Who Needs a Comeback Kid?
by Jennifer Strailey
Many of us dream of success as if it were a destination. Upon arrival we'd recline into a chaise lounge and enjoy a future filled with cold drinks and little bobbing umbrellas. But in reality, success is an ongoing struggle, one that requires us to take big hits and heartaches.
Living well demands resilience.
Just look at today's most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. They've discovered that failure, disappointment — even tragedy is what makes success possible in both life and work.
"Success isn't built on success, it's built on failure, sometimes on frustration, sometimes catastrophe, and how you turn it around and turn a negative into a positive," says Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone.
His theory was put to the test in 1979, when Redstone was nearly killed in a five-alarm fire in a Boston hotel. He suffered burns to about 40 percent of his body and was told he'd never walk again.
But the then 55-year-old Redstone wasn't buying it. He had too much living to lose. "Survival is winning the biggest battle of your life," says Redstone. "Winning is survival."
At the time, Redstone was a small-time businessman with a chain of movie theaters. The near-death experience became a stepping-stone for the fearless media mogul who went on to build an empire that garners more than $20 billion in annual revenue. And he still tears it up on the tennis courts, thank you very much.
Of course, personal tragedy is not a prerequisite to success. Sometimes it's life's smaller setbacks that test our resilience and move us forward.
"I think all setbacks are to your advantage," says Marleen McDaniel, former CEO of Women.com. "When one door closes, another door is opening." And these setbacks force us to change direction, learn and grow.
For Mark Leslie, chairman of Veritas Software, it was his initial failure as an entrepreneur that awakened his powers of resilience and led him down a new path to great entrepreneurship.
"I think that the most important event in my management development was the failure of my first entrepreneurial company, which was a very great personal extension of myself," asserts Leslie. He was heavily invested in the company — emotionally and psychologically. Its failure "was the most difficult thing I had to deal with," he recalls.
Leslie realized he had two choices. "I said, 'I'm going to be either bitter or better.' And I wanted to be better, and so I spent a good deal of time thinking about things and trying to understand why this wasn't successful. And there are many reasons, and it's very easy to find all the reasons that were other people, which is the bitter part. But I realized that I had to look at myself and see what I [could] learn. And much of who I am today really comes from — stems from that experience."
Who he is today is a successful leader. He became an inspiration to coworkers by looking at the management style of his company, doing more of what was good and positive for the team, and changing those things that weren't constructive. "And I think I kind of had my eyes opened and looked at different ways of doing things," he admits.
Now he's looking at a company that, under his leadership, increased net annual sales 82 percent.
Burned by fire, failure, love — life gives us plenty of opportunities to prove our resilience and set our sights on success once more.
As the saying (sort of) goes, "Things do happen," observes McDaniel. "And it's how you handle them and how you react to them and how you direct the energy [that determines] whether you become a victim of it or you use it to your advantage."
Success Through Failure
Make the Most of Your Mistakes
Congratulations, You Failed
Leave Job, Find Self
You Didn't Get the Job
Thriving in an Empty Nest
Swimming for Shore
Email this article