Striking out with the bases loaded.
Missing two foul shots with your team down by 1 point and no time left on the clock.
Being passed over for a promotion.
Getting laid off.
Failing to achieve a budget goal.
What do all of these things have in common? Me.
These are just a few examples of a lifetime of failures, disappointments, under-achievements, heartbreaks and losses. And I remember every one as if it was yesterday.
The game winning shot? The walk off home run? The big new business win? They are all fleeting and not very fulfilling in the long run.
“It is not how far you fall. It is how high you bounce.”
That was advice I received from an Ursinus College classmate shortly after I was laid off in 1992. I had been a high performer since my graduation from Ursinus College in 1986 – all “1’s” on every performance review in my first job out of school at CIGNA Corp. I relocated to San Francisco after I met my wife, Mary (more about her in a future Michael Marcon Tweets post), and took a job with Transamerica Insurance Group. It was my first job with “Manager” in the title. I was a Regional Finance Manager! At 28! Michael C. Marcon (in the days long before Twitter) was on a rocket ride to CEO (probably before 30 as I was just waiting for all of the “higher ups” to come to their senses and recognize the gem in their midst). But within the next year, I was being laid off as the company was sold and reorganized. I was on the wrong side of a rightsize.
“Success is failure turned inside out. It’s the silver tint of the clouds of doubt.”
I “bounced” from Transamerica to Aon. Whoever said, “It is better to be lucky than good” sure knew what they were talking about. I joined Aon right as the firm was taking off. It was an open field of opportunity. If you were willing to bet on yourself and work hard, the upside was tremendous. This was nirvana for a brilliant, motivated, articulate, self-starter like me. Retirement by 40 was in my sights (insert sarcasm emoji here). Until it wasn’t. Sales was hard. Prospects did not just hand over their business. They expected this thing called a “value proposition.” They wanted their insurance broker to be someone called a “subject matter expert.” 12 months in, my total new business production was $513 (thanks, Dad, for buying that policy). I started to consider a career change. Maybe I was not cut out to be a broker.
“I didn’t say you HAD to be the best. I said you needed to STRIVE to be the best. Character – it’s in the trying.”
As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” My “701st time” was the night I was flying back to San Francisco from New York. As usual, I boarded the plane loaded down with business periodicals. Like I had done hundreds of times before, I read an article about a private equity firm that was hitting it big. But this time, for the first time, I read the article through a prism of business development instead of just intellectual curiosity. Business passion – mergers and acquisitions – please meet business need – sales development. That flight in the fall of 1993 created for me a business model that has sustained me and dozens (hundreds?) of people that have worked with me for the past 23 years.
How will I fail next? I can’t wait to find out.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.