What My Biggest Failures Taught Me

What My Biggest Failures Taught Me

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. One of my biggest failures in business came from confusing momentum with actual prosperity.

I started my first business when I was 10 years old. By 18, I had no perspective. I was all mouth; less impact. Most 18-year-olds think they know everything, but I was worse because I had experienced success, and had a wad of cash to show. Soon, I made one too many business mistakes, based on my ego; not common sense, and ended up homeless, living in my black Mitsubishi Montero for six months.

Being homeless proved to be my greatest teacher. It was early in my career, so I repaired my life and moved forward, but I’ve had a few equally defining periods in my journey since then. Here are some of the life lessons I learned from those experiences that I continue to leverage to this day.

1. Wisdom is power.

Knowledge comes from books and learning, but wisdom comes from experience and failure, and listening to those who have had experiences and failures. Pay attention!

2. ‘Busyness’ and business are not the same.

I thought that because I was always going to meetings (or ‘taking meetings,’ as we called it in Los Angeles), always hanging with beautiful and successful people, always showing up where things were ‘happening,’ and driving a nice car I could not afford, that this all meant something. It did not, other than I was going broke slowly.

3. Let the past empower you.

My dad–an amazing man that I am proud to be the son of today–made money and created a business, but could not keep a dime nor sustain an enterprise. The more money he made, the broker we got. I am passionate about teaching the language of money today in large part due to the pain of living through the turmoil of financial instability.

4. Get over yourself.

I used to take myself way too seriously. I actually thought I was ‘somebody.’ Worse, because none of my antics were rooted in real confidence, real success, or real self-esteem, I treated other people like crap. When you are truly successful, you have no reason to be a jerk. My best friend, Rod McGrew, says that when you have the power you don’t need to use it. When you are truly successful, you learn to decrease you and increase others. Being nice must be your default. My most successful friends are the nicest. They are ‘heavy’ enough to be light, free, and easy.

5. The universe has a perfect accounting system.

Whatever goes around, really does come around. When your life is all about the transaction that gets you ‘paid,’ versus the relationship that builds wealth for you and others (and communities) around you, it all catches up with you in time.

6. Rejection is good.

Today, I take ‘no’ for vitamins. No’s don’t bother me at all. You need to press through nine no’s to get to one yes, but that one yes is the only thing that matters.

 7. Never, ever, give up.

When the bottom fell out of my fabulous life, I realized that no one was going to save me. Even with this daunting realization, I could not, would not, and did not give up. Remember, success is often right up there, around the bend from Pain Boulevard and Disappointment Lane.

8. Don’t underestimate the untapped value of compounded hustle.

When I was homeless I didn’t have money, and I didn’t have friends (they left with the money). I had God’s gifts: my talents, my skills, my energy and the power of my ideas and ideals. I could value and make invaluable those things, versus sitting around and complaining about all I had lost.



John Hope Bryant is an American entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on economic empowerment and financial dignity. He is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, Inc., and chairman and chief executive officer of Bryant Group Ventures. He is the author of bestsellers, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class, and LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World.