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Mastering success through failure

Rory McIlroy has won four major championships and captured 23 victories on the PGA Tour. He has been ranked No. 1 in the world nine times during his career, most recently just two months ago. This weekend he is once again among the favorites to win the Masters and add an elusive green jacket to his wardrobe.

At 33 years old, his career earnings stand at $68 million. It would be impossible to categorize him as a failure. Yet the cap, or jacket if you will, involves winning the Masters and completing a career Grand Slam in his ninth attempt. In a press conference on Tuesday, McIlroy admitted his Masters failure plagues him.

“Not every experience is going to be a good experience,” McIlroy said. “I think that would lead to a pretty boring life. You know, you have to learn from those challenges and learn from some of that scar tissue that’s built up. I felt last year that I maybe shed some of that scar tissue and felt like I sort of made breakthroughs.”

If you think of McIlroy as one of the “generals” of golf at Augusta National, he could probably take a page from Major General Perry Smith who found that the greatest learning experiences come from failure or setbacks. Those experiences weren’t happy ones, but he discovered a great deal about himself and others and bouncing back from them was an uplifting experience.

In the late 1970’s, General Smith was working in the Pentagon for the Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Clements. Clements held the second-most important job in the Department of Defense. Clements, a wealthy businessman, would later serve two terms as governor of Texas.

“Nine months after assuming a two-year assignment as a military assistant to Clements, I got a phone call from a friend, Colonel Sam McClure. Sam was serving in the personnel office of the Air Staff. Sam told me to pack my bags – I was being assigned to Germany. This was quite unexpected news,” General Smith explained.

Sam was very frank: “Perry, you have been fired.”

“Being fired by the Deputy Secretary of Defense was a big-time failure. My “golden” career came crashing down. Incidentally, Clements never told me why he gave me the ax.”

But the firing led to a blessing in disguise. “I was getting back to the operational Air Force. Within two years, I was commanding an Air Force Wing (4,000 professionals) and flying the world’s best fighter aircraft, the F-15.”

Whether your profession is golf or the military, both are still a business. Failure can be a learning experience if you know how to deal with it. When a business owner fails, it might be due to several different factors. Determining what those factors are and learning how to avoid them in the future is the most effective way of learning and moving forward. Failure isn’t the end of the line, but merely a setback on the road to achievement.

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