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When I was 18-years old I started an asphalt sealing business. My second asphalt sealing job was for the Chief Financial Officer of a Fortune 100 company. He lived on a giant hill in a tony suburb outside of Detroit. When I went door-to-door selling my asphalt services, I really hit it off with him and he allowed me to do the job for him.
I was very excited about doing the job. Since this was such an important man, I fantasized about all of the work he could give me in the future–and how I was about to really hit it big. I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of doing asphalt work, but I figured I would be just fine on the job.
I had a van I’d purchased for $300, a couple of 55-gallon drums of asphalt sealer, and some brushes and brooms. I was ready to go.
The job turned out to be a nightmare.
First of all, the driveway was long and on a very steep hill and lacked any trees or vegetation. Within an hour or so of starting the job I had developed horrible sunburn that made the work incredibly difficult. In addition, I was working with tar and got it all over my skin and it burned so bad that every few minutes I was rushing over to a hose to wash the tar off of my body.
Secondly, the driveway was made up of large rocks that absorbed incredible amounts of asphalt sealer. About two hours or so into the job, I realized I was going to lose hundreds of dollars because it was absorbing so much sealer. In addition, because there were such large gaps between the stones, the sealer was taking a long time to dry. When it did dry, it was very slippery and I fell down as I tried to work on it.
Thirdly, my van got stuck on a giant ledge of the driveway that was at least 20 feet off the ground. I was about 6 hours into the job and the truck was perched there on a ledge and unable to move. I spent at least an hour or so trying to move the truck and get it unstuck. Finally, I decided I needed to accelerate rapidly over the ledge and hope that the force of my acceleration allowed the tire on the ledge to catch.
I revved the engine and accelerated rapidly and ripped out a small part of the hillside but managed to prevent the van from driving over the ledge. Because the pitch of the driveway was so massive, I could not stop the van. It went careening down the driveway and I slammed on the brakes. When I slammed on the brakes, a couple of 55-gallon barrels of tar came flying towards the front of the van and burst, sending tar all over me. The tar was so thick it also covered the inside windows of the van.
It was an old van and all of the tar leaked out onto the street. There was tar everywhere. I was completely covered in it from head to toe and sunburned.
As I oriented myself, I saw the owner standing right next to me:
“Why don’t we just forget it?” he said.
I tried to tell him that everything was all right but it clearly was not. I had ripped out part of his hillside. There was tar all over the street and I looked like a river monster–half human and half mud. I mean, my face, hair, and everything were covered completely with tar.
I drove home and left a trail of tar at least a mile long because it was leaking out of the van most of the way. By the time I got home, the tar had dried on top of my skin and I crackled when I walked. I spent at least 45 minutes using water from a cold hose and scrubbing the tar off of myself with gasoline and brillo pads and another 30 minutes in the shower.
Because I was sun burned, the entire process was unbelievably painful. A day or so later, all of the skin on the parts of my body that were sunburned started to come off. I had to go to the emergency room to get some special ointment that had painkiller in it.
Because my body had been exposed to so many chemicals from the incident, I got all sorts of headaches for the next several weeks. The headaches were very bad for a few days. Bright light, noise, and so forth were intolerable. The chemicals had poisoned my body so I was also having a difficult time holding food down. I lay in bed for a few days comatose and unable to move.
I experienced several incidents like this over the next several weeks and years–some even arguably more severe. Whenever something like this happened, I stopped doing the work for a month or so before getting enough confidence to start again.
I am unsure why I kept throwing myself into this awful work, but I did. Each job I did, I got more and more confidence and years later I was involved in doing massive projects like work for cities and school systems. I ended up becoming very successful doing this work. I think I all owe it to not allowing some of the bad experiences I had to crush my spirit.
Losing a layer of skin, getting poisoned, and destroying a street is enough to crush anyone’s confidence. For some reason though, I decided to keep pushing through this pain and learn from my mistakes and keep going.
I had absolutely no qualifications to be a contractor. My father has never used a tool in his life and I certainly did not grow up with any examples of good contractors and so forth. That’s why I was so horrible at this work in the beginning. In retrospect, the only qualification I had to do this sort of work was the fact that I was able to learn from my experience and get up and keep trying again.
I believe that the ability to learn from an experience and use it to grow–rather than to shy away–is among the greatest assets we can have in our lives. If you use experience to grow, you can become even stronger in the future.
The saddest thing that can happen to people is when they lose their spirit and give up trying. Many people lose their spirit because they attach emotional baggage to events they perceive as negative in their lives.
• How do you respond to a failure in your career?
• How do you respond to failed relationships?
• How do you respond to mistakes you may have made?
If you look at the careers of the most successful people, you will generally see they have had one bad failure after another. For some reason though, some people choose to learn from their experiences and keep going. Every adversity we experience contains the seed of an equivalent benefit. It is not easy to go back and learn what you may had done wrong, learn lessons from this, fix what may have gone wrong and see the new possibilities before you.
Many people choose to define themselves based on their failures in things like relationships, jobs, or careers.
Based on these failures, they decide that they are not worthy; should avoid certain jobs, people, and situations; and will remain content with a life that is less than they are capable of.
This is one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make in their life. Once their spirit is broken, many people stop trying. They stop exposing themselves to challenging situations and stop growing.
What you need to realize is that every experience you have is an asset–not a liability. Every bad experience you have had allows you to realize what you may have done wrong in the past and tells you what actions to avoid in the future–or where to improve.
If you find someone staying for a long period of time in a job that is beneath him or her that they are unhappy with, chances are the person had a big failure somewhere in the past. He believes, for whatever reason, that he “deserves” the situation he’s in and will not consistently challenge himself.
When you find someone in a life that is clearly below their potential, the chances are also good that there is some failure in this person’s past that is now preventing them from giving a 100% and doing their absolute best.
The most successful people out there–no matter how much negative feedback they get from their environment–focus on the possibilities. Leaders, stars, and the most successful understand that if something is not working, it is just feedback.
When I watch politicians, stars, and others crucified on a daily basis by the media I often ask myself: How can these people tolerate this? For most of these people, this is no problem at all. They are used to getting negative feedback and if it bothered them they would not be nearly as successful as they are. These are the sorts of people that are focused on the possibilities and do not dwell on the negative–this is why they are where they are. Failure and negativity is just something that is not dwelled on by people who achieve greatness–they just don’t spend their time dwelling on it or allow themselves to attach negative emotions to it.
Where would you be today if you did not allow your past failures to define you and hold you back? You should focus on possibilities and use the negative things that have happened to you as feedback and not something that defines who you are.