A Less Than Successful Past Can Be an Asset


A Less Than Successful Past Can Be an Asset

The desire to make a good first impression often results in something that resembles a personal pitch. 

We may not deliver it in 60 seconds, but it’s effectively a highlights reel of our successes. When we’re introduced to new people, our initial exchanges are focused on what we think are the important things to learn about each other.

They may start as polite enquiries about family and interests, and then move on to questions about careers and achievements. Our society gives this process a big tick, and many of us interact in this way, without giving it a second thought.

The flipside, of course, is that we tend not to talk about events that might be perceived as negative.

Not initially. Sometimes, not ever.

But if I’m considering a partnership or joint venture with someone, their success stories are only part of what interests me.

A less than successful past can be an asset.

What I really want to know about are their failures, and I’ll tell you why:

  • It magnifies the skills on their CV.

I’m yet to see a failed venture listed honestly on a CV, but what I do see, takes on a greater depth when I ultimately learn that someone has been through a business experience that didn’t go to plan.

I immediately consider their 20 years of industry experience as something more like 25-30years; and as I learn more about the circumstances, I create a list in my mind of the skills I know that person has engaged to get to where they are now.

Rather than dismiss something as a ‘dark period’ in their career, I like to know what skills they honed during the time they were truly tested.

We all know the vast difference between learning something in theory and putting it into practice, but practising under pressure, when the world is crumbling around you, is a different level of skill altogether, and one that I admire.

  • It tells me they’re Tonka tough.

Tonka products were renowned for being virtually indestructible, and their commercials showed them being put to the test and living to fight another day. People who have been to ‘business hell’ and back, exude a type of strength that builds confidence in those around them.

They aren’t likely to run at the first signs of danger, and their wheels won’t fall off if the load gets a bit heavy. They have a broad range of experience to draw from, and a level of resilience that proves you can get up, dust yourself off, and start again.

They are the equivalent to battle-hardened veterans that people look to for guidance.They tell cautionary tales and lead others to safety because they’re familiar with the terrain.

Who doesn’t want to have someone like that on their team?

  • They’re tuned in.

It’s almost contradictory to now refer to my hardy survivors as sensitive, but it’s a quality that resembles a sixth sense. People who have experienced hardship, have been tested, and at times shaken to their core, have a quiet wisdom about them.

Those who have taken the time to process what went wrong, have the benefit of knowing what to do in a whole range of scenarios that many of us have never even considered.

They’re tuned in to subtle indications that something’s not quite right and are equipped to intervene while there’s time, to prevent an escalation.

So, what’s your story?

Not everyone comes through business failures unscathed. Some people don’t come through it at all. Events that rob us of financial, professional and emotional security, have a way of altering people.

Some take years to process what happened and recover to a point where they can try again. And that’s my point:

If you are that someone and you are trying again, you’re made of some pretty tough stuff. Don’t be ashamed of your story. There are many of us who appreciate the value in the tales you have to share.

And if someone you’ve met recently is brave enough to tell you about their less than successful past, acknowledge that experience as an asset, and take the time to really listen.

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