Jack Uldrich
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Why I Can Still Smile After Making a $25,000 Mistake (Really)

Posted in Children, Education, Example, Failure, Happiness, Problems into Opportunities, Relationships, Stories, Wisdom

Wisdom Let me begin by admitting that it is not easy to smile after losing $25,000. At 3p.m. today, I should be addressing a senior group of utility executives who are part of IBM’s Global Intelligent  “Smart Grid” Network in Campinas, Brazil.

Unfortunately, because I failed to secure the necessary visa application I was not allowed to fly into the country. The result: I lost $25,000. More important, I also missed an extraordinary opportunity to share important new information on emerging trends and business models with leaders from a dozen of the world’s largest utilities.  (And, for this, I’m truly sorry and sincerely apologize to the executives who traveled to Brazil to hear me speak as well as my sponsors at IBM—whose trust I failed.)

So how can any of this possibly make me smile?

Again, I want to reiterate, it isn’t easy and I am certainly not smiling about wasting the attendee’s time or betraying the client’s trust in me.

The money, however, is another thing.

First, money isn’t everything. I always tell my children this and many of us hear other people say the same thing all the time. Yet, when push comes to shove, and we actually lose money we often act as though “money is the only thing.”

After first realizing my mistake, I felt the same way and I couldn’t stop thinking about my financial loss. (I know many of you won’t feel sorry for someone who makes $25,000 for delivering a lecture—and I don’t expect you to—but understand that while I will survive this loss of income, it does reflect a sizeable percentage of my annual income). Upon reflection, though, I decided to take my own “unlearning” advice and contemplate ways to turn a problem into an opportunity.

For starters, as I flew home, I realized many people aren’t nearly as fortunate as me. For example, all across the country millions of Americans are “underwater” with their home mortgages and, in my neighboring state of North Dakota, many people’s homes are literally under water because of the recent flooding.

Lesson #1: In the grand scheme of things, I’m a lucky guy. It shouldn’t take a setback to remember this simple fact but, unfortunately, sometimes it does.

Second, after realizing my mistake, I attempted to do everything in my power to secure a visa from the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta. I contacted everyone I knew who could help and, to a person, each one dropped everything they were doing on a Sunday afternoon to help.

My friends at the Marshall Foundation, Brian Shaw and Rick Drake, reached out to contacts at the State Department as well as business contacts in Atlanta. An acquaintance at IBM, Ann Cramer, emailed me back from an airplane and directed her staff to do everything in their power to help me; as did another friend, Steve Chazen, who lives in neighboring Birmingham.

I suspect their efforts (as well as the work of the staff of U.S. Senator Amy Klobucher, who also promptly offered assistance) would have succeeded in securing me a rush visa but, alas, the client had to cancel my session because they couldn’t adjust their schedule to accommodate my mistake. I therefore had to return home.

Lesson # 2: True friends rise to the occasion and the best ones do so when you’re really down on your luck.

Third, the event offered me an opportunity to accept responsibility. After first being told I didn’t have the necessary paperwork, I took the cowardly route and sought to pin this mistake on anyone but myself. I mentally cast aspersions on the client and my speakers’ bureau—thinking “Someone should have told me!” or “They should have been clearer!” But, at the end of the day, the responsibility rested with me. No excuses.

Lesson #3: Accepting responsibility can be painful but once you do it, the only positive action to be taken is to learn from the experience so that it might never happen again. (Believe me, I have learned my lesson).

Finally, as I flew home from Atlanta to Minneapolis last evening with my tail planted firmly between my legs, I realized the plane was flying with the setting sun. As I stared out the window, I was greeted with the equivalent of an extended, one-hour sunset. It was then that I began to reflect on the positive aspects of this negative situation.

And you know what? I gained an invaluable opportunity to think about my life, friends and responsibility. What can be more valuable than that?

Actually, one thing: Family.

As a result of my mistake, I now have four unexpected days to spend with my wife and two children. With this windfall, I intend to plant a rose bush in my wife’s garden later this morning; go running with my daughter this afternoon; and watch my son play in a baseball game this evening.

The Final, and Most Important, Lesson: Money can’t buy true happiness or time, and nothing is more important than family.

My only hope is that you don’t need to lose even a penny to be reminded of this obvious lesson.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Can Still Smile After Making a $25,000 Mistake (Really)”

  1. A thoughtful and inspiring story; thank you, Jack.
    Rocky

  2. Brian Tracy says:

    hmmmm… Yes indeed a good attitude have you.
    Me? I’m just bitter after losing $80,000 in divorce, another $80,000 in bad investments and three years of unemployment. Wiped out I am.
    I don’t know if I still have my health since I can’t afford health insurance and haven’t seen a doctor in 10 years.
    Brian

  3. Jack Uldrich says:

    Brian:
    Sorry to hear of your misfortune. I recently read a good book called “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.” I’d encourage you to check it out from your local library. It provides useful strategies for increasing joy — even when life isn’t fair.
    Jack

  4. briantracy@fastmail.fm says:

    Thank you, Jack. I will give it a look.
    Brian

  5. Good lessons. Good story. I too had a recent financial setback that was a very hard pill to swallow. But in spite of the pain and a drastic reduction in faith in fellow business people, I came to realize it was really my lack of diligence that allowed the situation. Difficult discussions and actions brought my wife and I (family) closer together and created a fierce desire to turn the loss into a win. That resulted in three new clients and a blossoming new business venture.
    In the past, when interviewing employee prospects I have always asked the question “What have you failed at?” The failure is irrelevant. What they learned from the failure is all important. It’s ironic that I had to relearn that lesson.

  6. Jack Uldrich says:

    Warren:
    I love the interview question! I also agree that it is ironic that we sometimes need setbacks to “relearn” lessons we have already learned.
    All the best,
    Jack

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