When Failure Happens, Send a Thank You Note

For last week’s 100th post, I channeled Ben Franklin and shared a mini “Poor Marvin’s Almanac,” a collection of some of my favorite sayings. Here’s another: You learn more from your failures than your successes. When my first job as a lawyer didn’t work out to my liking and I left to open my own firm, my father-in-law Abe Kriger wisely said, “Send them a thank you note.” Abe knew the law firm did me a favor. He assured me I would move on to bigger and better. Because of my dissatisfaction at my prior job, I formed The Blum Firm, which has become the source of immense career satisfaction.

Jim Collins echoes this theme in Good to Great, declaring, “The enemy of great is good.” A job that is just “good” can deter you from creating a career that is “great.” Failure, though painful at the time, opens the door for us to explore opportunities we would otherwise miss.

My prior job experience provided me with a goal when I started The Blum Firm. My mission was to create a work environment where people wouldn’t dread coming to work. I vowed to build a caring culture, one centered around caring for every team member and every client. This law firm camaraderie serves our clients well. Our “open door” environment encourages us to share ideas and stimulates our creative juices. This collaborative atmosphere enables The Blum Firm to generate “outside the box” solutions to address our clients’ needs.

The path from “then” to “now” hasn’t been a perfect upward slope. Failures continue to pop up that provide me with teachable moments. For example, as a young lawyer, I thought I could work with anyone. Early on, I teamed up with some colleagues who turned out were not a good fit. That partnership failed. But, the next time I selected partners, I got it right. I learned from my mistake that I’m extremely exacting and only mesh with others who share my style. Once when I was tempted to bend and hire a lawyer not up to those standards, my law partner Pete Geren awakened me by writing on that resume the words: “Not even close.” I never forgot that lesson.

In a family meeting I facilitated, the patriarch wanted to share his success story. He was surprised when his children preferred to hear about the failures he’d encountered along the way and what he learned from them.

In the Sabbath Torah portion 10 days ago, we read of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Jacob wins the battle. As a result, the angel blesses Jacob and rewards him with a Divine covenant. Like the Biblical Jacob, our greatest achievements and blessings often come to us only by prevailing through a struggle.

As we wrap up the year, may we resolve to see failure as an opportunity. As my son Adam says to me when failure happens, “Don’t be hard on yourself.” And when faced with a risky challenge that offers high-stakes rewards, let’s not allow the fear of failure to deter us. If the worst that can happen is that we fail, let’s remember that failure is a great teacher. The temporary pain is better than not achieving success because we never tried.

Wishing all a Merry Christmas and a Happy Chanukah!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum celebrates the holidays with his law firm family, grateful his early job failure paved the way to create The Blum Firm.