How Many Times Will You Have to Fail Before Finally Getting it Right?

Maybe a lifeline would help …






Episode 41 - How Many Times Will You Have to Fail Before Finally Getting it Right?

by Roger Reid


“How many times do we have to repeat this until you get it right?”

I’ll never forget being asked that question.

My second-grade teacher was annoyed with my lack of immediate comprehension of subtraction, especially the part about “borrowing ten from the number on the left and adding it to the number on the right,” to keep the process going.

So when she asked me how long it would take before I finally got it right, my seven-year-old brain didn’t know how to answer her. Later on, I would realize her question was rhetorical.

She didn’t say so in so many words, but she planned to continue to show me, and I would continue to try to understand, until one day she would hand me back my graded subtraction test with a big red 100 percent at the top.

So why was she so frustrated, why did she ask me how many times was it going to take until I learned how to do long division?

Because she knew she wasn’t going to give up.

Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360

Sometimes we call it persistence. Others might refer to it as perseverance, tenacity, determination. But the point is, regardless of what we call it, the message is the same. Our odds of success increase when we keep trying. We continue working at the problem, trying new approaches, and knowing that the only real failure in life comes from giving up.

It sounds straightforward  . .  because it is. There are no hidden or coded messages to decipher, no need to have a bunch of linguistics interpret some deeper meaning. Persistence simply means, staying on track, continuing to take action, until you get the results you want.

I have several friends who are going through this process right now. And while each of their situations is different, they’re experiencing the commonality of being frustrated with their lives, and desperately wanting to change things. But they feel “locked in,” unable to break the stranglehold of a bad job, or the memory of a spouse who walked out on them.

One of them buys lottery tickets and then prays every night he’ll win the big jackpot.

Another recalls the damages from three failed marriages, then assures me the time he spent with those women didn’t count, because he’s still waiting to meet the true love of his life — at age 63.

And then there’s Sherri, who is constantly telling me about the latest diet program she’s on, because she’s sure this one is going to work, and in a few months she’ll lose that extra fifty pounds that keeps her on insulin.

I’ve known all of them long enough to realize how much they want to change their lives. And yet, I’m still watching them drag themselves through one day after another, getting by on nothing but hope — until even that runs dry.

It’s not that they don’t try, because they do. But when the first real challenge that comes along, they give up, and then start the cycle all over again. And that’s true even when they’re making progress, when they’re getting close to the finish line. But something pulls them back, they run out of steam, they get distracted. And then, they’re back at the beginning, telling themselves that this time, it’s going to be different.

That’s not persistence, that’s a failed strategy.

I suppose this is where I could give you three easy steps to bring about an automatic life transformation, or offer a new book that promises to replace all the problems you’re facing with oodles of money, vibrant health, and a magical way to attract the perfect life partner.

But chances are, you’ve already read those books. Chances are, your bookshelves are lined with them, or your Kindles are filled to the brim with similar reads.

Good. That means you know the drill. You’ve heard the stories. You understand the terms.

More important, you’ve probably learned the most important lesson of all . . .

What works for others may not necessarily work for you.

For example, there’s a management guru who preaches discipline as the secret to success in life. But every time I hear the word “discipline,” I immediately think of punishment.

Not a real motivator for me. Punishment is what I move away from . . . every time.

So what does work? Is there really a universal solution, a master “key” that’s effective for the majority who try it?

Remember that seven-year-old who struggled with subtraction?

He kept trying. He didn’t give up. Because his teacher wouldn’t let him.

And if more people were honest about the real reason behind their achievements, the outstanding levels of success in their business activities, their personal relationships, and even the level of professional recognition they’ve attained, the vast majority would tell you that their success has had very little to do with their education, or training, or their LinkedIn profile. Because when you peel back the layers of ego, pride, and that protective wall of self-esteem, you’ll find the truth: that somewhere in the background, somewhere in their history of striving and failure, of frustration and disappointment there was someone who believed in them; someone who would not let them give up.

The painter, Salvador Dali had his wife, Gala. She’s credited with recognizing Salvador’s talent, helping him overcome his frequent bouts of anxiety and depression, giving him the confidence and support he needed to bring his art to the world.

Charlie Chaplin had Oona O’Neill, pushing him forward, supporting his acting career, even when it meant giving up her own future as an actress.

Alfred Hitchcock depended on his wife, Alma, who was a screenwriter, editor, and film director, to keep his productions organized and to make sure the final product met the industry standards for excellence.

