“Sometimes failure is the tuition you pay for success.”
One of my favorite exercises to complete after any significant initiative, personal or professional, good or bad, is the After Action Review. These five questions allow you to codify success or failure and begin learning and growth.
What were our intended results?
What were our actual results?
What caused our results?
What will we do the same next time?
What will we do differently?
In preparation for any key initiative taking the time to think through a variation of the first three questions is highly impactful and will maximize your likelihood of success.
What are my intended results?
How will I measure those results?
What will cause these results?
Everyone will fail; the question is whether or not you can convert this experience into one with a positive return on investment? Why pay the tuition if you aren’t going to learn anything?
“I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target and hold it there, you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”
Getting started is easy. Choosing a target is easy. Writing out a plan of attack, you guessed it, easy too.
What’s hard? These four words, “and hold it there.” Yet, this is the key to long-term success. This is the key to unlocking the potential buried inside yourself. One must have relentless drive, determination, persistence, and patience. Sticking with it, holding your focus when it gets hard, that’s when the magic happens.
Success isn’t a lottery ticket. You can’t depend on getting lucky; you count on doing the work, the hard, brutal, sweat-inducing work. To everyone on the outside, it might look easy, but you’ll know better. Hold it there…
“Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or whether you are an employee of a large company, the absolute prerequisite is that you must know your stuff. There is no substitute for this.”
Fred. C. Koch
You can’t fake it. There’s no tiptoeing around this fact if you want to create long-term success. You have to be good at getting good at what you want to be successful doing. If you’re going to earn a new position or promotion, you have to be exceptional at doing your current role AND learn the stuff that will make you successful in the new role.
Know your stuff.
Do your job.
It’s that simple. And that’s where the complexity comes into play. The world isn’t static; the stuff you need to know is ever-changing. The needs of a role today might be dramatically different a year from now. So, if you want to create a platform of long-term success, never stop seeking opportunities to be exceptional within your role. Your job is to know your stuff…
“Some people could be given an entire field of roses and only see the thorns in it. Others could be given a single weed and only see the wildflower in it. Perception is a key component to gratitude. And gratitude a key component to joy.”
Roses or thorns? Weeds or wildflowers? Which ones do you naturally see? Or, stated another way, what is going well versus what needs improvement?
I fully admit that I tend to view the world through the lens of “opportunity for improvement” instead of seeing things going well. As a result, I bias towards what can/should be done better or more effectively and focus my energy on improving and growing those areas. It isn’t bad necessarily, but just as it helps to list the things you are grateful for, it is vital to list the things you are doing well and then find a way to do more of them.
A daily gratitude journal has been one of the best personal growth habits I have ever implemented; perhaps a daily “successes” journal would be just as impactful, especially if one were to take those things that built the win and use them as a foundation to create more successes.
My favorite part of this quote is “it is the result.” Success is the outcome of the inputs necessary to create it. It isn’t predestined or absolute; it is what comes after you put in the effort.
How hard would you work if you knew you were guaranteed success? Would you be willing to put in the extra effort, the “over the top” input necessary to make a difference? Would you be ready to learn from failure if you knew the outcome was absolute?
Are you preparing to do the hard work and, if necessary, learn from failure? Only then can you achieve the desired results…
“Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven’t planted.”
This quote is akin to having a retirement philosophy based on playing the lottery. If you do the math, it just doesn’t work. If you don’t invest, you can’t reap the returns when you need to in the future.
To be successful means you have to choose to sacrifice. You have to put aside that shallow want and buckle down and do the work. Only then can you begin to think about the harvest.
Where are you planting the seeds of future success today? I.E., where are you putting in the work?
“Success is born out of faith, an undying passion, and a relentless drive.”
If you were to score yourself on a scale from zero to ten on these three attributes, faith, undying passion, and relentless drive, how would you rate? Understanding this, how likely are you to achieve success?
“The answers you seek never come when the mind is busy, they come when the mind is still.”
There is an old cliche that some people “do their best thinking when in the shower.” Every pause to think of why this might be? We are always so busy, running in every direction, believing in the falsehood of multitasking effectiveness. Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to disconnect from everything and give our minds space to work. Easier said than done, but once you see how it works, you can’t go back…
“Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others.”
The minute you begin to “believe your own press” you are choosing to surrender the edge that helped you build any advantage you might have previously created. Suddenly every problem begins to look like something you have tackled before, and previous solutions or thought processes are applied based on historical efficacy, not on current understanding.
Some questions to consider:
Is the answer I am choosing “right” or easy?
Have I done the hard work to understand the situation entirely?
