This week I had the pleasure of speaking at MozCon and sharing with a couple thousand digital marketers a subject that is very important to me: failure. More importantly, how we can leverage failure to create personal, professional and marketing success.
If you read my bio, it might appear that I’ve been successful in most things that I have done, but my narrative is quite the opposite. For every milestone that I’ve reached, I’ve failed a thousand more times. At the risk of sounding grandiose, I believe that learning how to effectively manage adversity is the single greatest skill that we need to learn in order to become successful and happy. Truly understanding how to leverage adversity and failure in your life will help you reach greatness. Every great entrepreneur, athlete, marketer…every great person I’ve met has mastered this skill.
It’s my many failures—in athletics, personal matters and business—that have allowed me to develop a roadmap for success. I live by a 48 rule that has served me well. After any major let down, I give myself 48 hours to obsess, internalize, scrutinize, whatever it takes to get it out of my system. Then I let it go. From that point forward, I look only for the lessons. And I use those lessons to create a blueprint so I can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
Blueprints are something we talk a lot about at Integrate. With all the technology being implemented by marketing organizations, we find that marketers often fail to reap the rewards of that tech due to lack of connection. Creating a blueprint lets you see how all your pieces (tech, strategy, process, people) work together to get you to an end result. It gives you a clear line of site into your obstacles so you can overcome them.
One of the most important things that came out of my personal blueprint was knowing that I needed to have a plan for my future once I transitioned out of athletics, because no matter how prepared I was for a competition or game, success was never guaranteed. Fortunately while playing in the NFL, I had an amazing opportunity to attend Wharton, where I worked directly with some of the most brilliant minds I’d ever met who were also seed investors in internet companies. Spending time in their offices inspired me with the same level of excitement I felt when I put on my first pair of skis.
I’m now on my second internet startup. The first helped me discover a major need in marketing and the second is a collective vision conceived of by an amazing team to help solve that need. You can learn more about how Integrate solves the challenges faced by today’s modern marketers here.
There are five major themes I’ve learned over my athletic career and business experiences.
1. Forget About Winning
This was a foreign concept to me when I first read about it in Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention. But when I stopped focusing on beating everyone for external reasons and focused more on improving my ability as an athlete every day, I actually started winning more. I moved from being an extrinsically focused athlete motivated by the idea of fame, money and power to an intrinsically motivated person obsessed with learning, growing and actualizing my full potential. Diminishing the control that your ego has over your decisions and life is a very liberating experience.
2. Develop Mental Toughness
I believe that our level of mental toughness directly aligns with our current life circumstance. If we're going through adversity we tend to be mentally strong because we are forced to exercise this part of our brain in order to overcome the obstacle. Conversely, at times in our life where we are comfortable, we tend to be at our weakest mentally. It's important during these times that we mentally exercise our brain to maintain and build our mental toughness. I like to give up things that I really enjoy for 30 days to ensure my mind controls my body and not the opposite.
3. Build a Lock-Arms Culture
In my time, I’ve witnessed some very distinct management styles. I’ve learned that fear-based motivational tactics create a culture where every person is out for themselves. Leaders who rely on transparency and open communication, however, inspire their teams to lock-arms and drive the organization forward for the greater good. You will go further, faster in a lock-arms culture.
4. Be a Leader, Not a Victim
This is one of the most important decisions you will make in your personal and professional lives and it will ultimately define your level of success. There are two types of people: leaders and victims. Leaders are the people who look at an obstacle and either individually or collectively figure out a way to solve it. They don’t need a lot of direction. They just get the job done. They share a lot of ideas, stay positive and constantly push themselves to be better. These are the people that every entrepreneur loves to have in their organization. Victims are the people who always point fingers. They blame the management, the product, the company and the customer. It is almost impossible to build any successful organization with the victim mentality. We’ve hired some brilliant leaders at Integrate who are committed to building a legacy. Choose to be a leader.
5. Manage the Roller Coaster
As David Horowitz says in his book The Hard Things About the Hard Things, the most difficult job for any CEO is managing his or her own psychology. Some days you wake up at 6:00am ready to take on the world and right around noon you get a series of emails and phone calls and before you know it you’re drowning in doubt and questioning everything around you. You can learn to effectively manage these situations in life by disconnecting from the outcome and not approaching them with a reactive mentality.
The last thing I want to leave you with is this. When you find yourself at a time in life picking up the pieces, when you’re trying to pull yourself out of whatever hole you’ve fallen in, and you’re searching for meaning—remember that success is never linear. It’s always up and down. So relax, take a breath and enjoy the ride.