660: Finding More Success through More Failures with Jim Harshaw, Jr. (Host of the Success Through Failure Podcast)

By April 19, 2021Podcasts



Jim Harshaw Jr. explains how to overcome the fear of failure and use it as fuel to achieve more success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A mantra to ease the burden of failure 
  2. The simplest way to improve your chances of success
  3. The one common habit of successful people 

About Jim

Jim Harshaw Jr. is an NCAA Division I All American athlete, internationally recognized TEDx speaker, and personal performance coach. He has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives across the world by helping clients and audiences increase resilience, maximize potential, and build high performing teams. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Jim Harshaw Jr. Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Pete, thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you here. We’re going to be talking about failure and you’ve got some good failure stories under your belt. I mean that in the nicest way and you probably take it that way.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, I don’t feel insulted by that anymore. Yeah, I used to.

Pete Mockaitis
You were a Grade-A failure, Jim.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And we want to hear some stories and some practical perspectives on that because most of us hate failing. It feels really bad. And you have a different point of view. But could you kick us off with your story? Do you have a favorite failure or two and what do you love about them?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s funny, I was talking to a group of doctors, actually. They’re finishing up their residency and I was brought in to give a talk about a week ago, and I was like, “Man, you’re here because of your success and I’m actually here because of my failure. I hope that doesn’t put you off of this message today.”

And same for the listeners. Everybody who’s listening right now, knowing the profile of the listener of the show, you’re generally a successful person. You’re looking to get to that next level and be awesome at your job, and failure is part of that. Failure is a necessary step on your path and on my path and on every world-class performer’s, it’s the same for them as well.

I get to interview Olympic Gold medalists and CEOs and New York Times’ bestselling authors and astronauts and Navy Seals on my podcast, and they always tell me about these miserable failures that they’ve had, and so we explore that. And while I’m not at that caliber, I will share with you some of my failures. And, really, I want to make sure everybody gets actionable stuff out of this. Like, how do you actually deal with failure and be resilient and use it for your benefit?

So, I was a college wrestler. I got recruited to a great school, the University of Virginia, but I had so much failure, and fear of failure, and self-doubt, and lack of confidence when I got there because I just really never saw a future for myself, for really much of anything, let alone in my sport or academically or professionally. And I got to the University of Virginia, and I looked around and I realized, “Gosh, everybody here has more money than me. Everybody here is smarter than me. Everybody here is better-looking than me,” so it just reinforced all of these feelings of unworthiness, of that next level, whatever that next level would be for me.

And I began my wrestling career and I had set my goal to be an All-American, and in my freshman year I qualified for the national championships, which is kind of the first step, but I failed. My sophomore year, again I qualified for the national championships but, again, I failed. My junior year, pretty much a repeat of the prior two years, I got to the national championships and my season ended with me in the locker room, my face buried in a towel in tears, wondering, like, “Why can’t I do this? Like, what’s wrong with me? Am I not good enough? Am I not smart enough? Am I not capable enough?”

And then I dedicated that entire off season searching for the answer, like, “What is it about me? Why do I keep failing? Like, what’s wrong with me?” And I searched and I searched, and over the summer I went to the Olympic Training Center to pick the brains of some of the best in the world out there. I worked wrestling camps so I could be around other wrestling coaches all summer long and pick their brains. And the next season started and I realized I never found the answer, I never figured out what it is that I need to fix or do better in order to reach my potential so I finally gave up and I let go.

I let go of that goal and I said, “All I can be is all I can be. All I can do is all I can do.” And I ended up having this great successful season. My senior year ended up on the podium at the national championships in front of 15,000 fans in the arena, and I had reached the pinnacle of my sport. I was one of the best in the country at what I did.

And this kind of set me off on this trajectory of success. I was invited to live and train at the Olympic Training Center as an Olympic hopeful. Shortly after that, I got into coaching and I ended up being the youngest division one head wrestling coach in the country. I coached for about a decade, about 12 years, and I got out of coaching and got into business. I started my first business and now was a success, and I’m like, “Man, this is great. I’m on this trajectory, this winning trajectory.” And all these feelings of self-doubt and failure, etc., all that kind of like fell by the wayside and I was like on this trajectory of success in my life.

And, finally, looked up two years later and realized that everything I was trying to build, I was doing the opposite of. I had a failed business, we had debt up to our eyeballs. I had failing relationship with my wife. I wasn’t spending enough time with my kids and I was in the worst physical shape of my life, and I’m like, “This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen to me.”

