Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Failure is Never Final

Many summers ago, I ran an ad in a local newspaper in an effort to help me pay for school.  The ad read, “Eager male college student looking to earn money… will do anything.”  Within a day, my phone was ringing off the hook.  I’ve been married for over 20 years and have a deal with my wife not to talk about some of those calls, so I’ll simply say that I got some very unusual requests.

However, most of the calls were from people who wanted me to mow lawns, clean pools, run errands and clean out garages.  I started off charging $5 per hour and, as business increased, gradually raised my hourly rate to $15.  That first summer, I averaged a few hundred dollars per week.  When I went back to school, all I could think about was growing the business the following summer.  By the end of the school year, I had a new plan and a goal to earn $500 per week working Monday through Friday.

I ran the same ad again, but this time I told callers that my rate was $15 an hour or a flat $50 if they hired me for a weekly 4-hour block.  I made it clear that they had to hire me for the same day and 4-hour time slot each week for the whole summer, and promised that they’d love having me there every week doing multiple jobs and making their summers easier.  I signed the first customer up for Monday mornings from 8:00am to noon, and the next customer for Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 5:00pm.  Within three days, I’d booked 10 customers and had secured my $500 a week goal.

However, I had booked the ad to run for two weeks, and the phone kept ringing.  I decided to ask some of my friends if they wanted to work for me.  Two of them laughed at how ridiculous the whole thing sounded, but two others asked me how much they’d earn.  I offered them $10 an hour and, within days, I had booked each of them with full weekly schedules just like my own.  I was now paying my friends $400 a week and keeping $100 apiece from their efforts, having booked them at a higher rate.  The phone kept ringing, and when I ran out of friends to hire, I placed an ad at a local high school.  I started hiring high school students to work for me at $7.50 an hour, and, soon enough, they were making $300 per week, and I was making an extra $200 a week per person.

By the following summer, I had grown the business into a $5,000 a week enterprise.  I hired someone to run the company, stopped doing manual labor myself, and became an absentee owner. I also gave her power of attorney, which included full access to my bank account.  This proved to be a devastating mistake, as I was embezzled out of tens of thousands of dollars and ultimately lost my business.  I was embarrassed, deep in debt, and felt like a colossal failure.  It was a true low point in my life, and I had very little hope for the future.

Many years later, I still reflect on that early business experience.  It reminds me of a seed in the forest with a shell so hard that the only thing that can crack it open is a raging forest fire.  A forest fire is incredibly destructive to trees and wildlife, but its intense heat is essential to split open the shell of that seed, known as the Fire Weed.  A week after the forest fire subsides, the Fire Weed blossoms with beautiful purple flowers emerging from the charred soil.

In a way, we are all like the Fire Weed.  Sometimes, in order to get to the next level in our personal evolution, we need our own forest fire to shake things up.

I rebounded from my business failure and, upon reflection, found that I had learned some very important lessons.  As I continue through life, I face challenges just like all of you.  I’ve learned that these challenges are the “fires” I need to crack my shell and help me reflect on life, enabling me to blossom and begin again.  When pursuing your dreams, think of the Fire Weed, and remember that failure is never final unless you allow it to be.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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