What if Your Failure Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You?

See failure in a more empowering light

Frank McKinley
Jul 12, 2020 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

My first book sold a whopping 12 copies.

I spent a year writing it. I did the research. I tested it in my Sunday School class. I even offered my book at a seminar at church.

The 12 copies I sold were to my friends.

The Curse of the Newbie

I like to think I thought of everything when I put the book together.

  • The content was solid.
  • The cover didn’t look like a third grader drew it with a crayon.
  • The inside was formatted with care and even had headers and footers.

The only thing I missed was finding out whether anyone cared that I wrote a book.

I published it with a vanity publisher because it was easier. I spent a year doing research, writing the manuscript, having it edited, and designing the layout. I was tired. I didn’t have the energy to figure out distribution and marketing.

In the end, the book cost me about five times more than I got out of it.

My natural response was, “Well, I tried. I guess being an author isn’t for me.”

But my desire to write and teach never went away.

I gave up writing books, thinking it was just another in a long list of failures that had defined my life.

Oh, the emotional turmoil

You know what the worst part of failure is?

It’s not the financial toll. It’s not knowing you did wrong. It’s not even the blot you stamped on your resume.

The worst part of failure is how you make yourself feel about it.

I’d look at the book and say, “Wow, what made you think you’d ever be an author? Nobody cares that you’ve written a book. This was your best shot and you blew it. What a loser.”

If someone else says this, you might find it easier to blow it off, especially if you don’t know your critic very well. But this was me telling myself this horrible drivel. It’s like looking yourself in the mirror, having your reflection make fun of you, and then seeing it reach through the glass and beat you into a bloody pulp, leaving you for dead on the floor.

Then you get up the next day and do it all over again.

If you keep beating yourself up, it will steal your courage to do anything beyond just surviving. It’s what keeps you in the job you hate because you need the money. It’s like being a kid who dreams of being a fighter pilot but doesn’t dare tell his friends because they’d say, “Are you kidding? A scrawny guy like you? You couldn’t kill a flea. You’re so clumsy you can’t even walk down the hall without bumping into the lockers.”

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Stop letting other people tell you what you can do

Does the critic in the seat next to you really know what you can and can’t do?

Jealousy makes you blind. When someone dares to do something big, people who have settled get upset. “How dare he think he can do that? He’s nothing. He’s nobody. He’s on a highway to nowhere.”

The easiest way to tear someone down is with lies. Tell them they’re little long enough and maybe they’ll believe it.

Don’t. Please.

We don’t need more people who settle. We need change makers. We need people who dare to make a difference. We need people who aren’t afraid of being embarrassed and ridiculed because they decided to take a risk.

Will you be that person?

Your future is in your hands. Design it yourself. Don’t let others' expectations become your reality.

One encouraging comment that changed everything

One quiet summer Thursday morning as I drove into a customer’s parking lot, I heard the awful sound of crunching wood and bending metal.

My truck had just plowed into the building’s awning and ripped it to shreds.

I called my boss two steps up and broke the horrible news.

Five cops came out to investigate.

When I arrived to return my truck, I met with my bosses behind closed doors to hear my fate.

After a week of meetings, I had another one with the owner of the company.

His name was Todd.

“I’d like to keep you around. I can’t pay you as much to work in the warehouse, but I’d like to make it up by asking you to write more for us.”

I started writing a series of leadership articles. A few weeks later, Todd emailed me.

“Frank, this stuff is good. You need to put it into a book!”

That day, 10 Steps to Effective Leadership was born.

Yes, you really can (if you want to)

That day I started studying what made books sell.

I learned about keywords, copywriting, cover design, editing, formatting, and whatever else seemed relevant.

As Grant Cardone might say, I was obsessed with success.

I did lots of experiments. Did they all work the way I wanted? Absolutely not. But I didn’t care. I decided that I would give any given experiment a week to work. If it didn’t reach expectations, I adjusted my strategy to get better results. And I kept adjusting until the results were consistent enough to leave alone.

That book has sold thousands of copies and still sells new copies every month.

Success takes work. So does failure. Everything we do brings results. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, take a hard look at what you’re doing. Make new choices. Take different actions. There are no guarantees in life but this — your actions will bring results.

You choose the results when you choose what to do.

If you admire someone else’s results, ask them what they’re doing. Most people are glad to help. If you find someone who isn’t willing to help, ask someone else. Or study them from afar. Chances are you’ll see clues that lead to their strategy.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Matt Ridley on Unsplash

Failure didn’t stop these people

It’s easy to look at your favorite bestselling author and say, “They’re so lucky.”

J.K. Rowling was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.” She got the idea for Harry Potter on a train ride and started typing. 12 publishers said no. The 13th liked her idea and gave her a small advance of £1,500, advising her not to expect to make a living as a children’s writer. She’s now one of the wealthiest women in Britain.

Stephen King threw the manuscript for Carrie in the trash. Fortunately, his wife found it and encouraged him to finish it. 30 publishers passed on the opportunity. But King persevered and Carrie went on to sell over a million copies and become a successful movie.

Dr. Suess was rejected by 27 publishers. He was on his way home to burn his manuscript when he ran into an old friend, who happened to be a children’s book editor. When the book was published, people raved over it. Green Eggs and Ham, his most popular book, has sold 8 million copies.

I could list a lot more.

These people started off no differently than you. They had a dream. They faced impossible odds. They considered giving up. But they persevered, acting as if failure was merely one more step on the road to success. When what they tried didn’t bring the results they wanted, they tried again with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. You decide when to give up. You can also decide you’ll try one more time.

Thomas Edison did 14,000 experiments to perfect his consumer-grade incandescent bulb. If he’d given up at 13,999, we might still be using candles to light our homes.

Press on. We need you to persevere. We need to hear your story and soak in your wisdom. See your results as feedback you can use to move forward, and I’ll see you at the top of your game.


How to be your best self.

Frank McKinley

Written by

Teacher. Coach. Bestselling Author. Helping writers, entrepreneurs, and change agents write the perfect blog post every time. https://skl.sh/2Xp1p8d


Make tomorrow better today.

Frank McKinley

Written by

Teacher. Coach. Bestselling Author. Helping writers, entrepreneurs, and change agents write the perfect blog post every time. https://skl.sh/2Xp1p8d


Make tomorrow better today.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store