So, there was this second crucible moment of failure in my life and I, literally, I mean, Pete, I was shutting down that business, I was scrolling like on Craigslist looking for jobs, scrolling past jobs for paper boys and unpaid internships, and thinking like, “You know, I have two degrees from the number-one rated public university in the country, I have all this success in my background. How did I end up here again? Did I not learn the lesson that I was supposed to learn?”

And I closed down my computer. I remember that night specifically. I laid down next to my wife in bed, I’m staring at the ceiling. She’s already asleep. And I’m like staring at the ceiling, thinking, “What was in place of my life when I was able to turn failure into success? What was in place when I was clear on what was next for me, when I knew how to do the things I needed to do, I was able to be consistent and stay focused, and stay on task and on track, and do really hard things for meaningful goals? Like, how do I get that back in my life?”

And I realized there were like four things in place in my life then when I was competing at the highest level and reached that platform of being an All-American, they were not in place of my life at that moment. And I can share those in a minute here, but I went back and I reconstructed this system in my life and it changed everything for me. I tripled my income, healed my relationship with my wife, and started spending more time with my kids, and got physically fit again. Like, it just transformed my life, and that’s what I get to do now.

That’s my mission in the world, is to help people deal with failure, overcome their own self-doubt, have clear and meaningful goals and a plan to achieve them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. Well, yes, let’s do hear about these four principles. First, I’d like to note, so in between your junior and your senior year, you were studying with all kinds of great potential mentors, coaches, and you said there wasn’t any particular bit of learning or technique or thing that you’ve fixed. So, then what was the difference-maker?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, it was this realization. Well, let me share this with you. I’ll use another wrestling reference. So, it’s a woman who’s the first ever Olympian, an Olympic Gold medalist from the United States. Her name is Helen Maroulis. And she talked about how this overwhelming self-doubt that she had, literally, a month before the Olympics and even through the Olympic games. She made it to the finals. Now she’s got to wrestle the best female wrestler in the world from Japan and she had this mantra of saying, “I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.”

And if you go back and you Google it on YouTube, you can see her lips moving when she’s standing in the tunnel next to her opponent and she’s saying this mantra, “I am enough.” And I realized that this is what I had learned. It was literally the night before the opening event, opening competition of my senior season, I was literally sitting in the hotel room on the edge of the bed, going, “Wait a second. I never figured out the secret. I never figured out the thing that I’m missing.”

And I said, “Well, I give up. All I can do is all I can do. I can follow the plan. I can make sure I go to bed on time, put the right food in my stomach, in my mouth, eat healthy, rehab my injury, show up for practice early, stay late, watch film. I can do all those things and everything else, I can’t control winning and losing. I can control the process. Otherwise, I’m enough. And if I become an All-American, awesome. If I don’t, I can put my head on the pillow at night knowing that I did everything I possibly could that was in my power to achieve that dream.”

And so, at that night I, literally, I gave up on the goal, I gave up on the dream, and just said, “I am enough.” And I went out the next day and I competed, knowing that I’m enough, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s not about the fear of failure any longer. It’s about showing up as my best self and putting everything I can out there, being fully 100% me, and allowing that to be okay and to be enough, and taking my ego out of it. And it became so much fun.

I mean, wrestling is not a fun sport. It’s pain and suffering and that’s when you win. And I had so much fun that season because this burden of failure I was able to set down. And for the listeners, you have that burden of failure whether it’s at work and you’re trying to look good for your boss, you’re trying to get that promotion or trying to get that raise. It’s not about that. You start with the end in mind, that goal, then you work backwards and go, “Okay, what’s the process? As long as I follow that process, I will have control what I can control because there are other things that are outside of my control that I can’t influence, and for those things I’ll let them go and know that I’m doing everything I possibly can.”

And that allows you to fully show up as yourself, as your authentic genuine self. And guess what? The world needs more of that. The world needs you.

And that’s what I realized and that was this moment where I made this mental shift which freed me up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s huge. And so then, when you say, “I am enough,” I guess let’s unpack what specifically we mean by that. I guess I’m interpreting, from all the context, that means, and this is a lot more words, so “I am enough” is a better succinct mantra to use here but it’s sort of this “My intrinsic worth, value, dignity is in no way contingent upon a particular success or outcome. I have no attachment to any of those things. And I am okay and at peace with simply being and doing how I do.”

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Amen. You said it. Can I write that down and then cite that back?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Hey, send me a recording.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Can we hit pause on the recording and I’ll say that instead of you?

