How a Failing Project Became My Biggest Success

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Photo: Joshua Earle @joshuaearle via Unsplash

You want to look back at every project you’ve completed with fondness–to reflect back and think about how you crossed the finish line and how successful it was.

We talk about our projects, we talk about the ones we love–the ones that were mutually beneficial, or exciting. The ones that got great press, or that went off without a hitch.

It isn’t often that we talk about the ones that killed us, because, frankly, those are the ones that we want to forget.

But those are the ones it’s important to talk about–because that’s how every real estate developer, and frankly, every business leader, learns how to be successful in their craft.

Because I didn’t have peers in my close community who walked this path before, every project I did as a real estate developer was brand new. That meant I had to learn on every single project.

I had to be willing to go in knowing that I don’t know things. Scary, right?

But that is what got me to grow. You only grow through experiences, and without them? No growth. Many real estate developers have found themselves in the same position that I have–getting comfortable with that fact that I didn’t know everything, but confident enough to know that my skills would get me through the finish line.

The same thing applies to every business owner: there is no way you have access and insight to all the things to be successful when you begin your career. You have your tools to start the race, and so you better rely on those to get through it.

As a private business owner, you have to get over the speed bumps yourself. 

The multi-family apartment building with over 100 units. And we hit a major, major speed bump. Several, in act.

This project was touted as a supreme achievement and success, but at the end of the day, that was a bad job. People see the outcome, but nobody knew what happened behind the scenes to make this one of my most difficult projects to date.

Firstly, we had a bad structure design that shut the job down for 6 months. The building was literally falling down on one side. I had never seen anything like that, or experienced that before.

So, we had to get another new structural engineer to give us a report on what was happening and give us the fix that we could implement.

This pushed everything back. No one wants to live in a building that was falling down.

So while we were trying to fix it, we lost a lot of revenue, we missed dates, and tenants couldn’t move in as agreed to…it was a whole domino effect.

Another domino toppled when we couldn’t frame the building in time, and we had high humidity. We had potential to mold–another nightmare–so we had to get a tractor-trailer sized dehumidifier to suck moisture out.

I had never encountered any of these situations before in my career. I had never seen anything like this. They didn’t go over any of this in school.

School gives you a foundation of skills that you can use randomly, but nothing is exactly as it’s taught in school. Instead, you rely on the tools you learned so you can adapt to a real world business problem.

I found myself searching for answers, and finding it in my football career. Each week in football, there are scouting reports that give us a lot of information. We study the playbook for the following week’s opponent, but sometimes we start the game and realize everything we learned for this week just doesn’t work. Then we’re losing so badly by halftime that when we go into that locker room, we have to come up with a totally new game plane.

But in order to win, we have to believe that we have the ability that we can execute and bring this game back.

As an athlete, this requires you to look deep inside to see if you have ability to pivot on the game at halftime, while the band is playing, the crowd is cheering, and the other team thinks they have the win.

But, if you summon this strength do well enough, then you can actually come back and win that game.

Being halfway through a project and having to pivot, like I did with this one? It’s exactly the same (except there’s usually no band playing or crowd cheering). You have to summon the guts, strength, and belief in yourself from within. When you are “in it” you have to maintain the level of confidence and diligence and skill set in order to make it through.

For us? We got through the project and it was a success. And it’s remembered that way.

But not for me. I remember everything that went into it, and how it taught me one of my greatest lessons: that I had to lean into my skill set, rely, on the education I received, and be able to pivot and keep pivoting until we got it right.

So my advice to people taking a leap of faith, whether it is a new business, new career, or new role?

Everyone is more prepared than they believe or think that they are. 

I think people are more prepared and have more skill sets to actually do the business than what they give themselves credit for. So for most of us, our trepidation isn’t based on our skillset (or lack thereof), it’s based on fear of the unknown outcome. That is what causes people to hold themselves back.

Nothing gives you the absolute final answer before you start. Even when you are in high school taking a test, you don’t know your outcome until you get through your math test.

So, why does that change when you get older and get other opportunities?

What gives me the self confidence to actually believe this, and to run my business this way? Ultimately, my desire to be on the other side of the mountain was greater than falling victim to the fear of not knowing the outcome. 

Whether you are an entrepreneur, private owner, or business leader, you need to get to the other side of that mountain.

You need to have confidence in your preparation and skillset, and ultimately, have the self-conviction to thrive. This is what will take your failures and turn them into successes.

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