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.


9 Responses

  1. Amen, Robert! As they say around here, “That’ll preach!”

    It’s amazing to me when God takes the painful, tough times in our lives and causes good to come from them. Life’s journey can be very difficult at times, but the destination makes it all worthwhile.

  2. This is an excellent and inspirational post, Robert! And the timing is amazing. I agree that there is a plan for each of us. And on the fun side of things, remember the scene in the movie, “Meet The Robinsons”? The future family taught Lewis that when you fail, you LEARN.

  3. Thank you for writing this post, Robert. You gave me a lot of inspiration today. I’m going through a pretty difficult time right now in my career, but I know God has a plan, and I just need to trust him. I told someone the other day that God sure has a funny way of making sure I trust him sometimes.

    I am looking at this time in my life as an opportunity to do something new and challenging. I’m actually looking forward to it. I think sometimes we just need a good push to go in a new direction that we might not have otherwise chosen. It obviously worked out well for you.

    Thanks for the recommendation on the book. I’ll have to put that one on my short list. And happy 10th anniversary! I’m glad you are doing what you’re doing, and sharing it with us.

    • Ray, you make a good point about sometimes needing to be pushed in a new direction. I had thought about venturing out on my own for several years before this incident happened, but I always talked myself out of it. The truth is I was too afraid and too risk-averse to do it. Being fired was the impetus I needed — although I wouldn’t recommend it as the preferred way to go about it! 🙂

  4. What a wonderful post . . . and thank GOD you got fired. You raise the the entire reputation of “consultants” way up by being one. There are plenty of consultants who drag it down . . . but as long as there are people like you helping companies, consultants will always be credible.

    And thank God failure isn’t fatal. i would have been dead and buried at the age of 21, after the SECOND time I flunked out of college!

    Steve C.

  5. Robert,
    You and I must have led near-parallel lives at one time. I was fired from my last “corporate” job in October 2001. The first person I called was our dear friend, Kit Jenkins, ABC, whose response was “Good!” She knew that the place where I’d been working for 13 years was no longer a “good fit” for me (can you say “soul sucking”?), but I was too chicken to get out of the situation myself. My leaving that organization led to my joining the Peace Corps which totally changed my life and my world view. For that, I will be forever grateful to the person who fired me (and maybe someday I’ll feel healed enough to sit next to her at Rotary 😉

  6. Thanks, everyone, for all the wonderful comments! Steve, the feelings are mutual. The consulting world could use more guys like you who speak truth to power — and do it hilariously. And Marcia, that is an amazing story. It’s too bad that sometimes we have to endure a painful experience to discover our true passion.

  7. Robert. I believe this is probably your best post. Poignant, uplifting and thought provoking. For me this is the best post because you have connected with your audience; me. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way or as a disrespect to the other excellent and learned communicators who read your blog. But as you know, I was collateral damage from the economy as it drove off the precipice. I now find myself in a similar situation to where you were 10 years ago. Like you, I get up every day with a purpose, go to the office (in my slippers) and try to build my new venture: MA Communications. As my wife and best friend always tells me, “everything happens for a reason.” She’s right. I believe God had greater things in mind for you 10 years ago. The communications world is a richer and better place for it.

  8. I must say, politics and religion seem to bring out the very best as well as the very worst in folks. The best because both can lead to people being incredibly kind, the bad side because both can lead to unbelievably intractable and irrational behavior. I’m not criticizing you, this post simply made me realize this, so thank you for that.

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