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A Road Map for Turning Epic Failures into Future Success

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Have you ever failed at something so badly you feel like you couldn’t face the world? Like you’d rather stay in bed, never leaving your home or seeing anyone ever again?

I’m talking about epic, over-the-top, no-holds-barred failure where you fell down hard.

It may have come in the form of catastrophic life failures—being kicked out of the professional school you had long desired to attend, closing down a business you built from scratch or even filing for bankruptcy.

When life kicks you down and you end up back at square one, how do turn your biggest failures into success?

My experience with failure

A couple of years after I started my career in the legal field, I opened a law firm to help immigrants from around the world immigrate to the United States. My job was to assist and counsel immigrants with their U.S. visa applications and paperwork. It was a competitive business, and many law firms were already doing this kind of work.

With my legal skills, language skills and attention to details and customers, I helped create a firm that was more responsive and client-oriented. And I did have some early success.

The work I did for clients was wildly gratifying, but it was my first experience running a business. I began losing more money than I was bringing in. It got to the point where I realized I could no longer be in business and had to close my doors. I had to get a job—and quickly!

I did find work, but I had to go through the process of closing a down a business I had put all my time, money and heart into. I had to learn to deal with the failure and move forward.

Failing doesn’t prevent you from starting again

After closing the firm, I thought I never wanted to do business again. I was not prepared to ever invest in a project that took up this much time, money and energy.

After an epic failure, you often think you will never want to do that activity again. You think you will never open another business, start another restaurant, go back for another degree or license, audition for another play.

Once we’ve experienced the pain of loss, wanting to avert future loss makes sense. We would rather play it safe.

But instead of never starting again, never taking a similar action and hiding from future challenges, I took some actions to help me recover from this failed business experience.

You don’t have to view failure and loss as the final straw. You can use failure and loss to propel you to future success.

Here are six ways to turn epic failures into awesome success:

1. Know when to pull the plug

When you’re failing at something, you cannot continue to do it for the sake of persistence or determination.

If something isn’t working, see why it’s not. Get objective or expert advice from others to see what you’re doing wrong. Give yourself a timeframe to improve things or a deadline to call it quits. You cannot keep throwing in your energy, money or heart into a lost venture. You have to know when to stop. When you feel it’s time, pull the plug.

2. Accept the failure

Accepting failure is not the easiest thing in the world. We don’t like rejection, loss or drastic changes in our lives. But we need to learn how to accept failure.

Failure doesn’t say anything about you as a person. All it says is that you could have done a particular venture differently, better or not at all. (Click here to tweet this idea.)

Be prepared to accept that failures are a part of life and all the greatest people in the world became who they were through failures. Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. President Lincoln lost his fair share of elections before becoming Commander In Chief. And all of these people picked up and started again.

3. Have a plan for closure

When I had to close down my law firm, it was easy to let sadness and frustration hit. You’ll feel like doing nothing. But try not to linger in that state for too long.

Find a way to turn this into a positive activity. You don’t have to let failure stick around forever. Move forward with a plan to close things down. In my case, I found a strategy to complete each client file, found other professionals to complete outstanding cases and developed a plan to close down the administrative functions of the office.

A simple checklist of items to attack might be all you need. Another way is grouping the items for closure into big to-do tasks. For example, I had an “administrative,” “active client cases” and “office closure” task list. Each day, I’d go through to see what remaining items were left in each category and try to attack those items.

4. Find the lessons to be learned

During the process of closing my business and soon after, I reflected on what went wrong, what I could have done better and what I could do in the future.

You can write these things down or just reflect on them and try to understand them. I did a lot of my business online, so I looked through Google Analytics, Google Adsense advertising and other objective data to see how I could have marketed my services better online.

I consulted with clients who had become friends, my small staff and even my accountant to get each of their thoughts on what we could have done better to become successful.

This is a key part of failure: trying to understand what went wrong. If you learn the lessons of failure, you’ll enable failure to be a wise and powerful teacher.

Learning from failure will give you insights into what you could do differently in the future and help set you up for success in your next venture.

5. Incorporate these lessons into your new ventures

When you’ve learned the difficult life lessons, move forward by incorporating them into your next project or business.

For example, I moved on from my failed business to work for another law firm. I brought with me many insights, knowledge and skills that I was able to use to help the firm grow. I had become a better professional, a more skilled worker and had insights on what hadn’t worked for me. I was thus able to implement systems that did work and help the firm become more successful. I would regularly try to do things differently or better with the knowledge I had gained from my business experience.

6. Start again

When the circumstances warrant it and when you feel the time is right, venture out again to take another shot at what you had started before. You don’t necessarily have to go after the same business, education or relationship; just find a new goal to work towards.

You’ll be able to pursue this new goal with the knowledge of what didn’t work the last time. Although your confidence may have suffered because of your failure, here’s what you have to understand: you’re a smarter and more insightful student, entrepreneur or professional now because of that failure. You’ve done it before, survived the loss and are probably more ready than many out there to start again.

Also, success does come to those who persist. If an opportunity or venture didn’t work out, do it better the next time around.

