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I Have Failed But I Am Not a Failure

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At the UCLA Jazz Fest, while waiving my arms back and forth to Snoop Dogg perform his solo rendition of the DJ Khaled song "All I Do Is Win" with the chorus, "Win, win, win... no matter what," I stopped to think. Whose life is like that? And even more importantly, is winning all the time the definition of a good life? I had to ask myself that question.

I felt as though in order to move toward success I had to change the definition of it -- if winning was all that mattered, than my life to date had been a failure. Maybe I was even a failure.

But so many people I knew that had achieved success or were marching towards success had started their journey with disappointing news -- a layoff, being fired, having the rug pulled out from underneath them, and maybe I wasn't so different.

If I had won at supporting a software startup in a strategic role in 2010 in New Jersey, I might not have moved back to California, I might not even be writing this post. The brutal 2x4 of life had smacked me upside the head with a force that I could have never imagined and at a totally unexpected moment. Just as friends whose journeys had led them through the painful process of soul-searching for one's life work, many began with the loss of a job, in some form or another.

We have all heard the quotes -- fail bigger, fail forward -- but what did that mean to me when every option seemed like the wrong one? When the choice was between paying the mortgage or letting the bills mount. When bankruptcy wasn't enough to turn my life around. When getting from losing to winning was a daily marathon battle and I had only trained for the 5k?

Recently, I was sobbing uncontrollably at my kitchen table because a $400 expense had brought me to my knees and every option in front of me seemed like the wrong choice. Winning used to mean every bill was paid, early or on time; otherwise, I felt as if my obligations weren't being met and the guilt would set in: "I'm not a good person, this can't be my life, I'm a failure."

Somehow the next day, I managed to get up, have breakfast and keep moving, albeit at a slow pace. Then it dawned on me -- surviving years of hell was the road paved to my future -- to a successful business, to developing a mobile app, to growing my writing career. All this failure (and there's been a lot of it) gave me a tremendous amount of material and subsequent lessons that I could share with others. This included the lesson I would have never been able to share years ago, and learned personally the hard way -- missing a mortgage payment does not have to destroy your life.

Learning to fail, and bouncing back, leads to more resilience, better ideas, new businesses, deeper relationships, soul-satisfying, painstakingly crafted lives born out of the sweat and toil of fighting through the madness to get to the other side. Humility and grounding are born out of losing -- qualities that could uplift the world from the Donald Sterling types and the tragedies born out of someone's inability to cope with rejection, as in the case of Elliot Rodger.

My failures have been hard, many I am still wading through, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, more than ever, I realize that redefining success means I have failed, but I am not a failure. And when I get to winning it will be so much sweeter, knowing that I overcame so much to get there.