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5 Winners Teach Us How to Learn From Failure

Sometimes life throws you a curveball, hands you a lemon, or knocks you for a loop.
But knowing how to approach failure can be the first step to success. The latest
science and strategies on how to win in the end.
By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest | May 2009

marriage ended, former soldier Randi Ketchum bounced back and started teaching
How Failure Makes us Stronger
How to Make Up Your Mind to Succeed
Slideshow: 4 Ways to Follow Your Dreams
When author J. K. Rowling addressed the graduating class at Harvard last June, she
didnt focus on success. Instead, she spoke about failure. She related a story about a
young woman who gave up her dream of writing novels to study something more
practical. Nonetheless, she ended up as an unemployed single mom as poor as it is
possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. But during this rock-
bottom time, she realized she still had a wonderful daughter, an old typewriter, and an
idea that would become the foundation for rebuilding her life. Perhaps youve heard
of Harry Potter? You might never fail on the scale I did, Rowling told that
privileged audience. But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless
you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at allin which case, you
fail by default.
You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both
have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for it is painfully won,
and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.
Lots of Americans are tasting failure for the first time now and immediately trying to
spit it out. Whether its a home foreclosure, unemployment, or the evaporation of
hard-earned savings, the have-it-all generation suddenly doesnt. But in the bitterness
that accompanies adversity are lessons worth savoringand, if you look hard enough,
sweet opportunity.
On the pages that follow, youll learn how the brain responds to failure and how it can
be reprogrammed for success using some simple tricks. Youll also find advice from a
successful entrepreneur who claims that times like these are actually among the best
for launching dreams. But most valuable, youll meet some ordinary people who were
in some tough situations. A few screwed up; others got sucker punched. But even
though their stories are quite different, the outcomes are the same. They all bounced
back. And you can too.
As Rowling herself would admit, it doesnt take a wizard to do it.
I failed to be the wife with a white-picket life, but Ive since given it to my
Randi Ketchum, 36, Huron, Ohio
It was one of the happiest times of my life. I was 29 and had just received my
bachelors degree, graduating with honors despite working two jobs and being a wife
and mother. My parents and five-year-old son were in the audience when I walked
onto the stage at Ashland University to get my diploma. I was so excited and proud to
be starting a teaching career and contributing more to my familys well-being.
But when I got home that evening, there was a note from my husband written on the
back of an envelope. It basically said hed come to get his clothes and wouldnt be
back. Wed been having trouble, but the finality of that note still came as a shock. He
had emptied our bank account. We were horribly in debt. I had quit my previous jobs
in anticipation of interviewing for a teaching position. Plus, I was eight months
Most young women have an idealized picture of the happy-go-lucky life theyre going
to live in a house with a white-picket fence. But no one ever sits you down and says
thats not reality, and sometimes life is just darn ugly. It all caved in for me that night.
I was embarrassed, scared, and angry and felt I had failed.
But I had my son, and I was about to bring a new life into the world, so despite my
deep sadness, I had to go on. The next morning, I woke up (literally and figuratively),
put my feet on the floor, took a deep breath, fixed breakfast, and basically did
everything I always did. I used my routine to keep me moving. After being in the
military for six years, I guess you can say I fell back on my training, like all good
soldiers do in tough situations. One small step after one small step was the way I
bounced back.
And in the seven years since, Ive continued moving forward. I got a job as a
kindergarten teacher, earned a masters degree in education, and watched my babies
grow to 12 and seven. I certainly would never have chosen to put them through this,
but in retrospect, Im glad it happened to me when it did. It helped me find my voice
and myself a lot sooner. It helped me grow independent, confident, and strong
things Im hopefully instilling now in my children.
I failed at everything when I was young, but I just sold my company for $75
Bob Williamson, 62, South Florida
In 1970, when I was 24, I hitchhiked to Atlanta and, ironically, ended up on Luckie
Street. I was anything but lucky at the time. I was a drug addict and was wanted by
police. Everything I owned was in a pillowcase. I had decided I was going to either
straighten up or commit suicide. I sold a pint of blood for $7 and got a room for the
night at the Luckie Street YMCA. The next day, I landed a job cleaning bricks, then
moved into a boardinghouse and slowly started making my way back.
But luck wasnt on my side just yet. I got into a head-on collision in a borrowed car
and was hurt so badly, I was in the hospital for three months. While I was there, I took
to reading the Bible. I picked it up out of boredom and really thought I would
disapprove of it. But I read the New Testament, then the Old, and then the New
againevery word of it. And at that moment, I started to feel a gentle, steady pull of
encouragement. Even though I had the morals of a junkyard dog, I felt forgiven and
even loved.
Shortly after I left the hospital, I met a wonderful young woman, whom I married six
months later. She was like something out of The Brady Bunch, as opposite to me as
you could imagine, but weve been married now for 38 years and have a large, loving
family. I went on to become a pillar of the community and a successful businessman.
In fact, I just sold my software company, the ninth business I founded, for $75
I dont believe in coincidence or luck. I believe in God. And if theres a lesson I
learned from this, its that God seems to show his strength and power through
weakness. I think he picks the down-and-out on purpose to demonstrate whats
possible. But it isnt always an aha moment. He doesnt just bless you and heap on the
millions. Rather, God shows you the way and supplies the opportunities. Then its up
to you to set the goals, devise the strategy, and, most important, provide the man-
hours. Thats the way you get to lucky street.