Is the challenge worthy of genuine effort and not just a pale facsimile?
The old saying, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” seems particularly appropriate here. Never settle for a copy of previous success. Much like a paper that has been copied far too many times, you begin to lose your clarity.
“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”
What is the most important thing you wanted to accomplish today? Not the top three or five tasks, but the one thing that had to happen to make today a success? Did you start the day with a focus on where you needed to direct your time and energy?
It is only by intentionally deciding what you must get done that you enable yourself to say no to the things that will inevitably come up and stand in the way of what is truly essential.
Was today a success? If you didn’t start the day with a well-defined plan, how would you even know? You can’t define success in a rear view mirror…
“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, “This is the real me,” and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”
For years I would challenge every new employee at our organization to think hard about how they define a “good day at work.” My challenge to them was to think about and describe how they wanted to measure success in their roles beyond the surface level metrics; I wanted them to think bigger than $’s and more than just the production of widgets. Doing those things well is only the entry price to the game; it is what you do on top of that which truly matters.
How do you measure your success in your work? In your life? What are the metrics that truly matter beyond the paycheck and the toys and the things that won’t matter in five, ten, or twenty years?
I would argue that you aren’t living your authentic life if you can’t answer this question with clarity and precision…
“If your parents ever measured you as a child, they had you stand against a wall, and made a little pencil mark on the wall to show your growth. They did not measure you against your brother, or the neighbor’s kids, or kids on TV. When you measure your growth, make sure to only measure your today self by your past self. If you compare your relationships, your success, or your anything against anyone else, you are not being fair to you. Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”
I love the analogy used in this quote, the absolute truth conveyed by the pencil marks on the wall. Those were specific data points from a moment in time that can’t be changed or stretched to fit a different narrative or used to compare to someone else.
What are the “marks on the wall” in your life today? How do you measure your growth in a specific and objective manner, not subject to interpretation by or comparison to others? What are you doing to ensure that you are capturing your advancement in life and ensuring that you are continually moving forward and making progress?
Perhaps you need to create a measurement mechanism and a timeline for regular review to capture where you are at specific moments in time, just like those pencil marks on the wall.
Ask yourself these three simple questions two to three times per year. Use the same journal or writing medium, so as time passes, you can look back at your answers and see how YOU have grown and evolved.
Who do I want to be?
Why is this important to me?
How do I need to change to become that person?
Notice that none of these questions are about “what do I want?” Or “what do others expect?” These questions are about drilling into yourself and creating a discipline of regular check-ins to establish a baseline and measure your progress.
Give it a try. Go ahead and answer these questions today, and when you get done, put time on your calendar six months from now to do it again. Add another appointment for one year from today. You are making this appointment with and for yourself. Can you imagine how influential this journal would be ten, fifteen, or twenty years from today? I certainly wish I had started this practice twenty years ago, I can’t begin to imagine how powerful it would be to have a quantitative measuring stick of my evolution and progress.
“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”
The greatest leaders I have ever worked with did not capture or care about gathering power. These leaders were very much focused on giving it away through empowerment. These individuals were so incredibly effective at their jobs because they knew their real job was to create more leaders who could hopefully become even better than they themselves were.
By contrast, the worst leaders I have ever known or worked with only cared about how they would be perceived by others or about how they could gain more power.
The bottom line is that the most effective leaders measure their success not by looking in a mirror, but by looking through a window onto those whom they serve.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
I have always deeply admired those who have the courage to start something new. Those who possess the ability to see the worldnot for what it is, but for what it could be. These are the people who dare to spread their wings and fly, knowing they might fall. They do so understanding success isn’t guaranteed, but by leaping, they might be able to impact the world in a bigger and better way.
Courage is needed whether a person is starting a new role or project in their current organization, starting their own company, or simply doing something outside of their comfort zone. This courage, this ability to take on risk and move, despite any fears and doubts, that is what intrigues me so greatly. How does a person come by this? How does one learn courage? Is it genetic? Is it formed during childhood perhaps? Or maybe it comes through the experiences we have as we grow through life? What separates those who have courage from those who don’t?
Regardless of how courage is formed, I believe the formula for demonstrating it consistently comes down to one’s ability to answer these five questions:
What is it that MUST happen? This is the question that frames out the opportunity in your mind and allows you to paint a vivid depiction of a better future. This is where one defines the opportunities and articulates exactly what you want to see happen. Creating a deeply detailed “envisioned future” is the first step in summoning courage.
