#008: How to Benefit from Setbacks and Failures [Podcast]

In this podcast episode, I talk about what I have learned from the failures I have experienced—and I’ve had some doozies. I share the details of a business failure in the early 1990s, an IRS audit that turned into a nightmare in the early 2000s, and a speaking engagement that went south earlier this month.

Success is not a straight-line journey to the top. It’s full of twists and turns, including moments when you doubt yourself and are tempted to quit. In this episode I share a process I use for turning setbacks and failures to your advantage. This is a major key to success in life.

Click to Listen


Special Announcements

  1. I will also be doing all the backstage interviews at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast on May 4th in Atlanta. This is also one of the very best leadership conferences available. It is put on by the same people who do Catalyst, a company called Giant Impact. This year I am looking forward to interviewing Tim Tebow, Marcus Buckingham, John Maxwell, Soledad O’Brien, Patrick Lencioni, Andy Stanley, Coach Urban Meyer and many others. These interviews will be broadcast live and then replayed on my blog in the weeks following the event. In addition to the live event in Atlanta, this event will be simulcast to more than 750–800 locations around the world. You can find out more at Chick-fil-ALeadercast.com.
  2. I will be speaking at the BlogWorld & New Media Expo in New York City on June 5–7. I will be leading one of the “Super Sessions” on Thursday, June 7th, at 9:00 a.m. I am not quite sure yet what I will speak about. It will likely be something about Platform (my new book) and what I am currently learning about building a podcast platform. I hope you will join me at the conference. You can register here before May 15 and save $100 off the three-day blogger and podcaster pass.
  3. I now have a new Listener Voicemail Hotline. I am very excited about this. I am going to change the format of the show to take more recorded questions. This is your chance to be on the show! You can also call (615) 656-5001 if you prefer and leave a question. (This is a different service but also records your message.) If you have an idea for a podcast you would like to see or a question about an upcoming episode, I’d love to hear from you. You are also welcome to e-mail me if you wish.

Episode Outline

Not all failures end well. Sometimes, people suffer a setback and never recover. It doesn’t have to be this way. It is all in how you process it. If you are going to succeed in work and in life, you must learn to deal powerfully with failure.

There are at least six steps to turning failure to your advantage:

  1. Step #1: Acknowledge the failure.
  2. Step #2: Take full responsibility.
  3. Step #3: Mourn the failure.
  4. Step #4: Learn from the experience.
  5. Step #5: Change your behavior.
  6. Step #6: Enter whole-heartedly into the next project.
Failure is inevitable if you are going to tackle significant goals. You have to learn to make it work for you. In doing so, you are planting the seeds of your eventual success.

Listener Questions

I didn’t take listener questions for this episode. However, this will be the driving force for the show next week. I will be taking about the topic of work-life balance. If you have a question about that topic, please leave me a voice mail. I’d love to hear from you.

Episode Resources

I mentioned the following resources in the show:


You can download a transcript of this episode here.

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe:

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Question: What would asking different questions make possible for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    Asking different questions would enhance my learning experience which would in turn help me grow in different ways.  I need to be open to new questions – it’s easy to have tunnel vision.

    • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      The hardest thing is trying to figure out EXACTLY what went wrong. I feel like I never find it sometimes because I always ask the same questions!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    Technical question: 

    Clicking your audio player under “Click to Listen” in my Google Reader simply takes me to the single post page on your website, and in order to listen, I must click on the audio player there. Is this how it’s supposed to work, or is the audio player meant to open in my Google Reader but somehow it doesn’t? 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, that is correct. You can’t really embed the player in an RSS feed. You’ll note the same is true of video players. When you click on them, you go to another page where you have to click again. Thanks.

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

        I’ve always been able to watch all the videos you posted in my Google Reader directly.

        As far as embedding audio, I recently dicovered this player, which boasts full functionality both on the source page as well as in the Google RSS Reader. (Haven’t tested it in any of the non-Google Readers, though.)

        • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.livermore Rebecca Haley Livermore

           Cyberquill, if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the post (in Google Reader) you will see a player there that you can click on, and listen to the audio from within Reader. The player at the top does take you back to this page, but the one at the bottom does not. Hope that helps!

          • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

            Oh, I hadn’t seen that one. What’s it doing down there?

          • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.livermore Rebecca Haley Livermore

             I don’t know, but I’ve seen it on other podcasts that I have in Google Reader, too. The natural inclination is to click one to click on the one at the top, for sure, but am just glad that there is the other option.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com/ Patricia Zell

    When I click on the transcript, I’m sent to last week’s broadcast. Keep smiling, Michael…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Fixed! Thanks.

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    The best sales book I ever read was not a sales book at all.  It was John Maxwell’s book “Failing Forward”.  I named it as my March Book of the Month because of the impact it had on me and many I have trained.  http://andersonleadershipsolutions.com/resources/#monthbooks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. That is one of my favorites from John.

