Failure is an option

Failure. Look it up in Merriam-Webster’s and you’ll see more than just my name and mediocre mug. You’ll also find my thumbprint, Social Security number and shoe size. I challenge you to find anyone who’s failed at more endeavors, large and small, than yours truly.

Did I work at Mr. Donut in high school? Yes. Was I fired for playing basketball in the kitchen with a coconut crumb donut wrapped in scotch tape? Yes.

Months later I took a job at a popular ice cream parlor across the street from the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. Weeks later I gave a generous discount to an attractive coed buying a single scoop of Moose Tracks. Then just hours later I surrendered my apron and was shown the door. Turns out the cute pre-med student was the shop’s owner.

Before graduating from high school, I also worked as a tuxedo-wearing doorman, as the Easter Bunny at the local mall in a giant fuzzy costume that smelled like tobacco and gin, and as a telemarketer selling tickets to a blind circus for children. To this day I have no idea what that actually meant, I just read the script. And, evidently, not so well.

What did these early failures teach me? Only that I hadn’t failed enough yet. So over the years these jobs followed: Commercial actor, nightshift at a grocery store, model for a clothing catalogue, pizza delivery guy, construction, singing telegrams with my wife and our St. Bernard, Portuguese teacher, nightshift security guard at a telephone factory, nightshift security guard at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, sales for a time-management seminar company, computer consulting, door-to-door t-shirt sales, co-owner of a company that made paper placemats for restaurants, nightshift cleaning bathroom at BYU, weekend janitor of a dental college, and night watch at a home for troubled teens.

But wait, there’s more! I also was the co-founder of one of the web’s first sporting goods stores, director of sales for an e-commerce software company, co-founder of an Internet design company, co-owner of two video stores, owner of a cell phone store, candidate for U.S. Congress, founder of a public policy think-tank, founder of a popular political blog, ghost writer to members of Congress, and, finally, a fulltime novelist.

Wedged into that resume meatloaf is also a fulltime mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. With the exception of marrying my wife, it remains the single most important decision I’ve ever made and brings me more satisfaction than any bestseller list.

Each of those career stops, even those that were odd and brief, taught me something about myself. I learned how to be a better employee and a better teammate. I learned what failure tasted like and how to take risks. But I also learned what risks not to take, and how to recognize the taste of success. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to be a better me.

Admittedly, even my current and hopefully final career has had its share of failures. Some books connect with readers, some don’t, and all I can do is to continue telling stories and hope I succeed more often than not, getting better each time.

So yes, I’ve had dozens of jobs, some ending wonderfully, some ending with failure, but each taught me to identify a new weakness and massage it into a strength.

If I hadn’t failed, I never would have written Christmas Jars.

If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t be a New York Times Bestselling author.

If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t now live in one of the world’s most beautiful places, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t be happy and at professional peace for the first time.

Please don’t let the world convince you that failure isn’t an option. Quite simply, nothing is too big to fail. Not even the guy in the Easter bunny costume.

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