Gold in Your Failures
Darby quit only 3 feet from gold.
Back in the late 1800's, thousands of people made their way
to the American West in search of riches.
Napoleon Hill, in his classic "Think and Grow Rich," tells
how one man, named Darby, joined his uncle in mining for gold.
They filed a claim, actually made a strike, and dug out enough
of the precious metal to prove the new mine was one of the
richest ever found.
They were ecstatic... and then the gold run out.
It appeared that the vein of ore had been very rich but very
Desperately, they dug farther. Nothing.
And they dug some more. Still nothing.
Finally, disheartened, they closed up the mine, sold all
their mining equipment to a junk man for a few hundred dollars,
and slunk back home in the east.
The junk dealer, however, had watched miners for a while,
and he knew something Darby and his uncle didn't.
As Napoleon Hill tells it:
"The junk man called in a mining engineer to look at the
mine and do a little calculating. The engineer advised that the
project had failed because the owners were not familiar with
'fault lines.' His calculations showed that the vein would be
found just three feet from where the Darbys had stopped
And so it was. The junk man made millions from a mine that
the Darbys had walked away from. He knew enough to just keep on
Years later, Darby told Napoleon Hill that he had learned a
priceless lesson from that failure. In fact, it was the main
reason that Darby went on to make a fortune in the insurance
He said that every time he was in a selling situation and
the prospect said "no," he remembered quitting 3 feet from
gold. Then he would press on and try harder to close the
Darby learned the importance of persistence only after
seeing how expensive it can be to quit.
He didn't know they were only 3 feet from success. His uncle
didn't know. The junk dealer didn't know, either, but he was
smart enough to go get expert advice.
And then he went down in the hole and just dug a little
farther... far enough to make himself a very rich man.
When I came to Japan in 1985, it was the middle of the
"bubble years." Work was everywhere.
I came as a writer, but most newcomers came because they'd
heard they could make good money teaching English. And it was
English language schools were opening three-to-a-street-
corner, and they were offering some very good salaries for
anybody willing to teach English.
Few of the foreigners coming to Japan actually had any
training as teachers, but that made no difference. All willing
native English speakers (and many who only claimed to be
native) were pressed into service.
It was definitely a seller's market, with schools scrambling
to find teachers of any kind.
And you'd think, with a market like that, it would be very
hard to fail. But it wasn't.
People would come, try it for a short while, become
surprised that it took real effort to adjust to a different
culture, and they'd quit. Just pack up and go back home.
Some, however, stayed. For example, I'm still here after 17
Why the difference? Was it easier for me?
Nope - if anything, it was probably harder. Being in my
forties, I was nearly twice the age of most of my fellow
But I had learned something about the price of giving
I'd had failures in my past, times I had quit when I should
have kept going, and those experiences were a resource I drew
upon in Japan.
Failure is not a disgrace. It doesn't brand you forever as a
Walt Disney is called a business genius, a visionary, a
But did you know he went broke several times before finally
breaking into the big-time? Like Darby and his gold mine,
Disney learned to just keep on drilling.
And Bill Birdseye, the man who invented frozen foods,
discovered the secret of flash freezing (and in the process
created an entire industry) after going bankrupt seven
He, too, learned to just keep on drilling.
So if you have been less than successful in the past, that
can be a very good thing.
There are lessons you can learn from a failure. Or two
failures. Or even seven failures.
Thomas Edison was asked if he ever got discouraged when it
took him thousands of tries to invent the electric light. His
answer is priceless. "No, because then I knew several thousand
ways not to make an electric light."
When you know lots of ways that don't work, this frees your
mind to explore novel new ways of thinking about the problem
you're seeking to solve. But you have to be willing to use what
Eileen, a friend of mine, had been married four times, and
had decided that she was doomed to spend her life alone or
"shackled to a loser."
As she put it, "I'm afraid to get married again. I always
attract the same kind of abusive cheater. I guess I'm just a
loser at love."
I assured her that she was not "a loser" just because she
had made some poor decisions in the past. Then I asked her to
describe the man she would really like to marry.
She drew a blank.
I asked if she preferred someone who was tall, short, dark,
fair, an intellectual, a man handy with tools. Should he like
to dance? What kind of meals would he like?
She was still blank. "I don't really care. Any of those is
"Well, would you like for him to be a heavy drinker or a
compulsive gambler?" I knew her second and third husbands had
shared those traits.
"Absolutely not!" Suddenly Eileen was crystal clear about
what she DIDN'T want.
"Okay, you know two ways NOT to find a husband," I told her,
"That's a start. And you learned them from previous
Eileen laughed out loud. "Previous experiments - that's a
good name for ex-husbands."
Actually, her failures weren't failures at all. They were
merely a lack of clear intention. She didn't know what she
wanted, so that's what she got.
Most failures are like that.
But not all.
For my ninth birthday I got the book "Treasure Island." I
loved that book. As I read, I became inflamed by the vision of
digging up buried treasure.
