3 Ways to Make Personal Failure Worthwhile

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By Kevin Daum
Marketer, speaker, and columnist for Inc.com

If I judged everyone by his or her bio, resume or LinkedIn profile, I would believe that everyone I met had the greatest success story in the world. In fact with so many incredibly successful people, it’s amazing there are any economic difficulties at all today. With everyone so content and confident, why does anxiety even exist? Perhaps the therapist business will soon collapse and the drug companies will stop making happy pills.

Well, no need to sell your Pfizer stock. Xanax is here to stay. As long as people keep promoting their strengths and successes while ignoring their weaknesses and failures, they’ll continue to create anxiety among themselves and the people around them. It’s odd how people think you won’t recognize their failures. It’s easy to see through the lies, the misplaced blame, the insecurity. In fact the more you try and cover up your weakness, the louder it screams and gets talked about by everyone around.

Sure failure and weakness is painful. I get embarrassed when I mess up and negatively impact someone else and then feel guilty. But shortly after the guilt and embarrassment passes, I marvel at the power of my failure. I revel in identifying my weakness. I gain insight and confidence from the experience and wear my wound proudly.

Here are the three ways I make the most of my weaknesses and failures:

  1. Be fully accountable for them.

Of course my ego wants me to make excuses and rationalize when I mess up in a big way. But it’s hard to lie to yourself, and somewhere deep inside, I am smart enough to recognize my role in creating a problem or continuously supporting my own obstacles. By always assuming it starts with me, I help others relax. Then I gain the most feedback from the people involved and am able to quickly and easily rectify any damage I caused.

  1. Create process around them.

Since I automatically assume I will fail at many things (not all), I am ready and willing when it happens. I have close friends who I consult to give me insight after the experience. I have a list of personal questions that help me examine the circumstances and my behavior so I can see what I did not see before. And I set specific plans for changing any behavior that will resolve the weakness or reduce the risk of failing the same way.

  1. Brag about them.

Shortly after I have resolved a major error and reconciled with anyone I have harmed, I share the story with others. It feels good to bare my soul humbly and be more human before others I respect. I often get empathetic feedback filled with more rich insights to help me in life’s journey. It also pleases me that retelling stories of my errors with humor  provides value to others for learning how to avoid the same mistake, or it brings entertainment, because who doesn’t need a little more laughter every day?

So since I like to practice what I preach, I will cop to a couple of my major failures in recent times and share my take away value as well.

  • After several Amazon bestselling books, I have so far failed at making the New York Times I can blame this on many factors, but I am ultimately accountable for integrating the right book with effective marketing to break that barrier. With each new book, I refine my marketing process and learn from what doesn’t work. The creative challenge of the journey is as fun and thrilling as will be the completed reward.
  • After 20 years I failed to steer my Inc. 500 company through the recession, destroying the emotional and financial stability of my family. It’s easy to blame the economy, but others made smarter choices leading to success during this time, so I get the blame. There are too many lessons from this experience to list here but the biggest one looking back now, is that with careful strategy and persistent execution, I can overcome any setback and turn it into a positive outcome.

YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.

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