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 short.

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 drilling."

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 drilling.

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 business.

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 sale.

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 true.

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 years.

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 newcomers.

But I had learned something about the price of giving up.

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 reject.

Walt Disney is called a business genius, a visionary, a marketing magician.

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 times.

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 you've learned.

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 okay."

"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 experiments."

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 on digging.

Next day, after school, I was at it again, blisters and all.

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 it.

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 "bargain."

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 customers.

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 enough.

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:

Step 1.

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.

Step 2.

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 speeding."

They're your experiences, and they're your lessons. In fact, there are no wrong answers, as long as they're meaningful to you.

Step 3.

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 future.

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 want?

You're creating a mini-database of solutions to problems.

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.

Step 4.

Go use some of those lessons.

Deliberately go out and look for opportunities to test your solutions.

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.

Step 5.

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 zero.

Step 6.

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 want.

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 places.

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 hidden blockages and blast them out of your life. Discover what's been holding you back, and how to take decisive, laser-focused action toward your REAL dreams and goals.





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