What am I afraid of? This is where you wrestle with your own demon that will try to hold you back and prevent your successes. Whether it is fear of failure, fear of being seen as a fraud, fear of being wrong, etc. You can’t beat your fears if you haven’t identified them and faced them directly. Fear is a demon, and if you want to beat it, you have to look it squarely in the face.
Am I willing to fail? This is the keystone question. Answering the first two questions enables one to arrive here and wrestle with the knowledge that not every initiative and opportunity seized will be successful. There are no guarantees in life. All the courage in the world could still result in failure. Is this acceptable to you?
What is the worst that can happen? This is where you nail down the absolute worst possible outcomes that could arise from the opportunity you are contemplating taking on. If you can’t think through and anticipate the problems that will invariably rise up, then you can’t make an informed decision about whether or not the risk you are taking on is worth it.
How do I mitigate the worst risks outlined above? When you have defined and understand the worst possible outcomes then you can begin to build solutions to offset those risks. For example, if you are taking on a new project at work outside your area of expertise and the associated risk is that you might lose your job, seeking out expert training, books, or mentors might be a good way to mitigate the risk. Not all risks can, and should, be mitigated. But when you can you have to do so if you want to create success.
This is what separates those who have courage from those who don’t. Those who create success through courageous decisions have an ability to see a better future, define their fears, understand failure, identify worst-case scenarios, and build in success enabling strategies in case the worst happens.
Then comes the moment of truth. Can you make the decision? This is the magic moment where you have to leap and have faith in yourself, those whom you have surrounded yourself with, and trust in a higher purpose and calling.
So go forth and do. Take on that new project. Embrace your new role. Start that new job. Build the company you have been dreaming of. Embark on a journey to create a better world for others. When you show up courageously you will truly feel alive and the world will be better because of it…
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”
The Dalai Lama
At every stage in life we make choices to do, and to give up, certain things. When you look back over your life what are the choices you regret? Did you make those choices in the pursuit of some success that was important to you at the time but in retrospect the success wasn’t worth the cost? Given what you now know would you make different choices today?
How can you apply these lessons in your future? How can you ensure your next success pursuit is worth the cost? Perhaps even more importantly how should you define success to ensure the investment you are making is aligned with what you want to achieve and who you want to become?
I would strongly argue that if you choose to put more emphasis on the “Whats” of life, (i.e., what you get, what you have, what you do) than on the “Who” and the “How” you are building a life that will be filled with disappointment and regret at some point in the future. A life spent in pursuit of success measured in a “what” is one where you have a chosen something that won’t last. So, was it worth it?
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Every defeat is an opportunity to become stronger, to become better.
Every rising again is a rebirth as a slightly better version of oneself.
Seek out defeats. Seek out opportunities to fail. Seek out challenges bigger and better than you are ready for right now. For tomorrow you will rise up stronger and higher because of the defeats of today.
Tomorrow isn’t defined by today’s defeats, it is built upon them.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
Success is a result of a intentional choices or actions. Striving to be of value is how you choose to show up. If your efforts aren’t a success, but you love how you showed up, isn’t that just success by a different name?
“Where there is humility, there is more success, and lasting success.”
As many have said “humility is a funny thing, the first time you think you have it you actually don’t”. So what then is success?
I think the key to this quote is to defining what success really means to you. If success is serving others, enabling others, and helping others, before thinking of your own needs, then that is humility. Anything else really isn’t lasting success…
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
There truly is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Sure, luck or chance can play a role, but one has to be ready for those opportunities when they arise. You can’t look at someone who happened to win the lottery as successful. Winning the lottery isn’t success, that is just being incredibly lucky against the odds, though based on all the research on the unhappiness of lottery winners I am not certain it is all that lucky…
I think it is important to remember that “success” is, or should be, internally defined, not externally defined based on whatever the world has decided success should look like. An artist who devotes their life to capturing a certain quality of light in their paintings is successful if they achieve their goal and are happy with the result. They might never sell a single painting, but they weren’t working and sacrificing in order to sell their work, they invested their time, effort and energy because they loved the work itself.
How do you define success? Is it through the lens of the modern world? Money, fame, fortune? Or is your definition of success based on something internal and intrinsic to oneself? Can you consider yourself successful if you are never rich and famous? What is it that you want to achieve, and will follow the recipe mentioned in this quote above to accomplish?
Regardless of how you define success, and what it is that you want to achieve, you can’t get there without demonstrating the attributes of “hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” These principles apply to everything in life, your marriage, your hobbies, your family relationships, your work, your projects, etc.
What stands out to me the most is this, if you don’t “love what you are doing or learning to do,” you are going to have a hard time generating the energy necessary to do all the other things required to make yourself successful.
