Failure is Never Fatal

As part of a church study group, I’m reading a little book right now that has caused me to do a lot of deep thinking lately. That’s good because that’s what these study groups are designed to do — get us thinking about things that matter to us and examining how we might live an even more fulfilling life.

The book is called One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life by Kerry and Chris Shook, and it’s about how to live a passion-filled, purposeful life. It’s written from a Christian perspective, so much of its context would be meaningless to non-believers, but anyone can embrace the basic message of living a life with no regrets.

One of the chapters, which is about acknowledging mistakes we’ve made in the past and learning from them, brought to mind one of the most significant events — and now, I see, a critical turning point — of my life.

“Failure is never fatal,” the authors say. “We have the God of the second chance, and He wants to give us the power to begin again.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of my self-employment as a communication consultant. The circumstances that marked the beginning of this journey illustrate how you can take what appears to be a defeat, learn from it, and grow beyond that point to experience even better things.

I was fired from my last corporate job on May 1, 2000. I suppose it didn’t come as a complete surprise because my relationship with my boss had been steadily declining for several months. I was fired because I didn’t follow orders. My boss, who was director of the employee communication department despite having absolutely no experience or expertise in communications, had told me to do something that compromised the integrity of not only my work, but also the work of the people I led. I refused to do it. I have no regrets about standing on that principle, despite the fact that it led me to disobey orders.

Was I blameless in the chain of events that led to my firing? Of course not. Looking back, I see that at times I was belligerent and even a bit cocky. I’ve since been humbled, not just by being fired but also by other slings and arrows that life threw at me, and I’ve mellowed except where it’s beneficial to be feisty.

While not really surprised, my termination still hit me hard. I felt like a failure. I believed I had let my family down. I was afraid my professional colleagues would look down on me. And yet, somehow I reached deep down inside and found the determination to move forward — and it was necessary for me to do so immediately. I decided the next day to start my consulting practice. I had no experience as an entrepreneur and no idea where to start, but I knew I had a healthy list of friends in the communication business from whom I could learn.

The first person I called was my mentor and best friend, Les Potter, who was still in the consulting business. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” I said. “I don’t know where to start.” I’ll never forget what he told me.

“You start by getting up in the morning, showering and shaving, getting dressed and going into your office,” he said. “Then do something. Anything. Make phone calls, send e-mails, read, write. But be productive and the business will follow.”

He was right, of course. I followed his advice — day after day, month after month, to this day. OK, sometimes I don’t shave when I know I’ll be working at home, but for the most part I have used that formula to grow a business that has served dozens of clients all over the country. It has not always been easy. Many times it has been downright scary. But 10 years and several recessions later, I’m still in business and I like what I do.

The main lesson I took away from that experience is just as the book says. Failure is never fatal. As a Christian, I believe God is the God of second chances. I could write 5,000 more words on the role of my faith throughout this and other challenges in my life, but I won’t do that here.

Instead, I’ll simply encourage you, dear readers, to look differently at the circumstances in your life that appear to be failures. View them instead as building blocks that will get you to the next place in your life or career. Learn what you can from them and then move forward. There is life — exciting, fulfilling, passioinate life — after failure.

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