If You Wanna Win, You Gotta Run the Race

November 14, 2014 By Tom

I can’t change the things I’ve done
wouldn’t if I could anyway
all my biggest mistakes
are my proudest days

  “Broken” Watershed

I think this is one of the last photos of me with Nine13 under the “old guard” before I took over the title of executive director

I had a long conversation earlier this week with a dear friend about failure. The fear of failing. Her aversion to failure. We’re at polar opposite ends of the spectrum, they’ve always followed the very traditional path of life and have been incredibly successful following the most logical route of life.

It was a fascinating discussion given I sit at the other end of the spectrum and while failing sucks, I’ve failed a ton but it got me to the point of life I’m very contently enjoying. I also had a meeting earlier this week where I was asked, “Nine13 really seems to be taking off in the last year, what was the trigger to make that happen?”

I said the usual party lines of “hard work, good looks and snarky rhetoric” and moved the conversation forward, but the question, combined with the failure discussion, kept my wheels turning the rest of this week.

The reality is, a year ago, Nine13 was just about dead in the water. The co-founders were at wits end with one another and our different management and vision styles. The money wasn’t coming in, deals had stalled and stagnated and we were truly lost in terms of what the future held. It took some very painful decisions, spinning off Nine13, taking the title of executive director; starting fresh, ultimately without co-founders, just to get where we are today. It’s been an unbelievable 2014 and as I’m often reminded by others—it wasn’t luck that got that but hard work and trusting my gut on the decisions that needed to happen to connect the dots.

Success comes in many forms. And fear of failure, or willingness to roll the dice, can directly define the type of success one finds. One thing I’ve learned as I get older is that not everybody wants to rock the boat or push comfort zones, and others, like me, want to use dynamite to blow up the damn boat. One way isn’t better than the other, it comes down to what drives somebody and what their gut can handle.

I’ve been told previously that the words “no”, “that won’t work”, “that’s a bad idea” and other similar phrases are like a matador waving a red flag at a bull….and I’m the bull. I’m sure that if I sat down for a minute and thought about it, I could write a very long list naming everyone who ever said my vision wouldn’t work, we were dead in the water, to not get into the non-profit world—and I certainly do enjoy the success we’ve seen  this year despite the naysayers.

It’s funny how things work out. I had a meeting a few weeks back on a deal that has been on and off in the works for two years (yes, factually, 2 whole years), and the director of marketing for this company looked at me and said “Tom, you knew what I wanted 2 years before I did, your vision from the beginning is ultimately what I realized we want.” Two years of time, effort and patience, and a huge risk of hearing “no” and potentially failing instead got us to a “yes” and an additional corporate partner (announcement to be made in coming weeks).

I love working with kids for my job, but I equally love creating opportunities with corporate partners to fund the programs. I love the game that the corporate partnership and foundation world is. Walking into a pitch meeting and closing a deal is better than sex, drugs or rock and roll. The adrenaline before the pitch, the confidence required no matter how nervous I am to make the pitch and the handshake after an agreed upon deal—it’s the best high in the world. Every meeting runs the risk of failure, and many have, but you don’t know the outcome until you put yourself in a position to fail or succeed….if you want to win, you have to run the race.

but seriously, if you fall down and fail, shrug it off and get back up

How do you approach failure? Does it scare you? Or do you seek out things that you know have a likely chance to fail but the risk is worth the reward?