Succeeding by Failing: The Secret of Ultimate Achievement

Doing the right thing for Digital Specialty Chemicals
October 24, 2016

Succeeding by Failing: The Secret of Ultimate Achievement

Setting a goal is admirable: doing what needs to be done to reach ultimate success is another. The first takes vision, but the second demands true preparation, teamwork, focus and the right attitude.

In my post Doing the right thing for Digital Specialty Chemicals I described two huge goals. I intend on transforming DSC into a triple bottom line company with 100 million in sales and a staff complement of 180 people. I’m also going to climb Mount Everest.

Work has begun on both: learning, training, gathering the team, setting the strategy, and putting together a plan. But this fall I had a wake-up call. A recent experience related to my personal climbing goal taught me that it’s not good enough just to set a goal, or to think that you can be successful with unwavering determination. The loftiest dreams can fall short because of 1) lack of preparation, 2) the wrong attitude, 3) lack of disciplined focus, and 4) over confidence. The result: you fail to reach the pinnacle of what you want—this time. And then you learn from your mistakes and try again.

First of all, when the experts tell you to be prepared, they mean it.

Preparation: Being prepared isn’t just a slogan

In early September, I attempted to climb Mount Rainier. With an elevation of 13,211 feet, Rainier is the 21st most prominent mountain in the world. I signed up in June and practiced all year doing long hikes.

Training on the actual mountain began September 10. It was followed by the climb the next day: a 7-hour hike from the base at Paradise to Camp Muir (elevation 10,800 ft.); and then an alpine ascent starting at midnight.

I realized almost immediately that I was in trouble. First of all, I hadn’t properly prepared with the actual knapsack I’d be using. I was used to carrying around a few gym clothes, not the 40 lbs. worth of equipment necessary for the climb. We’d also been instructed to eat a proper breakfast on the day of the climb and arrive promptly at 8 am for an 8.30 departure. In “Ravi-style”, I arrived almost as the bus was pulling out. In addition to being late, I’d only consumed a cup of coffee. And then there were our supplies. We’d been told to stock up on dehydrated foods and hearty sandwiches. I packed dried fruit from Pusateri’s.

Attitude: Success can’t be all about you

Equipment and nourishment aside, I made another huge mistake. This one related to attitude.

The first phase of the climb is not a Sunday stroll. We travelled in groups of 8, including the leader and 2 guides, and everyone was responsible for looking out for each other’s safety. You have to listen to what your leader and guide are telling you, and you have to stay alert every moment.

I walk about 15 hours a week. But when I walk, I remain in my own world, headphones shutting out the world around me so I can listen to my music and my books. It’s all about me. This is totally opposite to the attitude you have to bring to bear when you’re climbing a mountain with a team that’s depending on you.

I’m also used to being the expert in charge—the leader—who calls all the shots. But when you are tackling an enormous goal, you have to accept (and rely on) the expertise of others. This is the meaning of true teamwork. Three experts led our team: Dave Hahn, group leader who already has climbed Mount Everest 22 times; and guides Megan Budge and Hannah Smith. The sole responsibility of Dave and his team was safety of the group (over 80 climbers have died on Mount Rainer). Always supportive and caring, Dave never, ever coddled us. We needed Dave and his guides, not just as advisors, but also as professionals who kept us alive!

Disciplined focus: Fun has a serious side to it

The hike from Paradise to Camp Muir is very tough. After the first two miles, you travel upwards over rocky paths through subalpine meadows, then ice fields. As I walked, I came to a third realization. I’m an enthusiastic guy, and with that energy comes a sense of fun. Yes, climbing is fun; just like running a business can be “fun”. But it is the kind of fun that necessitates discipline. There have to be rules and structure; those who can’t keep up must be left behind. It is the same for a business with a serious goal—you need to put the best people in senior positions, not just those who want it badly enough.

Although I knew before I started that I was in trouble, once I began hiking, I decided that I had no choice but to persevere. I removed my headphones, put my trust in my leaders, and relied on brute force to keep me putting one foot in front of another.

We reached Camp Muir by 3.30 in the afternoon. The next stage, reaching the summit, began 8 hours later. At this point I realized that I couldn’t put the others in jeopardy by attempting the peak. Yes, I wanted it badly, but I wasn’t ready.

Failing is fine as long as you learn

Making it as far as I did—yet failing to reach the goal—was worth every minute.

My experience on Mount Rainier was probably one of the toughest things I’ve done for a long time, both physically and mentally. Yes, I had failed in my attempt to reach the peak. I didn’t fail because I wasn’t committed to the idea, or I hadn’t set the goal, or hadn’t given it every ounce of my energy. And I didn’t fail because someone got in my way, or I met up with bad luck. I failed for the same reason all leaders risk failing when they set out a significant goal. My over-confidence got in the way. This attitude shaped everything, most significantly: preparation, teamwork, and focus.

I needed the experience to break down my ego, look at myself, laugh, and say, “Now, I know what it takes to be successful, for both goals I’ve set for myself.

Failing is 100 percent fine as long as you take the lessons learn, and then succeed another time. I will continue training in order to be truly prepared for my next climb. Yes, I’ll purchase proper food and practice with a heavy knapsack. And most importantly, I’ll leave my ego at the door and return in December.

On his way to Mount Everest, Ravi also plans to climb Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America.