Thought Leadership

Overcoming Past Failures to Succeed Today

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What’s your biggest failure?

That’s become kind of a trendy question to ask yourself. TED Talks espousing the merits of failure have gone viral. “Fail faster” has become the battle cry of Silicon Valley. But I’ve never liked failing. It doesn’t taste good. So I’ve been pondering this question.

Thinking back to that first speech I gave to PR pros on boosting media pitching is crazy, because at the time I had no idea what a fork in the road that would be. If that day finished out the way it started, then there’s no way would I be writing you this post.

I had barricaded myself in my hotel room — OK, I even locked myself in the bathroom inside my hotel room — because I was too scared of going down to the meeting room to give the speech.

It took me about two hours to get up the nerve to head to the elevator. Upon arriving outside the meeting room, I stood in the hall away from the guests as they filed in. No one recognized me — I’m sure they were wondering who this Michael Smart guy was on their programs. I was too scared to speak to anyone before the training, so at the appointed time I just burst through the door and blurted out my memorized opening line. Makes me laugh now.

Fortunately the audience was receptive — I think they sensed my nerves and were emotionally cheering me on. We ended up with a powerful exchange of ideas, and they sent me off with kind applause and generous speaker evaluations.

Paid training gigs soon followed, then multiplied. Before long, industry organizations were putting me “on tour,” setting up pitching workshops around the country for me to deliver — land in Boston at midnight, do a full-day training the next morning, fly to LaGuardia that night, full day in New York CIty the next day, then on to Washington, D.C.., Chicago, Los Angeles, and so on.

So why did it take me 10 years from that first speaking success to take the natural next step and go all-in on my own training business?

Even after I took that plunge seven years ago, I can now look back and see decisions that should have been natural for me that I delayed. My big leaps forward have been rewarding, but with hindsight I realize they would have come a lot quicker if I hadn’t procrastinated taking the first step for so long. I’ve been very fortunate, but would have been able to help more people —and faster — if I had acted instead of waited.

And that, I’ve realized, has been my biggest failure.

So I’ve been working on that. I’ve been cramming a bunch of those delayed decisions into the last few years, and this one will be no different. I want to help more people achieve more media relations success instead of holding others back by my reticence to grow. Though my objectives change every year, my goal remains the same.

So what is holding you back? What has been your “biggest failure” that’s keeping your career from reaching the next level? Look at this calendar year and see what leap of faith you can take to upgrade your career.

Though it’s a cliché, there is a reason writing down goals makes a difference. So, mark up your calendar and actually set some goals. If you write it down and block out the time, then you are more likely to do it.

Maybe you’ve wanted to block out more creative time during your week. Maybe you want to dedicate more time to training or attend a conference. Maybe you want to cut back on work and reclaim your family time.

Whatever it is, take that failure of your past and write down an action to change it. Don’t let time go by and wait for the change to happen to you.

Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here. 

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Michael Smart


  • This is such a good read. The mistakes you have made in the past don’t define you. They make you stronger.
    Mistakes are there for you to learn and grow from them. If you can’t move on from the past then you can move forward. This will hold you back.
    Don’t let the little things get to you. Be proud of who you are and build a better life for yourself!
    Reading this post made my day!

  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post about your views on failure and your own failure. It is refreshing to read something that owns up to the mistakes made and how you can move past these setbacks. As humans we tend to dwell on the mistakes made in the past and in result, we can’t move on and better ourselves. I also enjoyed the part where you talked about how you wish you had acted instead of waiting–we can’t wait for opportunities in life, we have to create them ourselves. Very humbling read!

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