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Let Failure Guide You to Success

"Failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s part of the journey toward it."— Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some opportunities in my life that I’ve let pass me by because I was afraid of failing. The good news is that I figured out the power of failure many years ago. The bad news is that I still see many people passing up opportunities, as I once did, simply because fear of failure tends to inhibit forward thinking.

My favorite quote about failure comes from Mary Pickford. The actress stated, “If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” How can you experience success and embrace it if you’ve never experienced failure? How can you be a humble entrepreneur if you haven’t sat in the depths of desperation and pulled yourself out? Most important, how can you discover your amazing potential if you decide to let failure define your fate?

It’s been over 20 years since I chose to pursue my personal training business. There were people in my life who wondered why my “cushy,” stay-at-home-mom position wasn’t enough, yet I was not willing to let others define my destiny. Despite the naysayers, I decided to start my own business. I knew without question that it was what I was meant to do, even though I had never operated a business or taken a class in accounting, business or marketing. Had I let those facts prevent me from moving forward, I would not be where I am today.

Advice is certainly welcome, but at the end of the day, it’s your life, your choice, your destiny—and you must define it. You need to make your path completely and utterly your own, willingly and positively, without regret. If you allow other people to set your direction, you will always be left with a “What if?” hanging out there.

Over my years as a business owner, I have learned a lot, and I continue to learn more every day. There have been many failures, and in fact, I still fail in some of my business choices. But I will never give up, because that would limit my opportunities, which for me is not an option.

Another personal trainer who sees the value of failure in his life is Todd Durkin, MA, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, and the 2004 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year. “I feel my business savvy and experience are so much greater now because of all the actions I have taken, both good and bad,” he says. “While not all of my decisions and actions have been positive, they have ultimately led me to be a better businessperson, leader and entrepreneur, as well as a better spouse, father and friend.”

So how do you let failure direct your life? Has failure become the guest that doesn’t leave? Or do you use it as an ally? If someone had educated me about the value of failure earlier in my career, I might be a lot farther along than I currently am. Yet I consider that my journey is moving at the appropriate pace—something else I’ve come to appreciate and welcome in my life.

From Failure to Success

There are a number of ways you can use road bumps (your failures) to help you reach your destination (success).

Failure Is an Opportunity to Learn. Michael Jordan said it best: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Failure affords you the chance to stand back and decide what you need to do differently in order to move forward and become the success you were meant to be. Do you know of any successful businesspeople who haven’t had their share of failures? The reason they became successful was in part because of their ability to learn from the things that went wrong. Rather than stay in the mindset of “Why me?” consider the mindset of “Why not?”

Failure Can Simply Be a Result of Undefined Success. First of all, you need to figure out your definition of success. More often than not, people define their success using someone else’s definition. For example, many look at Donald Trump as a success, yet he has suffered some tough blows, both professionally and personally. Would his ups and downs work for you? Would his methods?

To establish your own definition, ask yourself these two important questions:

1. What are my values?

2. What are my priorities?

Success is relative, and one person’s success may be another person’s failure. You need to decide what success will look like once you achieve it. For example, years ago someone urged me to franchise my business. That wasn’t how I defined success, so I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew how and where I wanted to spend my time, and it was not in franchising my business. Would it make me wildly rich? Perhaps. But since I wouldn’t be doing something I loved, it didn’t meet my definition of success. So pay attention to your definition, and follow that direction.

Failure Calls for Introspection. Personally, I believe failure is my cue to stand back and think long and hard about what went wrong. I consider it a lesson in humility. Within a few years of starting my business, my studio was rockin’! We were very busy, the numbers were great, and I honestly felt it was time to kick back because success was mine. I started taking more time off and being less productive. A few months into my much-too-soon sabbatical, business dropped off, cancellations increased, and client praise fell to an all-time low. That forced me to take a long, hard look at what I was doing and to revisit my goals, mission and values. My failure to pay attention to my business and clients served as a kick in the rear. It was time to wake up and figure out a different strategy, because the old one was clearly not working.

Fraser Quelch, head coach and director of training and development with Fitness Anywhere in San Francisco, shared something he wrote during a time of introspection following perceived failure: “In the spirited man, failure serves only to strengthen resolve, intensify desire and fuel motivation. The man who contains himself under the umbrella of comfort never fails, but grows complacent and satisfied with his mediocrity. But to have made a great attempt and failed breeds a dissatisfied edge. A restless hunger for that which escaped us. Within failure there lies the road to success and the seeds of greatness!”

Failure Can Be a Signal to Slow Down. There are times when it might seem that simply working hard will prevent failure, but in truth what you need to ask yourself is whether you’re working smart. Throughout my business career, it has been when I was trying to do too much that I have failed. It’s important to remember that it’s not how hard you’re working, but how effectively, that matters. In other words, if you’re spending 50 hours a week running your business, and you’re exhausted, the quality of customer service may start to wane. If it does, you’re going to lose clients. This may be the perfect time to stand back and consider a new approach to time management and scheduling. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “doing” that we forget about the need for “reviewing”—in other words, making sure that the “doing” is positively productive.

For example, there are times when we feel overwhelmed by work and simply complain about it to others. Consider sitting down for a half-hour, making a list of the issues that are challenging you, and coming up with two solutions for each. Slowing down and reviewing will better equip you to meet your challenges. It is in slowing down that you become more aware of what’s working and what’s not. Remember, failure is a reminder that you tried.

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, of Palm Beach, Florida, is a speaker, author and wellness and fitness educator. She explains the powerful effect that slowing down had on her. “The role failure played in my success is that it got me down to the bare bones of who I am. I had to face myself—my strengths and weaknesses—and force myself to get up and start over again.”

Failure Is Life’s Way of Preparing You for Success! According to Shannon Fable, president of Sunshine Fitness Resources in Boulder, Colorado, “Each time I do something that doesn’t work out, I figure I have two choices: I can wallow in self-pity or figure out how to turn the experience into a workshop or consulting session and help someone else. I have made my living out of the latter choice.” She reminds us that in business we will fail not just once but multiple times. “The problem lies in the fact that we are so embarrassed by our failures that we don’t share them and help other people with these pitfalls. I try to look back, figure out what went wrong and then help others sidestep those land mines that are out there waiting.”

Failure and Success Aren’t Necessarily Permanent

When people think about failure, they regrettably assume it’s a permanent state. Failure becomes permanent when you don’t pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try for plan B. If plan B doesn’t work, you try plan C, and so on. Eventually you find what works. Success is simply the result of overcoming your failures by having the desire and determination to keep working toward your goal. You don’t have to let failure define your destiny. Rather, allow it to catapult you to your destination of success; it’s waiting for you. n

November–December 2009 IDEA Trainer Success


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Nicki Anderson

Nicki Anderson has owned and operated the award-winning Reality Fitness, Inc. since 1991. She is the health and fitness columnist for Suburban Chicago Newspapers and Naperville Magazine, and has authored numerous books, including Nicki AndersonÔÇÖs Single-Step Weight Loss Solution, 101 Tips to Motivate Your Clients and Increase Retention, and Eight Steps to Create a Successful Personal Training Program. Nicki is the 2009 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and she lectures all over the world teaching fitness professionals the value of solid business practices.

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