I could find a dozen great quotes that talk about failure being a steppingstone to success, or a dozen great leaders who swear that failing was the catalyst that drove their success. But let’s face it: failing sucks!
In the course of my career, I’ve failed more times than I care to remember. Of all the failures in my career, one stands out as particularly painful.
A few years back, I worked for a small family business, a computer training company in central Massachusetts. I spent nine years working there, moving up the ladder from Sales Person to Sales and Marketing Manager, leading a team of four. I busted my backside on that job, not only because it was a family business, but also because I was proud of my work and wanted to see it pay off.
The company struggled almost from the start as the computer training industry underwent a paradigm shift, from exclusively in-person training to a hybrid model. The company ended up going bankrupt, putting myself, three family members, and a handful of colleagues out of jobs.
It still stings to tell that story, even now, 20 years later.
But all of those quotes and successful leaders were right. We learn a lot of lessons from failure. What did I learn from that experience?
Working with a great group of people makes all the difference. Even when things were tough, I still loved being part of a healthy, cohesive team working toward the same goal.
Some things are out of your control. A lot of things, actually. I had no control over a rapidly changing industry, and our fledgling company wasn’t big enough to sway the tide.
Reacting is not an effective way to run a business. We got into a situation where we were reacting to rapid-fire changes in the industry, and we never got ahead of them. Rather than getting our heads above water and surveying the scene, we just kept swimming faster and faster in the wrong direction.
I was devastated when this company went under. Destroyed.
I felt guilty for not single-handedly swaying the entire industry back in our direction, ridiculous as that sounds. I worried that it was the nail in my career’s coffin. I didn’t know what would come next.
What came next was success.
I found a new job in a growing industry with a company that was doing a lot of things right. It was a good fit. I found my voice, got my footing, and helped drive the company forward. In the 10 years I worked there, I rose from Sales Person to Director of Sales & Marketing, leading a team of seven to take revenue from $5.5 million to $18 million.
I built on that success by launching my own consulting firm, using my experiences, both the successes and the failures, to coach leadership teams. I saw so much of myself in those early clients, and used my experiences to guide them in the right direction.
That failure, as painful as it was, was a necessary step on my journey. It brought balance to my background, helping me to recognize the wrong path when a company is traveling it. It brought humility, so that I can better connect with leadership teams. It helped me understand the importance of proactively setting a direction and communicating it to the entire team.
Without it, I wouldn’t have recognized the power of EOS©, which is the antidote to many of the problems that my little family business faced.
I can’t quite say that I’m grateful for my failures, but I can appreciate the value they’ve brought to my life. So, in that spirit, I’ll share just one of the many great quotes about the relationship between success and failure:
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
- Henry Ford
About the Author
Kirsten Smith, founder of Made to Thrive Consulting, is a business management strategist and EOS Implementer®. She has over 20 years Business Development and Management experience with small and large organizations alike, including those listed among the Fortune 500. She is both a business professional and motivational speaker covering a range of topics including attitude change, effective sales techniques, customer service excellence, and personality profiling. Her passion is helping entrepreneurs and leaders be the very best version of themselves and to do more than just survive … THRIVE!
Contact Kirsten at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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