The day I finished the book, I went out and found a shovel
in back of the house. Then I paced off ten paces this way and
twenty paces that way. I carefully marked a big X on the ground
and started digging.
I was sure I'd find buried treasure. I had paced off the
distances, and I was digging ferociously. All afternoon I
excavated. Soon I had blisters the size of marbles, but I kept
Next day, after school, I was at it again, blisters and
I dug every afternoon for about a week before I finally
figured it out - there wasn't going to be any treasure.
You already know where I went wrong don't you?
I had a burning vision, great desire, and lots of effort,
but none of that was based on reality. It was just a nine-
year-old's fantasy. A daydream.
Every marketing consultant in existence tells us over and
over: before you spend weeks or months writing your book, do a
survey and find out if anybody wants it.
Before you launch your brilliant new invention, find out if
anybody wants it.
Before you start your new service, find out if anybody wants
Tony, a guy I used to know, worked endless hours trying to
make a success of an old gasoline station. It was offered to
him at a great price, so he bought the thing at a terrific
The station had once been hugely popular.
Then the state put in a freeway, and everybody quit using
the little road his gas station was on. No traffic, no
But he was convinced that if he just worked hard enough, he
could turn things around. He just KNEW he could make that
business a success if he tried hard enough and believed hard
But it never worked out.
Finally, he shut it down - or rather, his creditors shut it
down for him.
And for as long as I knew him after that, Tony was bitter
about his failure. He got a job in a shoe store and never even
considered starting another business.
The wonderful lessons he could have learned from that
experience were totally lost to him. The gas station could have
been merely an unsuccessful experiment, one step toward
eventual success, but Tony wouldn't let it be an asset. The
entire experience was just a failure, nothing more.
A positive attitude is crucially important for success. But
so is plain old commonsense. It takes some of both.
So if you have some old "failures" lying around, and you'd
like to find the gold buried in them, try this:
List your failures - all of them, large and small.
Sure, you'd rather not think about some of them. That's only
human. But that's where you richest learning experiences are
hiding, so it's important to get 'em out where you can look
them over and see them plainly.
It doesn't matter what they are, or when you made them. You
might have divorces and bankruptcies right alongside
embarrassing experiences in kindergarten or first grade.
In this first step, your job is not to evaluate. Just put it
all on paper.
Find the lessons.
For each one of those "failures," look for three things you
learned (at least three things). This information will be
priceless when you start using it to avoid the same
unsuccessful experiments in the future.
The lessons can range from "Never buy high and sell low" to
"Never pour beer over the officer who stopped you for
They're your experiences, and they're your lessons. In fact,
there are no wrong answers, as long as they're meaningful to
List how you'll use those lessons.
Learning a lesson is important, but even more important is
knowing exactly how you're going to put it to use in the
Write out a few simple scenarios describing how you'll
handle such experiences if (when) they happen again. How will
you change your actions so that you get the results you
You're creating a mini-database of solutions to
A salesman may not have an answer to an objection the first
time he hears it, but that night, if he's a good salesman,
he'll go home, write out an answer and practice it. Then, the
next time a prospect raises that objection, the salesman will
be ready. He'll never be surprised by the same thing twice.
You're doing the same thing by writing out the lessons
you've learned. Being unprepared the first time is no disgrace.
But if you're managing your mind properly, that same situation
will never find you unprepared again.
Go use some of those lessons.
Deliberately go out and look for opportunities to test your
It may have been a sales situation. If so, try your new
idea. Or maybe the problem had to do with supervising a worker,
teaching a student, or trimming a tree. Doesn't matter what it
was. Go out and try to duplicate the problem.
You want to check how good your solution is, and the only
way to do that is put it into action in the field.
Record your results.
Gather data. Write out the results you got when you tried
out your new idea.
Maybe it worked perfectly. Maybe it didn't. Either is okay,
because you're still experimenting. So just make a record of
what happened, and your evaluation.
Was it a total success? On a scale of 1-10, rate it a 9 or a
10. Was it just so-so? Give it a 5 rating. And if it was a
complete washout, be honest. Give your idea a rating of 1 or
Sharpen and polish your lessons.
If some of the new solutions you dreamed up didn't work
quite as well as you expected, try to improve them. Remember,
this is all just an experiment until you get the results you
Edison passed electricity through thousands of substances,
and nothing worked until he finally tried a carbonized human
hair. But when that tiny filament lit up, he knew that all
those countless hours were worth it.
Of course, he didn't stop there. He - and many other
researchers - kept on trying different materials, always
working toward a better result.
Edison was working to make a successful light bulb.
You're working to make a successful life. Keep
experimenting, and you'll create light in the most exciting
It's easy to spend time reviewing your successes. Anybody
can do that.
But when you start reviewing your failures and learning from
them, that's when you'll strike real gold.
Blocks Refusing to Budge? Business Going Nowhere? Charles
Burke's Sizzling Edge Report is dedicated to helping you find
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