Saturday, April 13, 2024

The upside of failure

| January 28, 2024 1:00 AM

I just set my New Year's goals, which are fairly ambitious. And I know I will not succeed at all of them. As long as I have a positive mental attitude it won't matter if I don't hit them all.

You are not going to succeed at everything you try. I don't look at it as a failure. Look at the percentages over your lifetime. It is onward and upward. I know of no famous people who have ever achieved everything in life they wanted. It is not sound thinking.

The underlying theme in all my books, speeches and this nationally syndicated column is three words: Prepare to Win. Never forget that if you don't take aim, you won't really get a chance to hit your goals.

I have always had two dreams: to be an entrepreneur or a college basketball coach. Turns out I am a better basketball fan than a coach. I will support my beloved Minnesota Gophers and professional teams through thick and thin, watching intently while enjoying my popcorn, and leave the strategy and the post-game press conferences to the experts.

So, I followed my path as an entrepreneur. I bought a failing envelope company at the ripe old age of 26 and spent five years pouring my heart and soul into it. My very understanding wife kept the home fires burning while I worked my heart out hoping I had what it took.

Few entrepreneurs make it the first time they try. In fact, if you want to triple your success ratio, you might have to triple your failure rate.  

Few of us lead unblemished personal or professional lives. It is the ability to overcome our faults that counts. Theologians are fond of saying that no faith is worth having unless it has been tested. There is not a sin in the catalog of sins that has not been committed by a certified saint. Committed, faced and overcome. That's what makes them saints.

What is the great lesson that failure teaches?

Failure teaches you not to fear failure, because if you can survive it to fight again, you haven't failed. You have only heightened your appreciation of success.  

I have taken some colossal risks in my career, not without some fear. But it was never fear of failure. I have had spectacular failures. And no, that is not an oxymoron. A spectacular failure can, and often will, lead to your most spectacular success.  

With every huge risk I took, I told myself that as long as I hadn't burned any bridges with my contacts, employees, suppliers or customers, I could recover from just about anything. And along the way I realized that a more dangerous fear would be fearing success, which would hold me back from some pretty remarkable business opportunities.

One thing I know for sure: I never want to live with regrets. Of course, in retrospect there are plenty of instances where I could have done things differently or better. Years of experience help you develop good judgment, and there are times we guess wrong.

But instead of wasting time beating myself up, I turn it into a learning experience. What would I do differently next time? Should I have asked a few more questions, trusted my gut instead of my heart? I give myself a day or two to review whatever missteps I can identify, and plan how to avoid them in the future. Failure gives you the chance to start over, just more intelligently. And start over, you should. Don't let failure destroy your confidence.

Nobody hits 100%. Don't let yourself get down. Life is a journey. Failure will happen a lot in life. It happens to everyone.

There are lots of people who give it everything they have and fail. You don't want to look back and have only coulda, woulda or shoulda. You are not a failure. It happens to everyone in life. You must give it everything you have, win or lose.

Mackay's Moral: The worst failure is the failure to try.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.