Failure = Feedback

“The bottom line is that if you become a master at handling problems and overcoming obstacles, what can stop you from success?”
- T. Harv Eker (Author of “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind”)
Credit: desmondsim.com

It seems like only yesterday when I was preparing for my first real job interviews. I had experience working as a summer intern in a stockbroker firm for two summers and some retail jobs here and there throughout university, however, this was the real deal. When I went for some of my recruitment interviews, all the managers told me that sales jobs had the highest “attrition” rate out of any job industry. I had never heard this term before, so I quickly did a Google search of it after the interview. It is another word for “dropout” rate. One manager said sales has a 90% attrition rate within the first couple of months. Why do sales jobs have such a high dropout rate? Because of people’s fear of failure — the fear that they might fail is too much to handle.

One of my first interviews with a recruitment firm went well and I was invited back for a second interview. They were hooking me up on a conference call with the CEO who was based in their Singapore offices. The people there were nice and friendly, and they even gave me a few pointers on how to answer some of the possible questions the CEO may ask. I was then left on my own in one of the rooms with just a screen hooked up to their Singapore office. The CEO was running late, so with every minute that passed by, I got more and more nervous. (I actually started sweating!)

The CEO eventually arrived and apologized briefly for being late. He asked me a couple of basic questions that were easy to answer. Then he started asking harder questions like “Why are you the man for this job?” and “What makes you so special?” Before I could even answer he began shouting and asking what seemed like thousands of questions. I started to sweat even more and wanted to leave the room. I somehow managed to keep my cool and he seemed to calm down. I never had an experience like that before. The guy ripped me apart. No one had ever done that to me before. This was the real deal. It was an introduction to the real world. I now had to stand on my own two feet.

I made it to the third and final interview by the skin of my teeth. While I was in the waiting room, I met a girl who had gotten to this stage too. The job was between the two of us. I felt a bit of nerves after meeting her. We were both brought into the office and got to meet and observe some of the daily routines performed by the recruitment consultants. Observing their work and calls was part of the final interview. I got to sit down with one senior recruitment consultant to ask him questions about his day-to-day activities. I even got to listen in on his live sales calls.

Little did I know that we were about to be tested by the general manager about what we had learned. He told us that we were going to do some “role plays.” The general manager wanted us to “pretend call” him and line up an appointment. He gave us 25 minutes to develop our sales scripts. (Sales scripts are thought-out presentations that outline what you want to say to your customer, precisely and succinctly, about your services.) My first introduction to sales and I was about to be in the hot seat calling the general manager! There is definitely no hiding place in sales. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I started the call really nervously and, as I feared, it was a disaster.

After the call, the manager gave me some constructive criticism. He told me that my introduction was all wrong, that I didn’t build enough rapport and that I didn’t “close” the appointment. The other girl was given a similar dressing down. I took this criticism to heart. It hurt me; I felt physically sick. Having gone from thinking I was the bees knees in my tailor made suit from Asia, I now felt more like a monkey in a suit. Still, I had a fifty-fifty chance of getting the job.

For the next couple of days, I waited by the phone, hoping to hear back from this company. Despite knowing the kind of demeanor the CEO had, I still wanted the job. I thought it would be a good experience. I went for a walk to get some fresh air and I brought my mobile phone with me. I still remember the day. It was summertime, yet it was an overcast and extremely humid day. While I was walking, the phone rang. It was the agency that lined up the interview for me. They confirmed that the job was between me and someone else. Unfortunately I missed out, due to lack of experience and some other minor details. The company was not prepared to take the risk of hiring me.

My whole world crumbled in on me. I was completely devastated. I seemed to assume that because I got to the final interview, it was in the bag. How wrong was I? Later that week, I was sulking about the whole situation. I started blaming the CEO’s attitude, the role play task, and everything else but myself. This was an extremely depressing and stressful time for me. I had already taken a gap year after college and I had now gone four months without a job. In my head, I had failed. I felt like a failure and found it to be a frustrating and debilitating experience. Here I was with my Bachelor of Commerce degree and Masters in Project Management, and I couldn’t even get an entry level role.

