It's a bit cracked and crumpled from retracing your steps. It winds a bit in a circuitous route. It has the faint odor of perspiration. And, it's not always a joy ride.
The road from failure to success is a tough one. It's long and winding and it's usually uphill, but there's nothing quite like looking back after you've walked the path and started realizing what it took. I've written about this many times, but those who find success almost always say it was due to constant perseverance. It's not luck, not who you know, not some random act that leads to a financial windfall. Just hard work.
If you follow this column, you know there have been ups and downs in my own career. It's been a rocky path. Yet, there's something that is living and breathing right now that serves as an example of how failure can sometimes lead to success, and it has proven to be one of the most interesting life lessons I've ever experienced.
A few months ago, I started the project with nothing but a Lowe's card and a rusty hoe in my shed. I didn't realize you can't plant so early in my area of the Midwest, so I charged ahead and dragged a tiller over my too-sandy soil. Then, when the seeds didn't germinate, I tried it again and waited for signs of life. Nothing.
At this point, many of us would probably return the unused seed packs and turn to other diversions, like paragliding or extreme kayaking. I dug in even harder, planted again, bought Bonnie plants, watered more often, weeded constantly, and then found that a few small zucchini came up from the Earth. Then, a few bean plants started to look promising. Lettuce sprang up from long forgotten seeds. Something started working. My garden is now producing so many kohlrabis I might sell them at a road-side stand. My wife tells me we will have enough corn for an army. Literally.
How did this happen? It might seem like a lesson other people have learned many times, but let me be clear. I have never grown anything before. I went from complete failure to raging success. I now consider myself to be a gardener with enough knowledge of the hobby to give advice to others, specially about when to plant.
It took a lot of effort, though. One of the key lessons I've learned in life is that you can't wait around for success. This seems to be the main difference between those who start companies and end up filing for bankruptcy and those who start the next Facebook. Sure, there's luck involved at times. Mark Zuckerberg was in the right place, at the right college, with the right friends, at the right time. Yet, we all know he was laser focused on his idea and would do anything to make it a reality.
With my garden I had to get through a long period of time, about six weeks in total, when it didn't seem like anything was going to work. I will admit there were a few times when I questioned the logic of starting a garden project at my age with no experience. Yet, almost every single day I went out and hacked at weeds. I set up an automated sprinkling system that sprayed once in the morning and once at night. I used a new product that made it bone-dead simple to grow things.
It was partly a lesson in perseverance and partly an educate. I had to stay open minded. I walked sheepishly over to my neighbor and asked him for advice, even though I wasn't even sure what to ask. When a friend who works at a garden center said he was going to be in town stopped over, we talked at length about the science involved and how there has to be the right balance of watering and sunshine.
I remember when the first zucchini grew to a massive size and was ready for picking. I had to look back at what I had accomplished, those times when I stent three hours over lunch working the soil, and when I wore a headlamp to keep weeding after dark. It reminded me, for the first time 15 years, about how hard I worked as a writer back in 2001, just a few weeks after starting out. I looked under every rock. I asked everyone I knew about how to run a business. I pitched article ideas until my fingers hurt from typing so much. It was a full-on, 100% push every single day to get work.
Flash forward to this week. It's been 15 years since I worked this hard and for this long to make sure something turned into a success. It has.
Now, the question for you is--what are you working to accomplish? Maybe you've started a company of your own or you're leading a team of programmers or a bunch of sales agents or customer service reps. Don't sit idle. Champion the cause with everything you have in you. Stop waiting by the road for success to find you by accident. Pick up a hoe and start whacking at the weeds.