Appreciate Failure: It Can Be Your Salvation

I’m taking a break from the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Series for today to post something that I wrote for myself in November 2009 about a devastating failure I had experienced.  It’s a summary really of the lessons I learned from that experience.  Since I wrote this I gained clarity on my mission and what I really want to do to make a change in the world,  so necessarily the focus of my business changed from what is written here. 

As you know by now, I help teenagers and young adults to identify their passions and dreams and learn to build a business based on those passions and dreams.  When my new logo is ready and I get new business cards, I’m going to list my title as Change Agent.  The change I want to see in the world is a major reduction in teen/young adult unemployment and homelessness.

I hope my story speaks to you in some way.  Posting it here is the final closure in that chapter of my life.

In December of 2007 I experienced the death of a project I had worked long and hard on for the previous four years.  The realization of this dream came so close that I could feel it in my hands.  At the very last minute the main funder backed out as a result of damage they sustained due to the downturn in the economy and the project was dead.  Needless to say, it hit me really hard and a deep depression set in.  I remained in that depression and mourned that project for almost a year.  There were some attempts to recover, to pick up the pieces and move forward, but I could not make that happen.  We’re talking about fourteen million dollars lost from one source.

I have always believed that things happen for a reason, even if we don’t see what that reason is.  What I’ve come to understand about the failure of this project is that it was the Universe’s way of showing me that things could always be worse and that I had to find a way to be grateful for everything, good or bad that came my way.  When I came to this realization, I also realized that the failure of the project saved me and my very small nonprofit from what could have been an even more devastating loss in the future.  The economic downturn has caused so many changes in the funding of social service programs, that it is likely that I would have eventually lost the funding anyway and would have been left with an enormous debt and no way to continue funding the project.  I would not have been able to recover from that kind of financial loss in this lifetime.

In February of 2009, the agency I worked for filed for bankruptcy and went out of business after twenty-five years of service to foster youth.  I found myself unemployed for the first time in many years.  Not only unemployed, but they didn’t pay us for our last pay period, nor did they reimburse for mileage, phone and other expenses since September of 2008.  The job ended with them owing me more than eight thousand dollars.  I have joked all this time that I am happily unemployed as I am now relieved of the overwhelming stress from a difficult job with an agency that was not able to meet its commitment to the clients or to the employees.  It’s been almost six months and I’ve been able to accomplish a lot.  I have decided to diversify by having multiple streams of income in order to protect against this kind of loss of income in the future.  I am establishing a private practice as a therapeutic behavioral coach, working with families and caregivers to develop effective, stress free discipline strategies to help children manage irritating and out of control behaviors.  I set up an inexpensive website at, started writing ezine articles which I submit to and soon to add to is strictly for marketing purposes and Suite101 is to earn some extra money.  They have Google Ads on the same page with your articles and you get paid each time someone who is drawn to your article clicks on the ad.  I’ve also taken on other small writing jobs.  There isn’t a lot of money coming in right now, but it’s a start.

If the agency had not gone into bankruptcy, I would still be in that very stressful job.

Additionally, I have taken up organic gardening after connecting on Craig’s List with an expert in the field.  He helped me build an organic garden in my backyard and we have gardening classes here once a month.  I have a very magical garden.  With only two months in the ground, some of the plants tower over six feet tall.  It’s easy to see where the Jack in the Beanstalk story came from.  I’m learning biodynamic gardening and am having the time of my life.

My nonprofit is partnering with the garden expert to develop various projects.  We have a proposal ready to go the Probation Department to bring a garden project into the youth camps to teach them not only gardening skills and how to make money from their garden, but to create a sustainable food source for the camps thereby saving the county some money on their food bill, but also to teach social skills such as leadership development, team building, community service and to raise their awareness of environmental issues, teach nutrition and the plant to food on the table connection.

I think I found my silver lining to that dark cloud that parked itself over my head that dreadful day the funder announced they had been hit hard by the drop in the economy and could no longer consider funding our project.  That devastating failure may have led me to a brand new future, free from that overwhelming stress that I felt on my previous job, one that will lead to a happy, productive retirement in the next ten years or sooner.  I am happier than I ever imagined I would be at this time.  I encourage everyone to consider that failure may actually be in your best interest and present other opportunities that you may not have thought about.  Failure is a great teacher and mentor and I will never again be devastated by it, but will look for the opportunity that is coming next.

If you’d like to see some of the gardening project I’ve posted photos on the Nonprofit page.  Scroll to the middle of the page.


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Alan Miles - July 29, 2012

Now I understand why we seem to be talking the same language, Julia. We have very similar interests, and I had a couple of bad business experienced in the 1990s which closely resembled yours. As you say, the depression that sets in can be devastating, when you’ve been flying high but your world suddenly seems to collapse around you. When you’re going through that, sometimes its hard to see what went wrong, or you blame the wrong circumstances or people.

But I’ve always found there does seem to be a reason, even if it only becomes obvious later. I couldn’t do what I do today unless I’d had those experiences. And when you suddenly find yourself on your own, with no other resources than your own creativity and survival instincts, it’s a pretty good way to learn how to be a better entrepreneur. As long as you’re innately optimistic and have more than nine lives, that is.

After the challenge, we really need to talk. I’d love to hear more about your current projects.
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    Julia - July 29, 2012

    Thank you Alan. With no modesty or humility, let me say that I am very resource and have really good survival instincts. The result of that experience is that I am rebuilding that dream in a new way that is more manageable and less likely to fail. I do learn my lessons, even it takes me a while. I look forward to talking with you and watch out because I am seriously passionate about my new project.

    I very much appreciate your continued support of this blog. Accepting this challenge was a nice gift to myself and I am so happy I allowed myself to make the commitment to participate.

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