Failure by itself may be tragic, painful and you may feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. But it doesn’t have to be the end of everything. Failure can be the building block for future success if you handle it the right way. When you’re ready to dust yourself off and try again, having failed puts you in a position to have stronger wins in the future.

Have you failed? How did you make your comeback? Share your story with us in the comments below!

Vishnu Subramaniam writes about career, life and spirituality for his community of world-changers. You can sign up for his weekly posts at www.vishnusvirtues.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=214207575380698 You Only Do This Once

    Great post. There is no doubt that more is learned by failing than by succeeding. As long as you are in the right head space to accept it! Fearless!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      Thank you! Failure is a great teacher and teaches wise lessons :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=693845046 Razwana Wahid

    Failure is tragic and painful – if you choose to look at it from that perspective. I do also think that you have to go through the grieving process before you can see the positive (like venturing back out when the time is right, as you put it).

    How have I failed? How about how have I not failed, Vishnu! Ha ha! It’s all part of the fun, right?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      hey Razwana – you’re right, going through the grieving process is often necessary to see the lessons and wisdom from a failure.

      How have you not failed you say? Haha – that only means you’ve learned a lot in the process. Thanks for dropping by.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1546500576 Martha Murdy Orlando

    Failures may be tough, but they also offer us opportunities to learn and grow. Fabulous post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      Thanks Martha. Failure is a great teacher. Sometimes when we don’t get the lesson the first time, failure will be a persistent teacher.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1034953794 Wendy Irene

    Really enjoyed this post Vishnu! I know I have failed at things many times but to be honest it is not a word I even use. I guess I see everything more as stepping stones on my life path and don’t specifically call things failures, although it could be seen that way. Having gone through immigration myself when I lived in Canada, and going through it again with my husband when we moved back to the US, I know how time consuming and stressful the whole thing can be. Your clients were lucky to have you helping them!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      I like the fact that you said we shouldn’t even the word failure. Maybe learning instead?

      Glad you survived the immigration system in 2 countries Wendy! I really enjoyed helping my clients immigrate to the U.S. They’ve all gone on to do big things.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000487878261 Dan Black

    I think your points about starting again essential. Many people have allowed failure to stop them. It’s the people who are successful who have learned and moved forward after a failure. Great post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      Thanks Dan – we have to stand back up every time we fall down. And we learn a lot when we do fall. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001879292863 Rj Räďħě

    baby walker india.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1122755344 Corinne Rodrigues

    This made me think about my own ‘failure’ at a business venture, Vishnu. As it happened I didn’t stay at it long enough for personal reasons. However, my business partner who took it over, was able to see the work we had put in come to fruition. What I learned from the losses and tough times in those years are echoed in your post. Looking back, I see how I could have done things differently. If ever I do venture into another business, I know the lessons of that ‘failed’ business will come in really handy! Great post – am sharing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      Thanks for your comments Corinne. I think we all reflect and think about how we could have done something differently and we can – the next time around. Our past failures, I believe strongly, are the foundation for future success. Looking forward to both of our next ventures: )

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000413207381 Aditya Samitinjay

    What a life story and very inspirational indeed. I cannot judge because I haven’t been in such a situation but I can say that you handled the matters really well and best part was that you had the guts to start again, while most people wouldn’t.

    This was my favorite line – “This is a key part of failure: trying to understand what went wrong. If you learn the lessons of failure, you’ll enable failure to be a wise and powerful teacher.”

    Superb post! Loved it!

    Aditya

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      Thanks Aditya. Failure can be a teacher, we sometimes just have to let it be:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=85600814 Bjorn Karlman

    Vishnu, having relied on US immigration lawyers to live and work in the US, my first reaction to this post is that I wish you were still in the business! I am sure you have the humanity and the brains to really help people that are struggling with filing applications for themselves and loved ones. Having said that, I really liked this perspective on how to harvest valuable lessons from failure. I’m at the point where I don’t even like using the word failure… I kind of see the bumps in the road as sign posts on the way to meaningful success… Thanks for the awesome post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003918563173 Vishnus Virtues

      haha thanks Bjorn and I’m so glad that you were able to get your other half to the States safely despite the obstacles:)

      Yeah, let’s go with a different word – meaningful success or the route to the success or stumbling blocks to success. And you’re right – sign posts to susccess. Sign posts sometimes without a sign. haha. You don’t get advanced warning you’re at a stop sign or a 4 way intersection.

      Thanks for your comment Bjorn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000209746277 David Hunt

    Business and life are filled with many variables. We do not always have control over the ever changing world or a finacial scandal that amplifies our not so well thought out plan. As Winston Churchhill stated “Failure is not fatal”. We can start a new day and in the wonderfully free country we live in we can veture again. If you are looking for a great way to turn around your fortune and life send me an invite with the word venture in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=172744456192282 downfromtheledge

    It can be hard to decipher what exactly we’re supposed to learn from failure, but we do fail because of very specific reasons. Asking what we would have had to do differently (in order to avert failure) is big. Sometimes the project requires something that we’re just not meant to be doing, and that’s hard to accept.

  • jrandom421

    So what do you do when your failure is so epic, people get killed and you get convicted of murder? How do you come back from that?

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