By Rob Shaul, Founder
I recently read about the utility of writing a “failure resume” as a way to not only keep things and yourself in perspective, but also as a learning tool. We learn most from our failures, not our successes.
Here’s my first cut at a “Failure Resume” …. I’ll start in at the end of High School and work forward, hitting both professional and personal.
1. Not Applying to West Point and the Air Force Academy
My junior year in high school, when you need to apply to the big 3 service academies and ask for a congressional nomination, my Mom sent me away to live with my Army sergeant uncle, who was stationed at NATO HQ in Belgium. He and I didn’t get along well, and for whatever reason, mostly a lack of confidence and stupid teenager stuff, and simply being intimidated, I didn’t submit a letter to Wyoming’s congressional delegation for a nomination to West Point or the Air Force Academy – and thus missed those possibilities.
The Coast Guard Academy doesn’t require a congressional nomination, and even I then I procrastinated and got my application off at the last minute, and was somehow accepted, and ended up attended.
I did well at the CGA, made great friends, and saw and experienced things a small-town kid from Wyoming would have never seen. The academy structure suited me well and actually spent a semester at West Point as an exchange cadet – which I really enjoyed.
However, from a job perspective, I was much better suited to soldiering and grunt stuff, than being a shipboard Coast Guard officer.
After school, my first tour was on a buoy tender in Oregon – which was much more interesting, exciting, and fun than it may sound. The black-hulled buoy tenders, with their blue-collar mission set and short (1-2 week) trips away from port, suited me well.
But the officer culture in a naval service, with its weird wardroom system and formality, didn’t.
Many of my best friends at school went on to flight school after their initial tour, but this wasn’t an option for me with my 20/300 vision. Back then corrective eye surgery was just being developed and it wasn’t approved for military flight school. I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot but knew when I couldn’t see the chalkboard as a 9th grader, that would never happen. This was the excuse I made for myself in not applying to the Air Force Academy.
I don’t have any excuse for not applying to West Point. I had an ARMY ROTC scholarship offer as well as the CGA option, after high school – but chose the academy.
Long story short …. if I had served in the Army or Air Force I may have made the military a career.
2. Not Getting Selected for Command
At that time, every Coast Guard Academy grad went from school to a ship for the initial 2-year tour … even if you never intended to pursue shipboard work in the service. But if you did consider it, the coveted next duty assignment was command of your own patrol boat. So, at the end of the first 2 years, a command board reviewed all of our officer reports and held a command selection. Getting selected for command did not guarantee you’d get a patrol boat, but it did say something about the job you did on your first ship.
I didn’t get selected, and it crushed me – even though I didn’t especially enjoy shipboard life and was planning on leaving the service. The fact is I still had 3 years of commitment left, and 2 of those years commanding a patrol boat would have been a great experience.
I had 2 Captains during my time on the buoy tender. The first wasn’t too fond of me. He was absolutely brilliant, but he was also an alcoholic, drank onboard and onshore, and was a big partier. He didn’t like me much at first – I was super quiet, and introverted, and my first officer report reflected this as I worked to find my footing in that environment. My subsequent officer reports from him were solid. The entire wardroom, except for me, rotated out for my second Captain, and I flourished in that more responsibility environment. My reports from him were stellar, and he actually recommended me for early promotion. But it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t get selected for command. Once that happened, I knew I was getting out of the Coast Guard, and went to a district office in Alaska for my second tour where I still worked hard, but also bought a skiff, fished hard, hunted hard, and started a family.
3. Marrying Too Early ….
I’m one of those nerdy guys who has no “game” with women. Subsequently, I proposed to and married my first post-college girlfriend after just 6 months, at the tender age of 24.
Way. Too. Early.
Looking back I wish someone had shaken some sense in me and said …. “you can get engaged, but make it a long engagement, “or “you can live together and not get married!!”
When we eventually got divorced (see below), my Mom admitted she thought I was crazy for getting married in the first place … but she never spoke up at the time. My father died when I was a young boy and so she was my sole source of adult advice.
Now, I strongly advise all young men not to consider marriage until they are past 30 years old. Men simply don’t mature as fast as women – I certainly was not mature enough at 24 to get married – and should wait.
