It's been said that success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an
orphan. What a shame.
Mistakes, setbacks and misfortunes are unavoidable, and unfortunately,
"stuff" happens to everyone. So why don't we take credit for our
failures, as well as our triumphs?
Failure can often make us stronger, teach us valuable lessons and create
a benchmark for the future. Failure casts a bright light onto our
character, revealing our strengths as well as our weaknesses. And of
course, the way we deal with failure often tells us more about ourselves
than the failure itself.
When we try to hide our failures, we not only deprive ourselves of a
learning experience, we rob others of the lessons they could have
learned from our example.
Mistakes Were Made
It's funny how people deal with failure. Here are a few of the
failure-denial tactics currently in vogue:
1. Shift the blame. Politicians are experts at blaming
others for their mistakes. Rather than asking, "Where can we go from
here?" or "What did our failure teach us?" they'll point their fingers
in every direction but the nearest mirror.
2.Insult the victim. This is a technique perfected by
Bobby Knight, the anger-challenged basketball coach. His typical
non-apology after a hurtful tirade: "I'm sorry I got angry, but some
people are just too stupid to know that I'm always right."
3.Throw a bone. If the mistake is too obvious to avoid
detection, you can feign accountability with the hollow admission that
"mistakes were made," without ever admitting that you were the one who
made the mistake in the first place.
The irony is, there's so much good that can come from admitting mistakes
quickly and accepting ownership when things go wrong. For example, it
took more than 15 years for Pete Rose to finally admit that he bet on
baseball -- something everyone knew he did anyway. Had he come clean in
the first place, he'd be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, not banished for
Even a setback caused by forces outside our control -- a flood, a
hurricane, a recession, a frivolous lawsuit, whatever -- can provide us
with a golden opportunity to learn or move forward.
Years ago, I had the good fortune to work with Frank Guiterrez, Vice
President of a medical equipment company. After a round of interviews
with several of my candidates, Frank and I grabbed a bite to eat.
Frank was intrigued by the fact that I had failed in an earlier career
but had found success as a recruiter. He went on to tell me,
matter-of-factly, about his capture and subsequent torture in his native
Cuba following the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
A member of the CIA-backed armed opposition to Fidel Castro, Frank was
released after two years in a prison camp and found asylum in Miami.
Arriving with one dollar in his pocket, Frank spent the first night in
his adopted country, hunkered down with a candle, a newspaper and a
Through years of struggle and a succession of menial jobs, Frank not
only put himself though engineering school (earning both a bachelor's
and a master's degree), he had risen to a high-level position with a
cutting-edge company in California.
"Do you know what kept me motivated during all those difficult years?"
"Please tell me," I said.
"It was a little book by a concentration camp survivor," said Frank,
"written by a psychologist named Viktor Frankl.
"Frankl spent more than two years in a labor camp, under unimaginably
cruel conditions. And he became immensely curious as to why some
prisoners managed to live while others died.
"He finally concluded that no matter what happens to a person --
torture, forced labor, starvation -- no one can rob the person of his
thoughts, or his attitude towards his situation.
"Frankl found that those prisoners who believed they were crushed,
eventually were. And those -- like himself -- who were determined to
After our meal, we walked to the parking lot and shook hands. I made
several placements with Frank, and after several years we lost touch.
But I still think about him often and feel sad there aren't more Franks
-- and more Frankls -- out there. Our world would sure be a better place
if there were.