. Realize that you can leave
that job on good terms with a handshake and a letter of recommendation,
or with the threat of a lawsuit against those who fired you.
How you handle the crisis has a dramatic impact on how you
will succeed from that point forward.
For example, early in his football coaching career, Lou Holtz
was fired from his job at the University of Arkansas for no
apparent reason. He could have sued, sulked or slandered.
But instead, he shook hands and moved on, keeping the good
friends he had there. From there, he went to the University
of Minnesota. When his dream job at the University of Notre
Dame job came open, Holtz' applied. Notre Dame started calling
Holtz' past employers - including the University of Arkansas.
Arkansas gave him a raving recommendation and Notre Dame hired
him. Holtz finally got his dream job where he won several
national championships. Had Holtz chosen to react negatively
after being fired at Arkansas, he would have virtually guaranteed
a bad performance review, which could have cost him his dream
job at Notre Dame. How we react to bad things today has a
huge impact on what happens to us tomorrow.
Like Lou Holtz, you can choose to fall in the direction of
your next goal, deciding to treat the fall as a sort of awkward
but valuable step along the path of your life and career.
If, instead of dwelling on the circumstances of the past,
you can manage to move on in a forward direction, your fall
will send you in the direction of your goals.
Tip No. 6: "Retreat" does not equal "defeat."
A retreat can be a valuable opportunity to regroup and rethink
strategies and goals. For example, one of the worst business
mistakes you can make is to continue to pour money into a
failing business; in this situation, knowing when to call
it quits and creatively develop a better plan is essential.
Don't let pride keep you stuck in a wrong decision. Managers
and investors need to be willing to change a course of action
that isn't working, no matter how much faith, time, and money
may have been put into it so far. You need to be willing to
abandon a path that is not taking you where you want to go
and start over again.
Captain Oliver Hazard Perry is famous for captaining the ship
that bore the flag saying "Don't give up the ship" during
the War of 1812. The little known fact is that he did abandon
that ship! When 80% of his men were dead and his ship was
sinking, he paddled a little john-boat over to another ship,
took control of it, and soundly defeated the British in the
Battle of Lake Erie.
Tip No. 7: Realize that pain and heartache are only labor
pains before your birth.
Many people who lost their jobs and businesses as the economy
took a downturn have searched for years and have yet to find
a job in their industry. This loss may have a profound effect
on their sense of self. Like Moses after he was stripped of
his wealth and power and was exiled into the desert by Pharoah,
they may feel as if all is lost, as they find themselves doing
work they never would have envisioned themselves doing when
they were in college. But Moses' many years of exile in the
desert was exactly what he needed in order to become the kind
of man who would eventually free the Hebrews from slavery.
In any painful, frightening situation, you need to realize
that there is hope on the other side of the tragedy, even
if you can't see it yet. When you quit, you guarantee that
you will not be around to experience that which makes your
suffering count for something. Turn your pain into a purpose.
If you persevere, you will gain wisdom and perspective and
finally realize why you went through everything: namely, to
become a new person, the person you needed to become in order
to achieve the success you were seeking.
Claim Your Future Success
Many heroes of the past have blazed a trail for us to follow
if we really want to overcome tragedies and failures. Remember,
just because you may have failed does not mean you are a "failure."
Failure is an attitude, not a place. Get up and keep crawling,
sliding, and falling forward in the direction of your dreams.
If you follow the hero's path, eventually you will get there.
Copyright 2005 Daniel R. Castro. All rights reserved.
Daniel R. Castro is the author of Critical Choices
That Change Lives: How Heroes Turn Tragedy Into Triumph.
To download the first chapter free, go to http://dancastro.com.
Learn the principles that heroes have been using to turn tragedy
into triumph for thousands of years. Dan Castro is an attorney
who spent nine years studying the patterns of people whose
critical choices turned them into heroes.
Return to Mental
Success Plans Articles directory.