Take the time to define your success and ensure that you truly love what it is you are doing. Then the hard work won’t feel quite so hard.
“Failure is often that early morning hour of darkness which precedes the dawning of the day of success.”
Leigh Mitchell Hodges
The lens through which one views failure is critical for creating a life of success and growth. I have found that there are two ways to look at failure.
First, you can see failure as an indictment of self and this manifests in seeing yourself as a failure. “I am a failure.” This isn’t healthy nor is it true. No one is a failure at an individual level. We will all fail many times in life. Heck, we likely fail on a daily basis as we fall short of being the person that we were created to be. But that doesn’t mean that we are a failure as a human being.
Second, you can see failure as a specific unsuccessful set of actions or behaviors in a particular moment in time. You might fail to achieve some goal, some target, etc.. But that doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a person. It just means that we were unsuccessful in our attempt at something. We have simply failed through our actions to create an outcome we desired.
The most important component in building a life of continual growth is looking at your failures through the lens of learning. One must constantly and continually seek our your failures with the intent to learn. Lean in to your frustrations, defeats and shortfalls. This is how you can create the “dawning day of success.”
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.”
How do you measure your success? Is the scorecard for that success one that is public and visible for all to see? Or is it private and internal for just yourself and God to see and understand? Do you care more about the outer scorecard and what others think and say or do you put more emphasis on the inner scorecard based on your own core values and mores?
I guess you could have two scorecards, but they had better be aligned in almost every way, because if they aren’t you will inevitably make a choice that violates the principles of one of them. So in all reality there is just one scorecard. Where and how do you keep score?
“The key to victory [is] creating the right routines.”
Over the years I have found that having a morning routine is what sets the day up for maximum productivity and enjoyment. I have tried many different things in an attempt to find just the right way to start my day and while I haven’t settled on a “perfect” routine just yet I am pretty happy with the routine listed below that I use to start each day the right way.
Ice Water – I start each morning with a big (32oz) glass of ice water to rehydrate after sleeping. Yes, even before my beloved coffee… Double bonus is that there is nothing like a glass of ice water to wake up the mind!
Meditation – This is a relatively new addition to my routine but is now a critical component of my morning routine. I meditate for 15-20 minutes each morning as soon as I have had my ice water and before I look at any type of electronic devices.
Devotional & Journal – I find that reading, studying and praying over a scripture based devotional is very powerful, especially after time spent in meditation. The second part of this routine is a daily journal. The topics I write about can be anything that is on my mind but I always include a portion of my time focused on gratitude and those things that I am especially grateful from the previous 24 hours.
Leadership Quote & Blog – Yes, I choose my quote and write my blog post each morning. Occasionally time compression will dictate a later quote or blog post but 99% of the time this is part of my morning routine. I have found that I really enjoy framing my day by taking time to reflect on leadership or life.
Physical Fitness – I have come to the realization that in order for me to be at peak effectiveness I need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Sometimes I can’t always get it in during the morning before work, but if I can find a way I will. I am much more focused and efficient through the day when I start the day with a hard workout.
What are your routines? Do you feel “off” when your routine is disrupted?
“Work hard in silence. Let success be your noise.”
Do you do the work for the glory, or for the joy of the work itself? If you make it all about the celebration it says that it is all about you. Is that the message you want to send and the life you want to live?
“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”
The best leader I have ever worked for did two things exceptionally well. First, he asked great questions to keep our team focused on where we were going, not just what we were doing. Second, when we achieved great results, he stepped back and gave the team all the credit. He knew it wasn’t about him and as a result his team would have done anything for him. Leadership isn’t about you…
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.”
Suffering setbacks, failures and challenges is inevitable. It is going to happen to all of us at some point or another. How we react and respond is a choice. Deciding to succeed despite the challenges is a choice. Doing whatever it takes to overcome is a choice.
But then, so is quitting… Which choice are you going to make today?
“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
The minute you think you have arrived, that you think you can lay back and relax because you have accomplished your goal, that is the minute you start to slide towards complacency and irrelevance. Complacency scares me more than almost anything else. Complacency means that you don’t care deeply and passionately and that goes against every fiber of my being. But how do you make sure that you pause long enough to recognize success?
I know that I struggle to slow down long enough to celebrate success. When something is achieved I immediately begin thinking of the next thing, the next goal. How do you ensure that you pause long enough when achieving some level of success but not become comfortable there? What is the appropriate about of time to celebrate success before starting towards the next journey?
I follow the principle “celebrate a win for a day, then get back to work.” Numerous people have talked and written about this and it has worked for me. What works for you?