Bernie Marcus on Failure

After reading the book by Home Depot cofounder Ken Langone, I decided to go deeper on the other cofounders. Bernie Marcus was the CEO for many years, and I discovered that within the last few years, he wrote Kick Up Some Dust: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing It Yourself. Bernie is almost 95 years old, so I was curious about the wisdom he’d accumulated after almost a century. I ordered his book.

I’m not finished with the book yet, but so far as I can tell, Bernie has a strong personality and entrepreneurial fire inside him.

Bernie shared his thoughts on failure, and they got me thinking:

"I think how you respond to failure comes down to whether your fear is stronger than your passion. People driven by passion see setbacks as unpleasant, but inevitable challenges. What they know that quitters do not is that failure can be eaten in small pieces."

I never enjoyed failing when I was younger, but my mindset shifted when I started being entrepreneurial. I was passionate about what I was doing and driven to see it succeed. This meant I was trying a bunch of things and a lot of it didn’t work. But I noticed a pattern. Going through the things that didn’t work led me to the things that did work. Instead of looking at things via a success-or-failure construct, I began looking at them as either a success or a lesson that got me closer to success. Failures became expected. Many were still painful, but I focused on what I could learn from each failure instead of the pain.

Failure is part of life. As they say in baseball, nobody bats a thousand. Even the best players strike out at the plate. But a single strikeout doesn’t stop them from winning the World Series as long as they don’t give up and keep playing the game to the best of their ability.