Bouncing back better
By Michael Berland
Published December 11, 2009
Q: What’s the right response when you come tantalizingly close to success but fail to achieve your goal? How hard is it to recover from heartbreaking setbacks like the ones the Washington Redskins have endured in recent weeks? How often have you experienced reversals that tested your own spirit?
I have advised and consulted for many political candidates, and one of the things that everyone knows is that you typically lose before you win. It’s very rare to win every race — bang, bang, bang.
After serving as a legislator, Barack Obama lost his first run for Congress in 2000. After his first term as the youngest governor in the country, at age 32, Bill Clinton lost his governorship of Arkansas, then came back to serve 10 years before becoming our nation’s president.
One candidate I worked for is New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who learned this lesson before he even jumped from business into politics: He was fired from Solomon Brothers … and then went on to start Bloomberg LLP. Maybe that’s what made him such a formidable candidate.
In our research for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, and I interviewed a lot of people outside politics who overcame enormous challenges to achieve success in their fields — in business, sports, fashion, entertainment and so on.
For a lot of people nowadays, that setback is a layoff or a company closing. One of my favorite stories from our book is that of a guy named Barry Sternlicht who was a star at his companies and a father-to-be in his early 30s. In the downturn of 1991, he was laid off. He was demoralized by the setback:
“I was making money, making deals, and making friends. I was making a life for myself. They were high times, and life was good. … I was let go. I was shocked. Everything I had was lost: the dream job, the huge deals, the great salary, all of it. Of all the great tragedies in the world, this wasn’t the greatest. But when that conversation came, it didn’t feel that way. But it didn’t take me long to realize where I stood …
“I decided to go off on my own. I figured that all the things that made me successful [thus far]… could make me successful on my own. I was creative and had stamina and desire. I saw that my greatest strengths were my passion, memory, and perseverance. And it was around then, after the challenges of crashing down from the highs of the years before, that I realized just how important that last trait is. Perseverance is genius in disguise. If only I could persevere, I could succeed.”
Barry Sternlicht went on to become the founder of Starwood Capital and Starwood Hotels, with more than 850 properties in 80 countries (including W Hotels, which he created, and St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin and Le Meridien properties).
My accomplishments are minor by comparison. But every time I achieve something great, there is always a setback first. If it’s been a while since your last professional setback, you are probably coasting, which is a nice word for stagnating. Setbacks are how you know you are on the road to overcoming a challenge, toward growth, toward somewhere different.