As well, now, whenever anyone asks me for my opinion on some life issue, I give it to them straight up. I don’t patronize them by holding back. I tell them, “my advice is free and it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t take it, but here is what I think.”
4. …. and Causing a Divorce
Getting a divorce from my wife of 7 years, when we had two young sons, is the single greatest personal failure of my life so far. In my early thirties at the time, I had my head turned by another woman, and left my family for her. The other woman subsequently broke off our engagement, my ex quickly remarried and moved across the country with my sons.
It took me a full, hard, ten years to eventually work through my regret, do my penance, and recover from this devastating failure. I did my best to stay in my sons’ lives but didn’t care enough to sell my business and uproot my own life and relocate to be near them.
For those with children, you know that nothing in this world, no romantic partner, work or career achievement, hobby or activity, brings you as much absolute happiness and joy as spending time with your kids.
As a divorced parent without custody, you can’t make up all these moments in frantic weekend visits, 6-week summer vacations or holiday vacations. These glorious moments glowing in your children’s company are gone forever. And this was just my loss, not the pain, and simply not being there for my sons during their most formative years.
By some miracle, now both my sons live near me here in Wyoming. But my time with them now can never make up for the time I lost with them when they were younger.
5. Good – Buying the Big Newspaper. Bad – Folding the one I started
I started a newspaper in Wyoming at 27 in the county where I grew up. It was the first newspaper start in all of Wyoming in over 30 years. The existing newspaper was an institution – over 100 years old, and well-read in the county.
It was owned by an absentee owner, and its staff looked far down at me and my rag when I started. And rightly so – my first issues were rough!! I started with one computer, one printer and a tiny extra bedroom. But I was a quick learner, and after 5 years of hard work, bought the big newspaper in the county.
The mistake I made was folding the newspaper I originally started. The old newspaper was losing money, and as a result, I had to lay off some of its existing staff. But … I’d already proven that the county could support two newspapers … so guess what happened. The laid-off staff started yet another newspaper!!
What drama!! I borrowed a bunch of money at 11% interest from the local bank to buy the old newspaper, and as a result, was scared to death. So scared, I lived in the office for 2 years, and that night I learned another newspaper was starting up, I didn’t sleep a wink.
In hindsight, I should have kept my original newspaper going as well – and would have likely made more money and not had any competition!
Things worked out in the end, but at the time, I was terrified.
6. Not Becoming One of the First CrossFit Affiliates
I attended a CrossFit Certification way back in 2005 – just when they were coming on, and considered becoming an affiliate. I didn’t because I knew I would quickly move on from what there is of programming in the CrossFit world. However, what I didn’t realize was you could be an affiliate and not do CrossFit programming. At the time I attended, there were less than 10 affiliates.
Gym Jones became an affiliate, and Twight’s gym quickly exploded. With the quality of MTI programming, we would have benefited as well.
I’ve always been somewhat hesitant of partnerships and affiliate relationships and it’s likely cost MTI growth and influence. My concern was what I saw with many of the CrossFit affiliates – and the wide range of quality coaching.
For a time Mountain Athlete had another gym in Boulder, Co, but I owned the gym and employed its coach. Over the years many coaches and gym owners have asked to become MTI affiliates, and I’ve refused.
My concern about quality has come at a cost, however, in simple relationships, influence and reach.
It’s worked out in the end – somehow military guys found us, one thing led to another, and today I’m darn proud of the solid reputation we have for designing focused, effective fitness programming for professional mountain and tactical athletes. However, not jumping on CrossFit’s coattails early on was a huge mistake.
7. Failed MTI Initiatives: Range Fitness, Grunt PT, and Programming Courses
I’ve written about the Range Fitness and Grunt PT failures before and won’t repeat myself in detail here. I have not written about the failure we’ve had building a strong market for our Programming Courses.
When I started a newspaper I decided early on I was going to write the kind of newspaper I wanted to read – and it worked out.
Likewise, when I started the gym I decided I was going to coach a gym I would want to attend – and it worked out.
In designing programming courses, again, I decided I was going to teach a course that I would want to attend – one that was theory-heavy, full of detail, and gave me actionable information and tools I could deploy right away in my own programming.
I’ve been to multiple fitness courses in my coaching career, and all have been full light on usable, actionable tools and information:
- All I remember from the CrossFit Cert is doing Fran next to Greg Admunson and seeing Annie and Chem Girl in person.