Here’s the point . . . When we take a close look at the lives of those who worked their way to the top of their professions, we usually find the typical accolades that populate the biographies of famous people. There are quotes about establishing priorities, and myopic anecdotes about how they overcame difficult challenges, continuing to battle the competition until they achieved the success they were striving for.

That’s the version we usually remember – the one that makes its way into history books. But there’s usually another side of the story that seldom receives the attention it deserves. I’m talking about giving credit to the person or persons behind the man or woman who achieved success – the one who helped them rise to greatness.

If the idea of having someone in your corner makes sense to you – someone to help you process the setbacks and give you a big dose of perspective when you need it the most, then it’s time to find that individual who can help you work through the challenges and keep you moving in the right direction. Most of all, they’ll help prevent you from giving up too soon.

And I know I’ve generalized the purpose and activities of what we’ll call a “success mentor or consultant,” and that’s why it’s important to determine exactly what you need them to do.

If you want them to hold you accountable for your actions — or the lack of them — make that clear.

If you need them to review your progress or compare the quality of your work against an objective standard, describe that process in specific terms.

Also, make it clear that you’re counting on them to make a real difference in your life.

In essence, you’re asking them to become your lifeline, and like any lifeline, they must not let you down.

That means you’re going to have to look for someone who has the specific skills you need. Sometimes it can be a family member. Sometimes not — especially if your need to help is due to a chronic problem with a relative.

I’ll pass along a word of warning . . . It’s usually best to look for a lifeline who isn’t connected to the issue you want to work on.

If your goal is to change your workplace situation, don’t choose a co-worker. If you want to lose weight, avoid the gal you met at Weight Watchers — she has challenges of her own.

And picking a skirt-chasing womanizer to help you find the love of your life has so many things wrong with it, we won’t even go into it.

But what if your first choice of a lifeline says no?

What if they tell you they don’t have the time or they turn you down by assuring you that you don’t need their help, and they would just get in your way?

Don’t take the rejection personally.

If he or she is not the right person, you need to know that upfront. Their self-disqualification will save you a ton of frustration since you won’t have to cut them loose later—after you’ve found out they weren’t the right choice.

If you don’t already have someone in mind, try making a list of possible candidates. Then make a second list that describes exactly what you need from them.

Don’t be afraid to make it very detailed. You need to be clear about your expectations.

Factor the first list against the second. If you can’t see a particular individual doing what you need them to do, eliminate them from consideration. You want someone who demonstrates the required qualities naturally. Otherwise, they won’t have the talent or expertise when you need it the most.

Now, some of you may be asking, “What about using a professional life coach?”

It depends. One size does not fit all.

A professional mentor, life coach, or transition guide will typically have some kind of training in motivation and organizational skills. But whether or not their background and education is a good “fit” for your situation depends on what you need from an effective lifeline.

For example, do you want someone to hold you to your plan, to step up with tough love when you start slacking off?

On the flip side, a good accountability partner will also be quick to recognize and point out your progress, even when it comes in small doses. The “atta-girl” you receive for maintaining your gym schedule for three weeks in a row can provide re-enforcement during week four, when it would be so easy to stay home because you’re tired, or need to catch up on the laundry.

Finally, keep in mind that asking for help is not a show of weakness.

There’s no shame or embarrassment in asking for help.

From a potential lifeline’s perspective, it’s flattering to be asked. It says you value their place in your life. And more importantly, you trust them.

Does it work?

It did for me. I can subtract with the best of them now. It took most of the second grade school year, but I learned — because my teacher refused to give up on me. More important, she refused to let me give up on myself.

Knowing others care about your progress and are there to help, will give you a sounding board, and someone who will continue to push you forward when frustration has you climbing the walls. That’s especially important when progress seems to slow to a snail’s pace, or even worse, when you’re ready to give up.

It doesn’t matter if you call them a mentor, coach, trainer, or accountability partner. Just give them a place in your life and let them help you in getting from where you are to where you want to be.

That’s it for this episode. If you have questions or comments, you can email an audio file to, or go to the website,  and click on the voicemail tab in the main header. And of course, you’re always welcome to use plain old email.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

© 2021, Roger A. Reid

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Be sure and check out my new book now available on Amazon in eBook. It’s titled Better Mondays: The New Rules for Creating Financial Success and Personal Freedom (While Working For the Man)

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