Read more:
5 Winners Teach Us How to Learn From Failure
Sometimes life throws you a curveball, hands you a lemon, or knocks you for a loop.
But knowing how to approach failure can be the first step to success. The latest
science and strategies on how to win in the end.
By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest | May 2009

I failed to save someones life, but I didnt make the same mistake twice
Mary Wilson, 65, Montecatini, Italy
I was making dinner in my apartment in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1996 when I heard
breaking glass and a woman screaming next door. I knew immediately what was
happening: The young woman was being beaten by her husbandand this time, I
didnt hesitate to act.
You see, 15 years earlier, when I was living in a house near Boston, I had another
young couple as upstairs tenants. They would fight occasionally and get loud, but
theyd always settle down when I phoned to complain. But very early one morning, I
heard screaming. I called like I normally did, and when no one answered and things
quieted down, I went back to bed. The next thing I knew, someone was banging on
my door, and when I opened it, I saw the man who lived upstairs. Ive killed Sandy,
he said. He was covered in blood and, as I later found out, had used knives and broken
bottles to stab her to death and then tried to kill himself. I called the police and went
upstairs. What I saw was so horrible, I couldnt continue to live there. I sold the house
at a loss that week.
I was pretty traumatized afterward. I never sought psychiatric help but probably
should have. I couldnt get over the fact that I had an intuition about that guy, but I
dismissed it. I knew my guilt wasnt rational, but it never left me. Deep down, I
always felt I could have done something.
And thats why when I heard the screaming again in 96, like a cruel dj vu, I was
immediately on the phone with police and then out the door to help. I was angry, livid,
maybe even a little out of control. Their door was dead-bolted from inside, but
through the broken glass panels, I could see him dragging her into the bathroom. He
was covered in blood from crawling through the glass and was screaming, Im going
to drown you! I started pounding on the door and yelling, Leave her alone! I can see
what youre doing! That must have surprised him, because he stumbled, and then she
broke free, and he fled out the back door.
The girl was bruised but not seriously injured. Since I was in the Navy at the time, I
took her to the base for safekeeping and then helped her through the entire legal
process until he was finally convicted.
In retrospect, the whole story is so strange, I almost cant believe it. Its like it was
meant to happen. I no longer feel guilty, because things have come full circle. But
what I still occasionally ponder is how opportunity exists even in horrible situations
the opportunity to learn, to improve, and ultimately to react differently if youre ever
given a second chance.
I failed to be careful and lost my eye, but its helped me see things more
Alex Gadd, 52, Pikeville, Tennessee
I was loading my truck to go to the flea market when a hook on one of the bungees
bent and snapped back into my left eye. The pain was like a hot sword had been
shoved through my head. I fell down on my hands and knees, and when I saw what
looked like gelatin and blood dripping onto the ground, I knew it was bad.
They took me to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, where theres a special eye center.
The doctors there operated on me several times but couldnt save my eye. When they
told me the news, I wanted to die. I was divorced, and I figured no woman would ever
want anything to do with me. All that was left of my eye was white, and my face was
swollen and bruised.
Even after I got my prosthetic eye, I couldnt shake the depression. To make matters
worse, I lost my job as a transportation officer for the Tennessee Department of
Childrens Services because of concerns about my driving ability. But one morning, I
woke up and the TV was on, and there was this 16-year-old girl. She had been
severely burned on her face, hands, and legs and was learning to walk again. She wore
a big smile and seemed to look right at me and said, You cant ever give up. At that
moment, I thought, This is just an eye. Get over it.
And I did.
Its been almost 12 years since my accident, and there isnt anything I cant do now
that I used to do. Women still seem to like me, and no one can even tell I have a
prosthetic eye, because the new one is that good. And although I didnt get my old job
back, they reinstated my license, and I havent had so much as a fender bender in over
a million miles of driving.
I read a story once where this man was feeling bad because he had no shoes, until he
met a man who had no feet. No matter how devastating your problem is, remember
theres always someone somewhere whos worse off. Despite having just one eye, I
see things a lot more clearly now.
I failed to realize my dream, but Ive since realized other things
Daryl Nelson, 36, Brooklyn, New York
A record deal. It happened to my best friend and me when we were juniors at Virginia
State University playing in a hip-hop band called BizzrXtreemz. I heard that Clive
Davis, the founder and president of Arista Records, blessed the deal himself. We
dropped out of school to move to New York in the summer of 94. We were 21 years
old, and we were on our way.
In order to concentrate on our music, we hired a manager and entrusted him with our
$5,000 advance. But one day when we showed up at the studio, we were told we
couldnt record anymore because they hadnt been getting paid. Our manager was a
crook. With no money of our own, we threw together a few songs, but the quality was
horrible. The head of Aristas music department hated them, and we lost the deal.
After six months, it was over.
I remember sitting in a daze under a bridge with winos and homeless people. Nothing
had ever hinted at failure. I thought I was destined. Of course, we didnt immediately
give up. We cut other demos and took them around town, but after a while, we had to
start working to survive. The music never left us; it just became a smaller part of our
lives. Im a benefits coordinator for a union now, the latest in a long string of
customer-service jobs Ive held in the 15 years since that summer. My partner and I
broke up some years back, and Ive released a few solo songs under the name River
Nelson for a small London-based label. But Im not chasing the same dream anymore.
There comes a time when you have to reassess your dreams and cast out whats lofty
or no longer reality. At the same time, though, you keep those things that are valuable,
which for me was the resiliency, perseverance, and focus Id acquired. If you go at it
this way, youll see that the pot of gold is really chasing that pot of gold.
I still do music, but I do it for musics sake now. Ive redirected all the energy I used
to put into the business of music into other creative things. And thats been a new
beginning. I still have a piece of my original dream, but now I also have all these
other blessings.

