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You Have to Learn to Love to Bomb

Jeff Michalski (founder of famed comedy club, The Second City) told comedian Stephen Colbert and his improvisational students, “You have to learn to love the bomb.”  Colbert explains further: “It took me a long time to really understand what it meant. It wasn’t ‘don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…the embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you.”

Former CEO of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally, was brought into the company at a very difficult time – 2009.  Other big car companies, such as General Motors and Chrysler, would go on to file bankruptcy.  Ford was losing 17 billion dollars a year. Despite this, Mulally and his team would eventually turn around Ford.  His attitude towards failure is surprising – when asked, Mullaly states, “I don’t think about or see failure”.  The fear of failure is one of the reasons many individuals never get to the heights of their respective careers.

As I look over the 27 years of being a veterinarian, I can tell you one thing – I have failed many times. I vividly remember one such failure. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to participate in starting two emergency animal hospitals.  The first one now has a group of 15 other practice owners and has become very successful and a pillar of our county for over 18 years. In 2012, after seeing the success of this hospital, I went to my fellow practice owners to open a similar ER model to hopefully copy the success of our first location.

After close to two years of operating this new ER we realized – this was a complete failure.  We simply could not get the traction or referrals we needed to take this ER practice to the next level.  Sadly, we had to sell the ER practice – as a result, I felt I left my other partners down.

Whitney Johnson writes in her wonderful book, “Build An A Team” to ask yourself these questions when you have experienced failure:

  1. Begin with the why the failure happened.  What could have been improved?
  2. Was the failure the result of lack of effort or due to trying something new and having it not work?
  3. Is this person failing because they were in the wrong role?
  4. Any unrealistic expectations partly to blame for the failure?
  5. How quickly will you recover from failure?

Learn to value failure and to value the education it can bring to you professionally and personally.  It is the price one has to take in order to venture into the frontier of the learning curve of being a veterinarian.  Every successful person I know has experience some aspect of failure in their professional life.

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