- Great stories of at the Gym Jones seminar, but little usable info on programming specifics.
- The Oly Weightlifting certification at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was of little use, except for being awed by the barbell speed of the US athletes doing jerks and snatches.
- Week-long Athletes’ Performance Seminar (now Exos) ….. all I remember is being super frustrated that so much time was spent on exercise instruction, fancy exercise equipment, cool recovery pools, and steam rooms, and personalized shakes and bars … but no specific programming theory or application. In fact, I’m not sure the coach who was instructing knew how to program!
- Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Course? Nothing on Mobility programming, but I did come away with the hinge lift (my name for it).
- RKC Course? No programming theory at all, but lots of kettlebell swings!
So, when it came to designing our courses, I designed the course I’d want to attend: Theory-laden, application-driven, specifics on how to program for mountain and tactical athletes.
It turns out I’m a unique type of customer for fitness courses. Not many people, even professional strength and conditioning coaches, want to dive in like this – at least not as many who would rather attend a weekend CrossFit cert and come away with a great social experience, new friends, maybe a little sore, but with little to no programming instruction.
At one time I was hoping MTI could change its business model, and like CrossFit, give our programming away, and generate income through education. But in all honesty, our programming courses are too advanced for most people, and this limits the market significantly.
For several years I’d travel to military and other units to teach our Advanced Programming Course, and while MTI made money, I came away often with some regret as many of the students were either forced to be there or simply not experienced enough to truly learn from and apply the information we labored to teach them. These days, I’m hesitant to travel to teach a course to a unit without first vetting the students to ensure they are ready for this high level of a course. And many times, I’ve decided they weren’t and turned down the business. I didn’t want to waste the students’ time and the unit’s money teaching a course many would not gain from.
8. Programming Mistakes/Failures
Again – I’ve written about these before here and won’t repeat myself in detail now. Below is a bullet list ….
- Not Getting Sport Specific
- Avoiding Endurance
- Believing in “One Solution for Everything”
- Garbage Reps
- Sophisticated Design. Complicated Exercises.
- Ignoring What My Eyes Were Telling Me
- Falling Into the Fitness Circle Jerk
9. Staffing/Leadership Failures
I’ve made many of these over the years of owning my own businesses – either hiring the wrong person or firing someone too soon, without enough consideration and thought. Sometimes these two mistakes followed each other.
My biggest staffing failure and regret is letting go of a talented young photographer during my newspaper days. I had just stepped aside as editor and was just doing the business stuff, and fired the individual at the recommendation of the editor I’d promoted to replace me.
It was a vicious, righteous, unfair decision, and unforgivable leadership failure.
This kid had worked her butt off for me. She was talented, hungry, and committed, and I was out of touch, and went from zero to “your fired” without any counseling, hearing her side, etc.
I wanted to support my editor, but in hindsight, missed a leadership teaching opportunity with him as well.
To this day I’m ashamed of the way I handled that situation.
10. Failing to Be A Quiet Professional
Far too many instances to list here, but know I’ve failed at multiple times, at every element – and still do so. Some recent failures:
Failing to put the Mission First
Just this week I caught myself being upset at not being given credit for an original programming methodology claimed by another coach. What a colossal waste of energy and an example of small-mindedness. Mission First = being happy the methodology is getting attention and gaining traction – not whining about not getting credit. I know better and am embarrassed.
Resenting, not Relishing in “The Grind”
And above my computer screen, I have written on a yellow post-it note, “Be Quiet and Just Keep Grinding. There is nothing else.” I need these words to remind myself to quit looking for shortcuts, quit falling for distractions, and to embrace, and relish the “grind” which is the meat of anyone’s work. Too often I get upset at answering the same email question, again and again, procrastinate beginning the research and work on updating an existing training plan or building a new one, or whine about my windowless, cold, drabby, workspace. Answering email questions has been key to MTI’s success, and so often is a way I stay connected to athletes I program for but don’t directly coach. Programming, once I start, is for me like painting a picture – full of creativity, function, and art. My gym office, with its lack of natural light, and bone-chilling concrete floor and overall low temperature has a way of focussing my attention on my craft. It’s a gift – where I can get a lot done.
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