Success in Failure – Three Examples

In a society where we are often judged by how much we have achieved, how much wealth we have accumulated, how many mountains we have climbed, etc., failure is often met with disapproval and shame, both at the societal and the individual level. What we often forget, especially in the face of failure, is that many successful people launched the path to their eventual success from past failures. I present three notable examples of contemporary successful people who set off their prosperous after-lives on the smoldering ashes of their failed past lives.

1.   Suze Orman.  Suze Orman is a nationally renowned and successful financial advisor. As she often reminds us in her promotional campaigns for PBS TV, as a young, 29-year-old waitress, she entrusted a $52,000 loan that a group of well-wishers had given her to open a restaurant to a co-worker of hers, who proceeded to lose it all to trading options. From this devastating blow, Suze resolved to learn all she could about finance and investments – until she knew enough to sue the person who lost her money and get her money back, with full interest. And that was the beginning of what we now know as the Suze Orman financial empire. Today, Suze teaches financial savvy to thousands of people, whether in lecture rooms, TV or in her many books.

2.   George Foreman. Today, the name George Foreman is synonymous with his famous grill. Many may not know that this was the same George Foreman who lost a devastating world heavyweight boxing title to Muhammad Ali in the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. In the 1970s, Muhammad Ali’s star was rising, and George Foreman was one of the many people over whom Ali walked into his legendary boxing fame. Others included Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston Smith. George Foreman’s loss to Ali was so devastating that, for many mortals, that would have been all that he would be remembered for: “the man who lost to Ali in 1974.”  But something miraculous happened to George Foreman. As he tells it, he underwent a religious epiphany – he became an ordained minister. Others may see it as George deciding that he would not let his encounter with Muhammad Ali be the defining moment of his life. George would go on to become a very successful entrepreneur, culminating in his world-famous George Foreman Grill, over 100 million units of which have been sold worldwide.

3.   Jack Bogle. Today, index funds are prevalent in the investing world. There are over 4,000 market indexes or ETFs worldwide. Many of them are held by institutional investors. If you have a 401K or an IRA account, chances are that a good portion of your nest egg is in index funds. Jack Bogle was doing well at a banking and investment company until he got fired. As he tells it, he was sitting in a subway car on his way home after he lost his job thinking of what he would do with his life when the idea of index investment came to him. He founded the Vanguard Company, now one of the largest, most respected and successful investment companies in the world. Today, index investing is no longer an exclusive preserve of Vanguard. It is a key component of most major investing companies’ portfolio.

The common thread among these three stalwarts of our time is that they all failed – in the way society defines failure – in one way or the other – in their lives, but rather than let their setbacks define them, they all redefined themselves either by launching entirely new and successful careers (as the case with George Foreman) or using the knowledge they acquired in their “failed” past lives to embark on new and flourishing careers, as the case with Suze Orman and Jack Bogle. The next time you run into an obstacle in some endeavor, instead of getting down on yourself, regard that obstacle as Mother Nature’s way of reminding you that she has another plan for you and that the setback was simply the “kick in the rear” you need to pursue what she really had in store for you.

Have you experienced a “success in failure” moment in your life or do you know people who have experienced such moments? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to connect / follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter @sgn5ge.

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