  • Rabrooks1

    What I’ve seen so far is great; however, the transcript is not about setbacks and failures but asking the right questions. It appears we have the transcript fo #7 rather than #8.

    I’m sure that it can be easily fixed; thanks for your help.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, sorry about that. It is now fixed. Thanks.

  • http://www.robstill.com Rob Still

    I think the question for discussion on the podcast was “Where are you stuck? Where are you stuck in turning failure into advantage?”

    For me, #5 “Changing your behavior” is a struggle. and #6 “Enter the next project wholeheartedly” was an ah-ha moment. Sometimes I spend too much thought on trying to change the past.

    Great podcast!

  • https://www.bloggoround.com/ Jonathan Thompson

    I personally do not like setbacks and failures, but I realize that it is all part of the learning process and just life in general.

    Without them life on earth would be boring.

    There would be no professional ball teams.

    No need for the Olympics.

    We would all be able to achieve our goals without much effort at all. 

    There would be nothing to work hard for and enjoy the results.

  • Debbie

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and what I call sound advice! Great podcast!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Failures and setbacks are the best teachers, if we are willing to learn from them. When things always go right and everything works well, we tend to get complacent. It also means our goals aren’t big enough.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    This was probably the best podcast yet for me, this topic should be preached everyday! In our minds we think we can plan things out perfectly and everything will happen how we planned, when we hit that bump in the road it feels like our whole world is torn apart!
    Dan Miller always says “great leaders fail early and fail often” if you take action you will fail at some point, the question is will you get back up?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love that Dan Miller quote! Thanks for sharing it with me.

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  • Leon Yeap

    This is a very timely message for me. Thanks for the podcast Michael. Helping me to navigate a failure that has bothered me for awhile. I am very encouraged.

    • Rachel Lance

      So glad you’re blessed! What’s your biggest learning?

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    New questions result in a change in perspective most of the time, if you’re willing to see it.  I pray that I’m always open to asking new questions, and not confining myself to the “I’ve always done it that way” mentality…

  • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

    My trouble with failure is often seeing what exactly went wrong. I “fail forward” often tweaking the wrong variables. It is frustrating. 

    Also, it’s easier when you fail on principle. Failing on execution is a tough one to resolve. 

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Outstanding podcast – thanks so much for sharing! It reminds me of when I starting taking downhill skiing lessons as a teenager. I was getting frustrated when I kept falling down while trying an advanced technique and the instructor told me, “If you’re not falling down – you’re not learning something new.” That has stuck with me since!

  • Meghan Magee

    I like it that your format is more like a lecture :) I listen to your pod cast while doing my daily mid-day ‘get the heck away from work for a wee bit and MOVE’ break. I prefer to have my brain firmly engaged in something non-work and edifying while I’m walking to really get the benefit of the break.

    Had you asked at the start of this pod cast, I would have said that #5 Change Your Behavior is my biggest sticking point. I suspect now that I really have an issue with #3 and giving myself permission to really mourn the failure.

    Note for the Work/Life Balance pod cast: I wish I knew a more convincing way to explain to co-workers that they are not helping the team nor the company by choosing to work so much unpaid overtime. People that don’t or aren’t able to leave work at work and only during the scheduled work week are less efficient and effective and tend to make more work for themselves and others due to a higher number of mistakes. That hurts the team. The company is hurt because the higher ups are ONLY able to judge the cost/benefit ratio by the direct cost (45 hours per week). They have no way to know that half the team worked 60 hours per week because it didn’t touch the company’s cost as we are all salaried employees. So when future projects are planned, they are planned with inaccurate data which will hurt the company in the long run and the teams in the short run as now everyone is forced to try to do more with less resources.

  • J.D. Sutter

    Hi Michael,

    I am really enjoying your podcast. I really like how you offer a lot of information on a single topic in each episode so I hope you will continue to do episodes like that from time to time. Perhaps you can consider a sort of hybrid between the Q&A format and the lecture style format.

    Your insight and knowledge are an inspiration to me as I work toward my goals. Thank you very much for what you are doing!


    By the way, I definitely noticed the improved audio quality in this episode. Sounds great!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your input, J.D. I appreciate it.

  • Jack Lynady

    Good stuff. Thx Michael. ;)

  • http://www.kentrecommends.com/ Kent Faver

    Great podcast Michael!  I’m not the professional, but I think I preferred the previous podcasts when you were standing – lol.  Your first podcast was so well done, my first thought was I bet that took alot of prep time – and you’re confirming it did.  I listen to a ton of podcasts, and my least favorite is when folks just kind of ramble through a laundry list of stuff they have written down which may or may not be related.  I’m sure you won’t go there, but that’s my opinion.  Thanks again!

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  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, a suggestion: Could you make the link for the transcript open in a new window/tab?  I’ve done this twice now, on two different episodes, where I’ve clicked on the link to the transcript while the podcast has been playing, and it’s opened the transcript in the same page, stopping the podcast from playing.