Read more:
Top 10 Successful People who have Failed
(This article is a guest post by my brother Gene. Gene has been working with me behind the scenes
and on his own internet business for over a year now)
That is a word that most people dread. Everyone wants to be a success. We want to be liked and
But that dreaded F word always pops up. Failure. This experience is strong enough to make you
want to quit and start a new life.
Having an internet business is no different.
Success takes time and effort. Yes, many times you will fail before you are successful. Ask just
about anybody who has become successful if they have ever failed at any aspect of their journey.
Chances are you will get quite a few stories of missteps and blunders.

The difference between long-term success and failure is the reaction to it.
People who, as Charlie Sheen says are Winners, overcome the obstacles.
Yes, failure happens.
Live with it.
Learn from it.
There is a need to change the view on failure. It is not something that needs to be avoided. It is a
chance to learn something that does not work!
It is not always reaching the destination that defines the man (or woman), but the journey that is
taken to get there. The biggest successes have gone through the biggest failures.
If you are struggling in your internet businessor even if youre looking for small business
opportunities do not be afraid to try things that are new different and perhaps even fly in the
face of conventional wisdom. The worst thing that can happen is failure which is just a chance to
learn and grow.
To illustrate the point, here is a list of 10 people who were all hugely successful in their fields. All of
them failed. Not only did these people fail, but they failed on a massive scale. Yet history still views
these successful people who failed as great success stories because they bounced back and
succeeded in the end.
Successful People Who Failed:
Thomas Edison: Chances are you have heard of Edison in relation to overcoming
failure before. He was a master of trial and error.
When asked about the many thousands of failures he had when trying to create the light-bulb he
famously said, I have not failed. Ive just found 10,000 ways that wont work. But there is even
more to it than that. As a child he was thought to be dumb and told that he would never be a
success by many of his teachers, because his mind would often wander in class.
Good thing for us that the greatest inventor in history did not listen.
Elvis Presley: You do not need to be a Elvis fan to acknowledge the impact he has
had on popular music. They dont dub somebody the King of a form of music without a great
amount of success.
But even for Elvis success came after failure. His first recordings went nowhere. After that he tried
to join a vocal quartet and was told he, couldnt sing. Finally, right before he became popular, he
was told, You aint goin nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin a truck.
Michael Jordan: It is hard to imagine it, but the Jordan, who is arguably the
greatest basketball player ever, was once cut from his high school team.
As Jordan puts it, I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300
games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have
failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Vincent van Gogh: Van Gogh paintings these days sell for incredible amounts of
money. Four of his paintings have sold for more than 100 million dollars.
Yet, Van Gogh is a cautionary tale. In his life he was a failure.
He slowly began to build a reputation while he was alive, but he also had a ton of critics. He
burned and destroyed many of his paintings out of frustration and was known to only sell ONE
He did not work to overcome his failure and killed himself. Soon after his death his work began to
garner intense critical and financial success.
Stephen King: King was working as a teacher in rural Maine when he wrote his first
novel, Carrie. King had some small success selling short stories previously, but nothing that
anyone could create a career on. King submitted Carrie 30 times. King was rejected 30 times.
Before his 31
attempt he threw the manuscript out. His wife rescued it from the round file and
asked him to try one more time. The restis history.
Fred Astaire: During his first screen test an RKO executive noted that Astaire, Cant
sing. Cant act. Balding. Can dance a little. Despite this initial rejection, Astaire persevered and
ended up becoming one of the top actors, singers and dancers of his generation.
Abraham Lincoln: If Lincoln quit when the going got tough, the world might be a
very different place. As a young man Lincoln entered military service in the Black Hawk war as a
