Failure Is an Option || Dave Koch

In August of 1997 I wrote an article in Westar Media’s “Wireless Age” magazine titled, “Failure is an Option.” I was doing some archiving and organizing around the office a few weeks ago and came across the article. Its message still applies 24 years later.

I cannot imagine anything more challenging and rewarding than working in Christian radio.

Christian radio is what I’ve loved since 1979 when I turned on the mic as an announcer at WJSL-FM at Houghton College in upstate N.Y. In fact, I have always felt that Christian radio was what God intended me to do. He gave me a gift, a passion for the industry.

A while ago I was reminiscing and reflecting on success and failures in life. I took out a pad of paper and made two columns. On the left side I wrote “Successes.” On the right side I wrote “Failures.” I won’t bore you with the details of what I wrote down, but for some reason the failure side list was longer than the left. I found that interesting.

About a month ago I was invited to speak to a group of people as we honored a young man who was turning 16 and entering adulthood as a Christian. The topic I was asked to speak on was “A Man and His Work.” I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I did some research and thought I would share an excerpt:

On the evening of August 6, 1999, a major league baseball player stepped up to home plate and made another out – the 5,113th strikeout of his professional career. If a player made all of those outs consecutively, and he averaged four at bats per game, he would play for eight complete seasons or 1,278 games without ever reaching first base. That’s quite a stat.

Earlier in the same game, in his first plate appearance, that player had reached a milestone only a few people in the history of professional baseball have ever achieved. He had made his 3,000th hit. That player was Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres.On the evening of August 6, 1999, a major league baseball player stepped up to home plate and made another out – the 5,113th strikeout of his professional career. If a player made all of those outs consecutively, and he averaged four at bats per game, he would play for eight complete seasons or 1,278 games without ever reaching first base. That’s quite a stat.

During that game Tony went 4 for 5. But that’s not the norm for him. Usually, he fails to get a hit two times out of every three attempts. Failing to get a hit 2 out of 3 times doesn’t sound very good, but if you know baseball, getting a hit one out of 3 times made Tony Gwynn the greatest hitter of his generation. Tony recognizes that to get his hits, he has to make a lot of outs. He has to fail to succeed.

Why do some people skyrocket like Tony Gwynn, while others plummet?

Why do some people in life, in business, even in relationships work hard, get promoted, receive recognition, and get that management or “VP” title, while others struggle and don’t grow and don’t succeed? What makes the difference? Why do certain people achieve much, and others don’t?

Is it family background?

Well, having a good family growing up is certainly something to be grateful for, but its not a reliable indicator of achievement. High percentages of successful people come from broken homes.

Is it wealth?

Some of the greatest achievers in business come from households of average to below-average means.

Maybe its opportunity – being in the right place at the right time?

Opportunity is a unique thing. But two people can look at a situation and one person can see tremendous opportunity while the other sees nothing. So that can’t be it.

What about high morals? That should be the key, but its not. There are people with high integrity who achieve little, and scoundrels who are millionaires.

Maybe it’s the absence of hardship in a person’s life? No, for every achiever who has avoided tragedy, there’s a Helen Keller who overcame disabilities or a Viktor Frankl, who survived the horrors in Nazi Germany.

So, its not family background, it’s not wealth, it’s not opportunity, it’s not high morals, nor is it the absence of hardship. None of these is the key to success in life.

When it comes right down to it, there is one factor that stands above the rest. It separates those who consistently shine from those who don’t. The difference between average people in business and achieving people is their perception of, and response to one simple thing…


Nothing else in life has the same kind of impact on people’s ability to achieve and accomplish whatever their minds and hearts desire like failure.

In the 1930’s as a young second grader, a boy discovered that he could buy a six pack of cokes for a quarter, sell them for thirty cents and make a 20 percent profit. It wasn’t long before this boy was buying soft drinks by the case, icing them down and increasing his revenue and profit. When the weather turned cold and sales lagged, he sold magazines. Then at age eleven, he started helping a neighbor with his paper route. By age twelve, he had built his own route.

Like many young men of his era, he joined the Army. When he was finished serving in 1945, he was ready to pursue other opportunities.

What appealed to him was a restaurant and his dream to work with Ben, one of his brothers. After learning a little about the business, they scraped together some money, located a site, built a restaurant, and opened it as the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia just outside of Atlanta.

It was open 24 hours a day, six days a week and through an incredible amount of hard work, it was profitable from the first week. But it wouldn’t be long before he would face the first of several major setbacks.

The first came early, only 3 years after opening the restaurant. His brother Ben and another brother were in a small private plane that crashed, killing both of them. Losing a business partner is tough. Losing two brothers was horrible. The man was devastated. Once he got over the emotional shock, he went on alone.

Just a year later, he was awakened one evening by a phone call. There was a fire at his restaurant. He dashed off to see what was going on, but when he arrives, he discovers that the fire has totally destroyed the operation. That alone was bad enough. Worse was the fact that he had practically no insurance.

Then, just a few weeks later, he faces another debilitating setback. He discovers he has polyps in his colon that would have to be removed. He could not restart his business. One operation turned into two and he was in and out of the hospital for many months.

On his last visit to the hospital, he lay in bed and came up with what would ultimately be a multi-million-dollar restaurant concept called Chick-fil-A. The man is Truett Cathy. He would later say that had he not experiences those unfortunate setbacks and failures in life, he may never have come up with his Chick-fil-A idea while laying in that hospital.

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t realize just how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Leadership expert Peter Drucker said, “The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make. For the more new things he will then try.”

You’re going to go through life, and you will fail. Count on it. Expect it. It’s OK to fail. It can be one of the most freeing and peaceful things you can do for yourself. Trust me, I know. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.

In fact, the Bible is full of important people who failed.

Abraham, founder of Israel and labeled “the friend of God” was once a worshipper of idols.

Joseph had a prison record but later became prime minister of Egypt.

Moses was a murderer but was the one who delivered his nation from the slavery of Pharaoh.

Peter openly denied the Lord and cursed Him, only to return and become God’s choicest spokesman.

Paul was so hard and vicious in his early life, many who knew him refused to believe he’d actually become a Christian. But we know how greatly God used him.

Most people think that failure is bad. Its not. It is the opposite. NBA coach Rick Pitino said, “Failure is good. It’s fertilizer. Everything I’ve learned about coaching I’ve learned from making mistakes.”

All roads to achievement lead through the land of failure. But here’s the catch. Sometimes the easiest thing to do when failure hits is to blame someone else. It started with Adam and Eve.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “You know, that’s my fault. I blew that project and I take full responsibility. I’m sorry. I know what I did wrong, and I know how to fix it so that it won’t happen again.”

Any person worth anything will stick up for what they believe is right. But it takes a bigger person to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that they are in error. That kind of person will be extraordinary.

The only way to get ahead and to succeed is to fail early, fail often, and fail successfully. To achieve your dreams, you must embrace pending adversity because its coming at you right around the corner.