#29 – About Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work….Thomas Edison

Arrrrgh!

The quote by Thomas Edison is a great lead in to this next question:  #29–What was your single greatest personal failure?  Did it make you weaker or stronger?  What did you learn? How did you change?

I have to say, this question is one of those that, if I wasn’t pulling them out of a jar, I would probably put off answering.  Even though ‘failure’, like any other word,  is just a symbol representing a meaning that we have adopted as a tribe to apply to it, it carries so much baggage that it would be easy to come up with some blah-blah line that would get me off the hook.  I could say something like, “I don’t believe in failure.  Life is a series of experiments…some work and some don’t…blah blah blah.”  Or “The only failure is to give up trying…blah blah blah.”  Both of which are absolutely true and I could certainly write them with clear conscience.

However, the reality is also that when we try something and screw it up royally, as I, and probably you, have done, we do feel like we have ‘failed’.  We take on the baggage and we beat ourselves up, at least for a little while.  Then, hopefully, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over—lesson learned.  Or at least if we are smart, lesson learned.  And I believe it is true that the real failure is if you DON’T pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

But I’m going to take this question as it was intended—what is one thing that I did royally screw up and how did it affect me going forward?  Am I weaker or stronger for it?  Did I learn from it?  Did I change?

Actually this question is particularly relevant right now.  What I would call my single greatest failure has to do with money and taking care of it.  Back in 2000, I made a whole boatload of money in one month.  It happened to be a month that came just after a large contract came to an end, and all the people I had working for me had moved on to other opportunities, including the person who did the bookkeeping.  Now I’m not really a detail person.  I’m an idea person.  In fact, I remember once, at the height of my business, Shantelle, one of the great team who worked for me, wanted me to look something over and sign it.  I was busy and I said, “Okay just leave it there and I’ll sign it in a minute,” pointing to the corner of my messy desk.  She said, “Nope, I’m going to stand here and hold it till you sign it.”  She knew me.

So when I made that boatload of money, I failed to keep good records.  I failed to take care of it and invest it wisely.  I gave people things and lent money to people who asked–and never got it back.  I took a bunch of really interesting courses that required travelling all over the country.  I didn’t invoice and follow up when I should have.  Worst of all, I didn’t pay my taxes when I should have.

It took me a while to spend it all but I worked hard at it until I did.  And then it took me a while to get it all sorted out and the taxes paid.  That was my greatest personal failure.

What did I learn from it?  Well I should have learned to keep better records and pay attention to the details but that would probably require a whole personality transplant.  So the other day, facing the same kind of situation potentially, I thought about it and decided that what I need to do is work from my strengths and let someone else take over what I’m lousy at.  I need a bookkeeper.  And I need the bookkeeper in advance of when I earn a whole boatload of money again so that I’m ready next time and don’t replay the same old movie.

Anyone know a great, cheap bookkeeper and virtual assistant in Canada?  Preferably in Ontario?

 Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…Thomas Edison