The First Thing To Do After A Massive Failure

I was told that within one day I was going to lose all of my money. It was a complete surprise.

I got a phone call for an emergency board meeting. “Maybe good news!” I thought.

Leaving out the details, I’ll just go straight to what the CEO said, “We broke one of the rules in our loan with the bank, so they are coming and shutting us down.”

I am paraphrasing. They had one billion in revenues. I owned a decent chunk of the company.

I tried to come up with solutions. I offered to buy the company. My plan was to sell off the pieces that that would pay for the costs to buy the company and leave me with a profit.


I got off the phone. I was in shock. This was my money. This was retirement money for me. This was money for my kids.


In four days…zero. Nothing I could do.

I was afraid. How would I come up with that kind of money again?

I was afraid. What was I going to dream about that night? I knew I would wake up at 3 in the morning anxious and scared and panicking.

I was afraid of being afraid. Fear makes me sick. Makes me sad. Makes me anxious. Makes me not love people or like people. Makes me feel small.

How would I laugh when people told a joke. How would I interact like a normal human being.

I was out in a parking lot to take the board call. How could I go back in the building.

Maybe I could jump. Jump high in front of the oncoming car. Let it hit me. Solve my problems.

No matter where I’ve been in life – happy, success, sad, or smart – bad things always happen.

Life is not a straight line. It’s a zig zag. It’s a maze. It’s a treasure hunt. We’re always lost with no GPS. I can’t use GPS to navigate my way out of sorrow or pain or fear.

When imprisoned in the solitary confinement of fear, the first challenge is to find the grace and honesty to see what is still fortunate in life. This is exactly the seed that will create future fortune.

Think of all the things I was grateful for. Gratitude and Fear can’t exist in the brain at the same time.

I was grateful for the friends I was with that day. It’s hard to make friends when you are in your 40s and these were all new friends.

I was grateful for all the other opportunities I had in my life. I try to plant many seeds, so when one thing goes bad, I have other things I could turn to.

I was grateful my own writing was able to help me. I see so many people give advice and then don’t follow it. The genre of self-help BS.

I try to solve “hard gratitude problems”. What were the challenges in my life that I was grateful for. The gratitude that I earned through past tears.

This is what beats the fear. This is what turns a failure into future great success.

I went back and enjoyed the rest of the day.

Later on I told my friends that day what had happened.

They said, “What? We thought you were in the bathroom for an hour!”

The very first thing after failure is not about solutions. Or fear. Or exercise. Or calling a doctor.

It’s about gratitude. And gratitude crowds at fear. And without fear, I fell in love with my life again. And everything else started to blossom.

I fell in love.

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  • Beautiful post. Reminds me of something I stole from Gary Vaynerchuk. His “gratitude” practice is to imagine his whole family has been murdered and then feel grateful they’re all alive and well. I do something similar daily…minus the murder part, of course :)

  • yinka Taiwo

    This is why i like reading your blog. You always remind humanity that life is full of ups and downs. I lost my millions a few years ago and I am standing today. i wrote it on my blog and as my mentor you are mentioned in the blog about your earthly possessions. If you are not too busy you can read all about it here.

  • Earlier this year, all my years of carefully (and not so carefully) laid plans came to nothing.

    Short-circuited by colleagues I thought I could rely on, but who regarded my ideas with either suspicion or contempt. Never having been anywhere near making a million, it felt like a crushing blow.

    All I had wanted was to be able to help build the organisations I was volunteering with into more formal (and fundable) entities. After plans failed, I resigned from both.

    Stepping back was the best thing I could do. Whether it’s for a few minutes, days, weeks, months – we all need that ‘space’ to collect our thoughts, regather our convictions, and rebuild our courage.

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

    • Paul_Morphy

      Hang in there, things will get better.???

  • Rachel Clifton

    Ironically (or perhaps just aptly) this makes me want to express my own gratitude to you – a premise that is profound, powerful and humbling in and of itself. I may have already known this for myself, but having it validated by others not only cements it further, but helps me to connect with and make sense of myself and my world. Thank you, James.

  • Dr. R Conrad Bingham

    Timely information. Today is Saturday. I had two part-time jobs. On Wednesday the doors of my first job were suddenly closed forever (I’m excluding the details of why), and I go into my other job on Thursday and found out that I was essentially fired. I was offered a consolation one day a week if I wanted it. All of a sudden…No income and bills and debt. Oh and by the way, I found out my Identity was stolen and someone opened a credit card in my name and charged $1200 worth of stuff! So thank you for being a light in a time that could be very dark.

  • TScott

    This sounds like one of the stories of my life. I am constantly trusting the wrong people when it comes to building businesses. It appears to often the honest person suffers the most. I am practicing been grateful. However when failure has yet again shown up it’s hard to do.

  • Kwadwo Anokye-Wusu

    Never thought of dealing with failure like that before… but it makes so much sense that tendencies of disagreeing is eliminated. Thanks for the insight.

  • Hans Gruber

    Thank you James. A few years ago I had a 20 year career with a large construction firm come to a crashing end…I was fired. It was wrong, unfair, set up as a scape goat for someone else’s failure. Out of work in my late 50’s, I had a lot of animosity, and fear running through my brain and it showed in my future interviews with prospective employers. I was out of work for nearly a year. I started reading some of your blogs and realized it was *me* not *them* that was the issue. I started thinking about being grateful for what I had and actually wrote a *thank you* note to the slime who fired me. Almost the next day I found another job then another one a year later. In that time I have acquired far more practical job experience and I am much better equipped to handle job changes in the future. Life isn’t sitting on a beach earning 20 percent.