captain. Yet left as a private.
With very little formal education, Lincoln taught himself and became a lawyer and congressman.
His real rise to national prominence could also be viewed as a, failure. In 1858 Lincoln tried for
a seat in the Illinois senate. This led to a series of hotly contested debates. (The Lincoln-Douglas
debates). Lincoln lost the senate election, but really impressed a lot of the right people, even with
his loss. Two years later he ran for president and won. Thankfully he did not let lack of formal
education, initial failure or setbacks rattle him.
Albert Einstein: If asked to name a genius, most people would come up with the
name Albert Einstein. Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy. He had speech difficulties as
a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped.
As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed. He tried to test into
Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the math and physics sectionas
you might expect). Einstein buckled down, received the requisite training and applied to Zurich
Polytechnic again, and of course was accepted.
A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist. A few years after that he
had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.
JK Rowling: Rowling is the perfect example that success can come to anyone at
any time. She is now doing the backstroke through a pool of Harry Potter money, but that was not
always the case. Before Harry Potter became a success she was a divorced mother, living on
welfare, going to school and trying to write a novel in her spare time.
Rowling herself said she was the biggest failure I knew and credits a lot of her success to her
At a Harvard commencement speech Rowling had this to say, Failure meant a stripping away of the
inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to
direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at
anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly
belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still
had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom
became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
Steve Scott: Okay, my brother is nowhere near as famous or lauded as the previous
nine incredible stories. But perhaps his story is more apropos to those of you trying to create an
internet business. Steve has had his share of failure. He will tell you about mistakes he has made.
Buying into silly programs that didnt work. Maxing out his credit cards while struggling to make his
internet business success. All sorts of obstacles.
Online success is possible. But it is not easy or instant. It takes hard work and dedication as well as
Dont doubt yourself.
Obstacles are out there. They are meant to be overcome.
No adventure worth undertaking is easy. Everyone who achieves success faces obstacles. What
makes (or breaks) a person is how they react to the obstacles and roadblocks in their life and what
they do (or do not do) to overcome these setbacks.
Take a hint from the successful people who have failed and do not let these obstacles hold you
Now let me know about YOUR missteps and failures. What have you learned?
Perhaps some historic figure has inspired you the way that the successful people who have
failed above have inspired me. Please share your thoughts in the comments below
To Your "Internet Lifestyle",

Tagged as: Lesson's I've Learned, Personal Growth, Success Mindset, Various
{ 37 comments read them below or add one }
Jane@How to use Google+
Very interesting and informative list. Your bro is awesome.
Success without a failure is somewhat useless to me because I cannot learn anything from
the happening. More than success it is the experience that matters and failures give us a
lot of that. However, no one would want to have multiple failures. We have to be quick
Thanks Jane,
Yes, I agree, my little brother is quite a good guy!
It certainly is important to be a quick learner and if you do fail to really get the most out of
Rob Cubbon@Web Designer London
Hey Gene, really great post, and I dont use the word great here lightly (although
sometimes I do!) This is a real inspiration. I should bookmark it come back to this post when
the going gets tough. I didnt know even half of these stories, really interesting.
My failures are too many to go into. I was pretty much failing at everything from the age of
22 to 34 because I tried, failed and gave up. The secret, as you say, is to keep on trying and
failing because at least you learn how NOT to do it, and then you carry on.
Thousand thanks.

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