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The Power of Practice

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Leveraging failure for success

Last week, I had the privilege of being on the EntreLeadership podcast. During our conversation, we covered lots of things, from the number one reason that entrepreneurs fail to how young leaders can prepare themselves for success.

As we talked, one major theme came out that I want to share with you: practice.

Many years ago, once I decided that I wanted to be a teacher and a speaker, I began to practice. I made sure that I took as many opportunities to speak in front of others as I could. Along the way, I made many mistakes, but it was those mistakes that made me successful.

What dialing for dollars taught me

Let me share a story to illustrate this point. Earlier in my career, when I took a job at Xerox in order to learn how to sell, I discovered that Xerox wasn’t as interested in my learning as they were in my producing. They wanted me to sell, not learn. In fact, if I didn’t sell, they would fire me.

The work environment at Xerox was a product of our modern school system, in which those who are successful are the ones who memorize information and avoid as many failures as possible.

In order to get better at sales, I knew I needed to practice. Much like I spent five days a week in high school practicing football so that I could shine during a game once a week, I needed to do repetitions and learn from what I did wrong, as well as what I did right in sales.

So, I volunteered for a charity in the evenings, dialing for dollars. Cold calling was hard, but thankfully, the charity was in such dire need of volunteers they didn’t care if I was failing or not. They were just happy to have me sitting and calling.

The failure paradox

Paradoxically, the more I failed as a volunteer—and learned from those failures—the more successful I became as a salesman at Xerox.

This highlights an important principle: mistakes are more important than answers. Why? Because the answers always emerge from the mistakes. Sure you can memorize answers, however, that fades fast. When you discover an answer from perseverance through failure, that answer stays with you forever.

At the end of the day, successful people are those who practice, practice, practice; fail, fail, fail; and eventually succeed as a result.

I’m reminded again of the famous Michael Jordan quote, “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

The million dollar questions

So the questions I have for you today are, “Where do you want to go?” and “What are you practicing?” If those two things aren’t aligned, it’s time to make a change.

Original publish date: November 17, 2015

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