Because I was based in Sydney at the time (London now), I used Skype to stay connected with my family and friends. During this time, I did my best to avoid Skype conversations. I felt embarrassed and figured that my family and friends would view me as a failure. When I did go on Skype, I put on a good act of staying positive, because that’s what I am best known for.

Truth be told, I was losing my positive mindset at the time. I began to project this failure over the course of the next couple of years. I believed that, from that point on, I would have to settle for second best when it came to jobs.

One of my friends told me to move on to the next interview and learn from this one. He was right. If I was going to succeed in getting a job, then I would have to learn from failure. I had to go through ten more interviews before I finally landed my first sales job.

By the time I reached the tenth interview, I started enjoying the interview process. In fact, I kind of missed it once I landed a job! The learning process became fun. It was so much fun that I was thinking of going for more job interviews on my days off. (That probably wouldn’t have gone down well with my new boss though.)

“Failures; see them as they are, not worse than they are.”
- Tony Robbins (Worlds #1 Motivational Coach)

In a seminar I attended with Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 Peak Performance Coach, he talked about failures and problems. He said to “see it as it is, not worse than it is.” This was a major stumbling block for me; I made things out to be far worse than they were.

Tony then said to see it as better than it is. This is a process to follow when we want to set and achieve our goals. Regardless of the obstacles that may hold us back, we must keep pushing our way toward achievement of our goals. Only by honestly analyzing our lack of progress can we determine the steps to take to change this picture.

I wish I had been given this advice years ago when I was in school! In my junior exams in high school, my final grades were very poor. Most of my classmates opened up their results sheet in front of each other and all the teachers. I couldn’t bear to do that. So, I ran away with mine as far from the school as possible. My results were so poor that I ripped the sheet up straight away. I began to think about the future and I saw all my dreams slipping away before my eyes. I felt like I would be average all of my life.

This was what Tony alluded to. I was looking at things in a worse light than how they really were. The results were telling me that I needed improvement in each subject area. (If I was to do it all over again, I would have gone to each individual subject teacher to get feedback, but I didn’t. Instead, I looked at the worst case scenario.)

Sometimes we don’t even want the feedback. We fear it too much. I had a choice of going for a football trial in my first year in high school or getting my braces straightened. I chose the latter because I saw things not as they were, but worse than they were. I imagined all the bad things that could have gone wrong. What if I didn’t play well? What if they don’t think I’m good enough? What if everyone laughs at me? Silly things like this went through my head. I didn’t go to the trial and never made the team.

A similar thing happened to me for my club team as well. We had gotten to a final in a big football stadium. I was left on the bench, although I had played all the games in the buildup to this final. We were losing heavily when the coach asked me to come on. It was late in the second half of the game. I said that I was injured. I faked injury because I felt that I would have come on the pitch and failed. It was a big stadium and some of my friends had come to watch me play. I felt like a failure just being on the bench, so I didn’t want them to see me mess up even more if I came on. This is why I never made the school football teams. I knew I had the talent — coaches had told me so. My problem was in my head. I feared failure.

“There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”
- Adam Markel (CEO, Peak Potentials)

Adam Markel said that he tells his kids that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. What a great way to bring up your children. As a habit, we need to replace the word failure with the word feedback. If you learn a lesson, it’s worth its weight in gold. I agree with this statement.

Think about the importance of writing down your goal. Sometimes we do not reach it. When we don’t reach it, we need to “plug” this feedback back into our goal strategy because it is the biggest single indicator of where we can correct our strategy.

Brian Tracy used this analogy when it comes to sales. He said that there are no sales without objections. He responds to rejections by interpreting them as a question requesting more information. I think this is a good way to treat the failures that occur in our lives. It’s like when you go into a restaurant and order soup. Sometimes it comes out cold. You then ask the waiter to reheat it until it reaches the right temperature. Your feedback gets the ‘soup’ to the right ‘temperature,’ or the level of your definition of success. If you fail to land a job or a sale, it’s a good idea to ask for feedback. Just ask, “Please show me how I can do better next time around.”