Pete Mockaitis

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
That’s it. But that’s it. So, I interviewed a world champion on the podcast one time, and he said his breakthrough came for him mentally when he realized that failure was an option. People talk about failure is not an option. Yeah, it is an option and it’s okay if you fail. Like, you actually can’t control success or failure. You control the process that puts you in the best position to be successful.

And so, if you can let go of that failure and fear of failure, and know that everybody fails, like I said on my podcast, I interview these world-class performers and they’ve all failed. Like, failing is actually part of their DNA, it’s part of their story, it’s why they’re good at what they do. They’re not good despite those failures. They’re good because of those failures.

John Wooden, he’s a legendary basketball, he said, “You can’t give 110%.”

People talk about 110%. Like, you can’t give 110%. You can only give 100% and that means if you go out and you give 110%, that just means that other times you were giving something less than 100%. That’s what that means. The first time I heard that, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, that didn’t really resonate with me.” But the more I thought about that, the more I realize, like, all you can do is all you can do, and that’s okay.

You can’t show up and try to be somebody you’re not in something that you’re not. If you’re making a sales proposal or interviewing for a job, you can control the studying that you’re doing and the test and the sample interview questions that you practice and rehearse. You can control all that but, when the day of the interview comes, let all that go. Let all of it go because fear and anxiety decrease performance. I don’t care if it’s in sales, I don’t care if it’s in public speaking, or in sports, or in anything else, but fear and anxiety decrease performance, so let it go. It’s not going to help you. Don’t carry it with you. Let it go and understand that failure is an option.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s beautiful. Well, I want to talk about the four principles. But, first, you quote Tom, the CEO of IBM, who says, “If you want to…” well, you do it better. What did he say and how do you think about it?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
He said, “If you want to double your success rate, double your failure rate.”

Pete Mockaitis

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
And that’s the crux of all of this, is you have to be willing to fail and to be okay with it. There was a fantastic study out of Northwestern business school, at Kellogg School of Management, and they studied failures who became successes in three different areas. So, it was grants to the National Institutes of Health, they studied investor-backed startups, and they wanted to find something a little bit off topic to really study this and have a breadth of examples, and they studied terrorism attacks.

And what they discovered was all of the successes, if you can call terrorism attacks successful, all of the successes started as failures. All the winners started as losers, but not all the losers became winners. So, what was the difference between the losers and the winners, the failures and the successes, the failures who went to success, or the failures who just kept on failing?

Well, the difference was how soon they tried again. And the ones who succeeded tried again sooner. So, they’re learning, they’re taking what they learned, they’re being resilient, they’re getting up, they’re dusting themselves off, and they’re trying again, and that leads to success.

I interviewed Tim Ferriss on my podcast and he said, “Just because you fail doesn’t inherently mean you’re going to be successful. It’s the learning that comes from failure and then applying that learning to your next iteration, to your next attempt, is what leads you from failure to success.” So, for the listener, when you’re saying, “I applied for all these jobs and I didn’t get them,” or, “I failed at this presentation I tried to make,” or, “this raise I tried to get,” or, “this promotion I tried to get,” like, try again. Learn from that failure and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have any pro tips or tactics for maximizing the learning and maximizing your emotional ability to get up quickly?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Now, in the podcast, I’m interviewing these amazing people, and on the podcast especially, I started asking them, “If there’s one thing, one habit, one thing that you do that you most credit for your success, like what is that thing? What’s the secret? What’s the one thing for you?” And it’s so fascinating, Pete, for the New York Times’ bestselling author, it’s never the writing. For the Olympic God medalist, it’s never the training. It’s never the thing that you think it’s going to be.

The actual thing that they say is they’ll say things like, “I journal every day,” or, “I meditate,” or, “I work with a coach,” or, “I plan my day in advance,” or, “I spend half an hour at the end of the week reviewing my week prior and planning my week ahead,” or, “I take a retreat once a year with my spouse and myself and we look back on the year behind, and we look forward to the year ahead, and we create plans and goals and action plans, etc.”

And I put this all under one umbrella and I’ve coined this term productive pause. And if there’s such a thing as a secret to success it’s a productive pause. And the productive pause is this, this is the definition. It’s a short period of focused reflection around specific questions that leads to clarity of action and peace of mind. Like, who doesn’t want that? Clarity of action and peace of mind.

So, this is like in the military they call it an after-action report. When I look back at my career as a wrestler, and if I could pick one hour that was the most valuable one hour spent the entire season, it was not in the weight room, it was not in the practice room, it was not watching film. It was sitting on the couch in my coach’s office setting my goals, setting my goals for the year, setting the goal and creating the plan to achieve that goal. That’s the most important, most valuable one hour, and this is a productive pause.

