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
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
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 life.
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
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
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 Spanish-English dictionary.
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?" asked Frank.
"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
"Frankl found that those prisoners who believed they
were crushed, eventually were. And those -- like himself --
who were determined to live, did."
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.
(Suggested reading: "Man's Search for Meaning,"
by Viktor E. Frankl)