A Successful Failure

by Craig Harper - Date: 2007-01-21 - Word Count: 1466 Share This!

*Before we get started..... I was hesitant to write this article the way I have because I know that some people may mis-interpret my intentions ... so I will clarify them before we begin so there is no mis-understanding. My reason for writing about parts of my professional journey is not to impress you, but to impress upon you how possible it is for us to create 'amazing' if we consider, apply and embrace certain principles. I don't think that I'm amazing and I don't consider myself to be particularly gifted but I do know that if I'm prepared to deal with some regular discomfort (hurdles, speed humps, setbacks, problems, challenges.....failures) then I drastically increase my chances of succeeding. I know the more prepared I am to make mistakes, fall over, look silly....fail, the more likely I am to create long term success IF I learn from my mistakes and adapt, grow and change.

By the way, failure is merely a label people give certain events. I personally don't use the term, but I will for the purpose of this conversation.

When I set up my first commercial business I was twenty six. I had no real idea was I was doing. I thought I did but looking back... I didn't. I knew I wanted to set up a commercial Personal Training centre. There were none in Australia, so I had no blue-print to follow, no mentors to rely on and a whole bunch of people who (thoughtfully) informed me that the concept wouldn't work in this country.

In my mind I had a picture of what I wanted to create... (the end result).

It was just all the in-between steps that I was a little grey on. A lot grey on.

I had no idea about commercial leasing or how to communicate with, or negotiate with, real estate people. No experience running a business. No experience employing or managing staff. Limited leadership experience. No experience dealing with, or negotiating with, equipment suppliers. No idea about business plans. No marketing skills and no idea what 'branding' was. No profile. No tertiary qualification.

In my first year of business I asked some questions which were so stupid (to the person I was asking) that they thought I was joking. I was absolutely serious. I didn't know the most fundamental things because I had never been taught. I was a bodybuilder who had worked in gyms. My life (essentially) revolved around lifting heavy things, eating too much chicken, chasing girls and training my clients. Simple. Enjoyable. But not great training for the would-be entrepreneur. And not a great long-term success strategy.

When I was looking for premises for my first centre, the real-estate guy asked me what type of lease I wanted (as in the duration of the lease and options following the initial term) for the building I was about to sign up for. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Here's the conversation: "So what type of lease are you after?" "What kind are there?" (He laughs at me). "You're kidding, right?" "Nup." "Oh." (Embarrassment).

It's fair to say that I was humiliated, discouraged, criticised, ripped off, lied to and embarrassed many (I mean many) times in the first five years of owning and operating my own business. More things didn't work, than did.

In a similar position, I believe that many people would have said "I gave it my best shot... it didn't work (I failed)." I was either too stubborn, too driven or too stupid to throw in the towel. I knew that because I wasn't especially gifted or talented it was always going to come down to my perseverance, attitude and ability to finish things.

(The No.1 reason people don't succeed, no matter what the endeavour, is their inability to finish what they start).

In the first five years I had many lessons on what not to do in establishing, developing and maintaining a business (or any worthwhile project). Every day was a lesson in perseverance, adaptation (thinking on my feet) and humility (acknowledging my numerous shortcomings).

Here's a brief snapshot of some of my journey over the last decade (or so!). Again, not to impress you but to encourage you that when we apply some basic principles, even people with average skills, talent, knowledge and potential can create amazing.

Writing Then: Initially told myself I didn't have the talent and that no-one would want to read what I wrote. Wrote for quite a few obscure magazines and newspapers. Wrote a lot and got paid nothing.

Now: Write every issue for several national magazines (one of which has a circulation of 200,000). Wrote for a major newspaper for three years. Had two books commercially published and self-published two more. Have had hundreds of articles published. I get paid well to write.


Then: Worked in community radio for 3 years for free. Did my first radio interview in 1990. Developed skills, asked lots of questions, studied the pro's. Hosted my first show on commercial radio in 2004 (at forty) - I was crap. I slowly got better. Worked on community TV in Melbourne doing a show called 'Muscle TV' (embarrassing I know).

Now: Work regularly on three commercial radio stations. Do about five to ten hours of live radio per week. One of the stations has an average listening audience of 80,000 (compared to 8 on community radio!). Work regularly on national television (Network TEN). The TV show I work on (9AM) has an average viewing audience of about 400,000. Still learning, still asking questions. Regularly do media interviews to comment as an industry 'expert'. Still make mistakes. Still developing skills. Still cringe when I see myself on TV.

Public speaking

Then: Did my first public speaking gig in 1987 to twelve employees at a timber yard. I was twenty four years old. I spoke for fifty minutes on health, fitness and attitude. I sucked. A lot. I got paid fifty dollars. They got ripped off. I prepared for the talk for two weeks (at least thirty hours of preparation). I was so nervous before the talk I had to take my shirt off in the bathroom and dry it under the hand dryer. Subsequently did many average talks (100's) for very little money.

Now: I have spoken in six countries. I do over 100 speaking engagements per year. I am managed by one of the largest speaking agencies in Australia; ICMI. I get paid more than fifty dollars. My audiences are larger than twelve. I don't suck as much.

My business

Then: One employee... me; janitor, book keeper, trainer, maintenance man, boy Friday. Lots of hurdles. Constant learning. Annual turn-over: not much

Now: Constant learning. Forty-five Trainers. Five administrative staff. Full time PA (Kim). Full time tech guy (Johnnie). Over 1,600 sessions of Personal Training per week. Have employed over 300 people since 1990. Just opened a new gym (Gecko Kids Fitness). Still making mistakes. Annual turnover: More.


Then: Majored in sandpit at school. Focused on sport and girls. Studied a total of two hours in 13 years. Was an academic dud.

Now: Went back to college as a mature-age student. Qualified as an Exercise Scientist. University Lecturer. Have taught in five Universities. Call myself a 'pracademic'.

Notable failures, stuff ups. Solarium centre (it was the 90's) - lost a bunch of money. Beauty Therapy Centre (stop laughing) - made no money... maybe lost a bit. Another PT centre (I was a partner but didn't run it)... lost money. Countless ideas and projects which didn't get off the ground... or did and fell over. Called a well-known identity the wrong name... on air! Was talking to three hundred people in a seminar, lost my train of thought, forgot what I was saying. Oops. And way too many more to mention in a little post like this!

And now.... Every day I get up and I know that life is a gift and I have the opportunity to do something.... or nothing. I am passionate and driven because I choose to be. I know that some people will connect with my ideas and message and I know that some people will criticise my philosophies and my approach. I'm okay with both. I will continue to say what I believe even if it's not popular and even if it doesn't 'sell'. I will not compromise my message for votes. I will continue to learn, and continue to do what I do. I will stay humble, I will be thankful for what I have, I will do my best to keep perspective and I will stay committed to helping you create your best life, even though I am flawed, even though I don't have all the answers and even though I fail regularly.

But now I (we) understand that failure is a crucial ingredient in the Personal Development journey. Show me a person who's never failed and I'll show you a person who's never done anything.

Related Tags: personal development, motivation, inspiration

Craig Harper is a qualified exercise scientist, author, columnist, radio presenter, tv personality and owner of one of the largest appointment only personal training centres in the world.

He can be heard weekly on SEN 1116 and GOLD FM radio stations and appears on Monday's on Network Ten's 9AM.

He is also a columnist for Women's Health & Fitness, and Alpha Magazines.

inspiration, motivation, success

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