When you hit the pause button, for example, after a failure and you say, “Okay, what went right? Well, I did this and this and this and this. This went right. All these things went right. Okay, what went wrong? Well, this and this and this went wrong. What would I do again? What would I do next time if I could do it again differently? What would I tell myself if I could back to prior to that failure? What would I tell myself?”

If you simply ask yourself those three questions, “What went well? What didn’t go well? What would I do differently?” those three productive pause questions will bring you tremendous insights, and now you can get back up sooner and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, I love it. Well, so that might be one of your four things, but I want to make sure we hit these four principles. What are they?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, so there’s sort of four pieces to this framework. And number one, it’s this. When I was competing, I knew what I valued. Like, I probably couldn’t have stated as core values like I can today, but I knew what I value. Like, I wanted to be tough, I wanted to live my life a disciplined life, I wanted to be respected, I wanted to go on to success after the sport. Like, these are all the things that I value just because this is what my mentors and my coaches, this is how they lived their lives and these are the things that they did. I’m like, “Man, that’s who I want to be.”

And so, number one is get very clear on your core values. Number two is this, when I was competing, I had goals that aligned with my values, not goals that aligned with my mom and dad’s values, or my teammates’ values, or anybody else’s. Like, these were the things that I valued. And in the real world, what happens is people set their goals based upon what’s parked in their neighbor’s driveway. They set their goals based upon what they see on social media or what the mass media is forcing down our throats and telling us that we should want. You have to set your goals and align it with what you value because failure doesn’t change what you value. Like, if you fail at something, it doesn’t change what’s important to you so you become more resilient when you have aligned goals.

And in my program, not to get into the weeds too far, but we set goals in every area of our lives: relationships, self, health, and wealth. And relationships, pretty self-explanatory. Self is sort of three subcategories: growth, impact, fun. Health is health and wellbeing. Health and wellness is going to be physical health, mental health, spiritual health. And then, the last one, wealth is wealth/work/career goals. Those are the four areas and so we set goals in all of these areas. Goals that are aligned. They’re tethered to the values.

And so, those are the first two steps. The third is this. Like, when I was competing, I had a coach who kicked me in the rear end if I needed it or picked me up and dusted me off when I needed that. I had teammates with similar goals, we’re like-minded people pursuing similar goals. I was accountable to them; they were accountable to me. I had nutritionists and sports psychologists and strength and conditioning coaches, on and on. I had the support system in this environment, and I call it the environment of excellence.

In this environment of excellence, it’s not just people. It’s actually four things. So, there are four things under the umbrella of the environment of excellence, which is the third step. And these four things are this: M-A-P-S. Just like you need a map to get from point A to point B, you need to know your maps to get from where you’re at to where you want to go in your life.

So, M stands for media. Like, what’s the media that I’m allowing into my life? Like, when I was competing, I didn’t watch much television, but when I did, I was watching the national championships or breaking down film of myself or my opponents. I used to fall asleep with a mindset audio in my ears with my Walkman, if you remember those Walkmans, back in the day. I used to listen to these mindset audios. And so, the same now.

So, for the listener, you’re doing the right thing, you’re listening to How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast. This is the kind of stuff you need to be bringing into your life and then blocking out things like the news. There’s a minimum effective dose of it but are you consuming it constantly, or social media? So, the first one is media.

A is for area, like your physical space around you. When I was competing, I had a poster on the wall with my hero, this Olympic champion. I had my goals written down in front of me. I had a training journal. I had healthy food and snacks. Like, I had an optimized physical space. Right now, I’m talking to you, Pete, I’m standing at my standing desk. Like, this is part of my environment of excellence. So, that’s A for area.

P is for people, we already talked about that, who are the people you’re surrounding yourself with. And then S, and this is really, really important, S if for speech. That’s your self-talk and your out-loud talk. There’s a great quote that says, “If our mind is a super computer, our self-talk is the program that’s running it.” Like, what are you saying to yourself? Like, are you saying, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not capable enough because of that failure”? Or are you saying, “I’m smarter, wiser, and stronger because of that failure”?

Those two stories are there, they’re going to take you down different paths. So, that’s the environment of excellence. And then let me give you the last and fourth and final sort of phase or module in these four steps to this framework, it’s this. It’s nice to have core values, like really clear core values and aligned goals in this environment of excellence but if you stop there, what happens when you show up at work the next day and the boss puts a big project on your plate, or you get sick, or the car breaks down, or a global pandemic happens? You can’t put your goals up on a shelf. You have to have the fourth and final piece in place, and that’s a plan for following through.