T. Harv Eker says that some people will do almost anything to avoid problems. They see a challenge and run away from it. We must grow ourselves so that we become bigger than our problems. If we want to make a permanent change, we must first stop focusing on the size of our problems and start focusing on the size of ourselves. We need to practice acting in spite of fear, in spite of doubt, in spite of worry, in spite of uncertainty, in spite of inconvenience, in spite of discomfort, and even to practice taking action when we’re not in the mood to take action.

If we see our problems as big, we ourselves are being small. We play the victims in our heads when we fail. It is possible, however, to grow bigger than our problems. Let’s look at how we can learn to do that.

I had a problem when I first started my sales career. About two or three months into it, I wanted to quit. I was finding it tough. I began to think that it wasn’t for me and that I lacked the skills to become a success. I kept thinking about a comment one of my friends made to me when I got the job in sales. He said I was “too nice” for sales. I believed him.

There is a stereotypical image of salespeople that we see on television every day. These guys are tough, aggressive, and shout through the phone at customers like you wouldn’t believe. Have you ever seen the movie “Wall Street”? It typifies what society thinks salespeople behave like.

“Wall Street” is about Bud Fox, a young and impatient stockbroker (played by Charlie Sheen) who is willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal inside information gathered through Gordon Gekko, a ruthless and greedy corporate raider (played by Michael Douglas), who takes Bud under his wing.

So, I thought, to succeed in sales, I would have to cheat and lie? That’s what was going through my head. Compared to these guys, I was a saint. Genetically, I could never be like them so the sales profession obviously wasn’t for me. That was the story I created in my head. I believed my own BS.

Taking this back to T. Harv Eker’s analogy, he says “Imagine a ‘Level 2’ person is looking at a ‘Level 5’ problem. Does this problem appear to be big or small? The answer is that from a ‘Level 2’ perspective, a ‘Level 5’ problem would seem big.” Guess what? I was a ‘Level 2’ person back then.

Harv then goes on to say, “Now imagine a ‘Level 8’ person looking at this same ‘Level 5’ problem. From this person’s perspective, is this problem big or small? Magically, the identical problem is now a small problem. For a ‘Level 10’ person, it’s no problem at all. It’s just an everyday occurrence, like brushing your teeth.”

I had to grow in size to overcome this problem. So I made a commitment to learn as much about sales as I could. This is when I started to attend seminars and see what the successful gurus were doing that was different from everyone else in the marketplace. Sure, they get scared of failure, too, but they grow themselves to be bigger than their problems so they can easily resolve them. The problems are still problems, but they can solve them effortlessly. I took this approach in my sales career and began to grow myself as a person and become bigger than my problems.

When I was in primary school, one of our teachers had ten universal truths written up on the classroom wall. Some of these included, “We don’t have to know everything today” and “It’s okay if we make mistakes as long as we learn from them.” Sometimes we forget these invaluable lessons as we grow up or go into business.

In primary school, I was bigger than any problem because I perceived a problem as a challenge. They were fun and exciting. I realized that these challenges were teaching me valuable lessons, often about myself.

The late Stephen R. Covey wrote the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He said to “begin with the end in mind.” This means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. At all the seminars I have been to, I have found that successful people know where they are going. They can better understand where they are now, and know that the steps they take are always in the right direction.

Remember: failure is feedback; so the most effective way to learn from failure is to focus on what you want to be and do, and on the values upon which those are based.

I heard a really good story about failure being feedback. It was the story of 7UP, the lemon-lime flavored soft drink. Initially, the company started with 1UP. When that failed, they went to 2UP. That failed as well, so they started using all of the feedback from 1UP and 2UP, and put that it into 3UP. Finally, they used all of the feedback from their past failures and managed to become successful with 7UP. (I am not quite sure that this story is true but who cares. What a great analogy) It goes back to the age-old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

I once read a book about superstar sales professionals. The book talked about how people who go to the gym and do weights put pressure on themselves, literally. They do this all the time. If the weight is too heavy, they stop and take this as feedback, not failure. Then the following day, they may lower the weight. Over time, they will be able to move on to a higher weight and repeat this process. They do not fear failure; they embrace it and learn from it.

Has fear of failure been holding you back? Do you now look at this word differently? Can you make it a habit to replace the word ‘failure’ with the word ‘feedback?’

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