Productivity

What Career Failure Taught Me About Success

career failure

Every success story can trace its roots back to a fork in a road, a crucial moment where things can either fall apart…or re-formulate into a new entity.

My moment came on a cold February morning in 2015, checking the royalty statements for my novel, The Isolation Door, which had been published a few months ago.

This book meant salvation for me and my family, a way out after years of living hand-to-mouth and panicking over unpaid bills. I’d spent seven years knocking on doors trying to get this story, which had a deep personal connection to me, out into the world. I’d landed a literary agent who put the manuscript into submission…only to have it be rejected by nearly every big publishing house out there. I went through a painstaking 2-year rewrite of the book to make it more appealing to them, prying my eyes open to keep writing on the laptop at 2 am while my wife slept beside me. It went back out there…and got rejected again. So I made the insanely risky decision to self-publish the book, bring a publicist on board, and give it a proper launch. We went deeper and deeper into debt to finance this dream, all while my wife was working full-time as a Speech-Language Pathologist and I was freelancing for magazines and writing resumes for job seekers. Finally, at the tail end of this brutal campaign, we got a break: Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Books, discovered the book and purchased the rights to it. We finally had the legitimacy needed to make a splash. And not a moment too soon: with nearly 6 figures in debt accrued over the past seven years, this book HAD TO MAKE IT.


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My heart was beating as I pulled up the author royalty statements page on my computer for the month. I glanced down at the latest numbers….and realized that I’d spent more on groceries last week than what I’d made selling copies of the book.

This was reality smacking you in the face. This was the word I’d dreaded hearing more than all others: failure. This labor of love will not succeed in the way you need it to.

I expected to be crushed. But the truth was, most of the pain I’d experienced came from the turbulent moments preceding this moment of reckoning. This wasn’t the trial- this was the verdict. And it was final. And in a strange way, freeing.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a big dream spurring me on. What I had, rather, was an urgent need to SURVIVE. My family needed money, quickly, to avoid horrible outcomes like losing the house or declaring bankruptcy. So…what was I doing at the moment which was generating money?

My eye turned to the resume writing and LinkedIn work I’d been doing for my jobseeker clients, this “sideline” which I’d never really given serious consideration before.

And I asked myself: “Can we make this more PROFITABLE and more MEANINGFUL?” I was operating on the assumption that if I deepened the kind of work I did for these people, broke out of the “resume writer” box and into more of a career coaching box, then I’d be able to charge the kind of money required to get us on more stable financial footing. Pragmatic to the extreme, I know!

Five years later, our lives could not look more different. Money issues have gone away. My family’s in a stronger, freer place than I could have ever imagined. My wife and I can focus on raising the kids and having meaningful shared experiences together, instead of grappling with the ever-present tension and slow poison of never quite having enough. And most surprisingly, I discovered a real calling as a career coach. It took just a moment of failure to seize it.

Here are 3 key takeaways I’ve learned from that period:


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You Can Attain Career Fulfillment from Non-Ideal Beginnings

For most of my life, I’ve been a victim of the “If you dream it, it will come” mentality. The dream had to be there, larger than life, or else the fulfillment wouldn’t be. It wasn’t until my back was up against the wall, and I found myself acting on the basis of raw URGENCY that I began to challenge this bias.

Who says you need a big dream or goal to accomplish great things? If you have an urgent need, start by trying to address it as best you can…and try to move things 1 step forward tomorrow. Different paths can get you to the same destination.  

Your Career Plan Should Be A Compass, Not the Destination

I could have saved myself years of fruitless struggle had I been less invested in attaining the “one specific ideal outcome” for my career, and valued emerging opportunities instead. Ask yourself: what open doors am I refusing to walk through? What am I really good at that I don’t give myself any credit for? What sources of help and assistance have I been saying no to out of pride or fear?

Plans are great for getting started. But a career that does nothing except check off one box after another isn’t a great one. A career which surprises you by letting you discover strengths you didn’t know you had is something worth striving for.

Make it About Service, Not Ego

I challenge you to reframe what you’re after through the lens of service to your loved ones. When I was struggling to bounce back, I saw myself as an ADVOCATE for the interests of my wife and young kids. I wasn’t doing this for me; I was doing it for them. My actions would have a direct impact on their lives. So despite my personal limitations or reservations, I’d push through. It allowed me to fight harder, think smarter, and ultimately make more of a difference in the lives of my clients. Why not adopt a similar approach?


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About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at HelloAnish.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.