Like, if I lost a wrestling match on Saturday, coaches are like, “Hey, Jim, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the team lift 8:00 a.m. Be there.” It’s like, “Oh, man.” Like, this is a plan for following through even when I didn’t feel like it. And you have to have that system, that structure, that framework in place to make sure you follow through, you come back and you check in on your goals, you have a monthly goal check-in, you write those, I call them micro goals, like these smaller goals that are part of the larger goal, you write those down.

Every single month, actually, I’ve got mine right here in front of me, they’re here, these are my micro goals, and I write them on the back of my business card, and I keep these in my wallet. So, these are the type of things you have to do to ensure follow through. So, those are the four steps or four phases: core values, aligned goals, environment of excellence, follow through.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, now, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Well, it’s this. It’s nice to sit here and talk about failure in like, “Oh, yeah, you can learn from failure and it’s valuable and it’ll help you grow, etc.” Like, failure sucks. Failure hurts. It’s not something you’re seeking. You’re not trying to go out and fail but you’re just becoming understanding of it, you’re becoming aware that this is a normal thing for very high-performing people, for the best people in the world, it is a normal thing.

And understand, like, “Yes, it’s going to be painful.” I know it’s painful. I know. I’ve cried the tears both when I was in college and as a grown man of the pain and suffering that comes from failure. You are enough. Get up and try again. Build this framework into your life and keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, the quote that I’ve always lived by was “There’s two pains in life: “The pain of discipline and the pain of regret.” The pain of discipline, do it now; or the pain of regret, “I wish I had done that thing.” So, that’s a quote that’s just always stuck with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Most recently it’s been that one that I just shared with the study that came out of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. It’s just fascinating to understand that winners were losers, and winners were the ones who got up faster when they were a loser. So, get up and try again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
How to Win Friends & Influence People. This is such a game-changer and I’m probably not the first person to recommend this, but this is such an important book on human relationships and how to deal with people. You mentioned favorite study, and another one of my favorite studies is the grant study out of Harvard which is the longest longitudinal study on human happiness ever.

And what they’ve come to realize, proven, is that happiness comes from connection and relationships. And this book will help you strengthen your relationships and just be more emotionally intelligent. It’s like the original book from an influencer, Dale Carnegie, written back in the 1940s, I think it was. So, How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
For me, it is The Five-Minute Journal. The Five-Minute Journal is a productive pause. There are three questions in the morning, two in the evening. In the morning, it asks you, “What are you grateful for?” And then three things you’re grateful for, and, “How will you make today great?” Three things and then an affirmation.

And then in the evening, it asks you, “What are three amazing things that happened today?” And then the last one is, “What could you have done to make today even better?” And when you ask those simple five questions, super short productive pause, takes than less combined five minutes, it helps you be grateful, it helps you reflect on your day as opposed to just kind of moving onto the next thing. It’s about mindfulness and bringing you into the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you repeatedly?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Yeah, it’s, “We all need someone in our lives who holds us to a higher standard than we believe that we can attain.” There’s a lot of fear of hiring somebody like me who’s a coach, and people think like, “Oh, I should be able to do this on my own.” Well, no, you shouldn’t. Yeah, certainly, you’re listening to this podcast, you’re successful at some level, but there’s another gear inside of you. And whether it’s me or somebody else, like find somebody else who can hold you to a higher standard than you believe that you can attain because that will push you, that will drive you, that will help bring the best out of you.

We see this, again, going back to athletics as sort of the public example. I love watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. You look at all these Olympians down there, they all have one thing in common. They’re doing different sports, they’re from different countries, but they all have one thing in common. They’re the best in the world at what they do and they all have a coach. And so, what about you?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
JimHarshawJr.com. You can find everything there. You can sign up for a free one-time coaching call with me. It’s just JimHarshawJr.com/apply. My podcast is on all your favorite podcast platforms, so it’s called Success Through Failure. And if you just go to any social media outlet, just search for Jim Harshaw, you’ll find me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
I challenge you to hit the pause button. Take a productive pause, whether it’s using The Five-Minute Journal, whether it’s reflecting on your day, reflecting on your most recent failure, setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. Hit the pause button in the next 24 hours and evaluate where you’re at and where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success and even fun in your future failures.

Jim Harshaw, Jr.
Thank you, Pete. It was great to be on here.

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