    I’m one of those people that likes to read along in the transcript while it’s playing.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’m so sorry about that. Yes, I have fixed it now. It should open in a different window. Thanks.

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    Michael…. please forgive my unbridled enthusiasm… but…. THIS! IS! AWESOME!!!  Its like your counseling without all that fluffy stuff, and yet at the same time you are giving us something for us to grab on to when deal with failure.

    I unfortunately did not have this mode of thinking early on in my 20’s and it has set me back a bunch, but now I’m getting it.  (At least I think I am.)  But this hits the nail on the head of more people would just get this, then life would be better for a lot of people.

    Thanks again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dale. I SO appreciate your enthusiasm!

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  • http://www.coachingforleaders.com/ Dave Stachowiak

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve listened to all your podcasts and I really value and appreciate your show and the enthusiasm you bring to developing others. I also really appreciate your conversation in this particular show about failures…it always takes courage to speak about failures, and I really appreciate the courage you brought to this episode.

    Also, the audio sounds awesome now! Was good before…but now perfect. Cliff is always a great help for these things.

    I also wanted to thank you for your thoughts on the “lecture format” of the podcast…your comments have given me much to think about as well. I’ve been hosting/producing a podcast for nine months and have had good initial following, but not a tremendous amont of audience interaction yet. One of the things that I’ve become more aware of in the past few weeks is the formal tone/structure that I tend to bring to the show. My background is in training, so structure and formality works for me, but I also know the importance of interaction.

    But I’m not sure it’s working for my audience and at least one person in Cliff’s Podcast Mastermind group has suggested to me recently that I might want to be a bit more casual. When I heard your show today, your thoughts really resonated with me since I fear that my formal tone sometimes puts up barriers to people feeling safe to interact. It all connected when I heard you speak on this today and I’m going to spend the next several weeks to try and lighten things up a bit and see what happens. Hard to do when it’s just me…so I’ll need to be a bit more creative – my wife will be helpful for me on this!

    Anyway, wanted to say thank you for the thoughts, the ideas, and the reminder that lots of us face similar challenges. You’ve motivated me to move forward on getting better with this as well.

    Keep up the great content!Warmly,Dave

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    Hey…. if Facebook were a nation… where would it rank?  :-D

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    Thank you again Michael.
    Taking full responsibility stands out to me the most right now. 
    Great show and I enjoyed hearing the progress and the things you have learned just with this podcast.

    K, bye

  • http://twitter.com/SBrobbeyJr Samuél Brobbey Jr

    “I gonna be experimental and fail radically. . . . ” That is bold and liberating. I will be using that if it’s ok with you. Thanks.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the podcat Mike! It takes courage and gumption to come out of failure and move forward. In my experience, I have seen that the process of acknowledging the failure as the most toughest one. Many resist this. They consider acknowledgement as embaassment. 

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  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    Michael, thanks for serving and adding so much value to your readers’ lives.

    You’re right, there is no straight line to success. This is true for personal success and career success: http://www.liveitforward.com/vocational-zig-zag/ 

  • Brenna Kate Simonds

    Just wanted to share that I listened to podcast #2 a while back and decided to not continue listening because I felt as if you were trying to sell me something. It was strange because I love your blog and figured I’d love your podcast (I listen to podcasts while driving or running).  However, I had checked “subscribe” in iTunes and when I saw podcast #5 (about controlling your email), I thought I’d give you a second chance (which I really enjoyed, even though I have pretty good control over my inbox).  For whatever reason, it then rolled right into this one, #8.  I’m thankful to hear that you were given some similar feedback to what I was concerned with.  

  • Brenna Kate Simonds

    And just to add: I now plan on going back and listening to the ones I missed :)

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  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Thanks, Christelle. I am still spending about 4-6 hours per podcast between the show prep, recording, post-production, and show notes.

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  • Jeana P Suds

    Michael I really want to thank you for your podcasts!  Over the past couple of weeks I have been seriously unmotivated and today I listened to (several) of your podcast and it motivated me to really get started on my blog! I gave you a shout out for your help in getting me over my perfectionism! Thanks again! jeanp.blogspot.com

  • ahki

    I just came across your website, read some of the blogs, and listen to a
    few of the podcasts. I find them very interesting and have a lot of
    useful information. My only issue is with the god stuff. At first I
    almost stopped the podcasts, I shun the hocus-pocus of any belief
    system, as I ground myself in the scientific method:

    Ask a Question

    Do Background Research

    Construct a Hypothesis

    Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

    Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

    Communicate Your Results

    Then when I came across the “Chick-fil-a” leadership speaking, I thought of their position on human rights, and was about to jump ship then too.

    But, the topics that you cover
    are most interesting. So far, I fast forward through the religious
    parts, or if I do listen to them, I take them as meaning a way to
    inspire one’s inner-self, not someone that is going to take care of my
    issues in life for me.

    So far, my research, hypothesis, and analyze are coming to a good conclusion, minus the above mentioned stuff.

    Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing your knowledge.