What You Can Learn About Failure From Jerry Seinfeld

It’s a Journey

In our culture, we tend to worship success and achievement, but what I believe most people fail to realize is that success and achievement are not a place where we arrive, rather its a journey. As Rory Vaden points out in his book, Take The Stairs, “Success is never owned, it is only rented, and the rent is due every day!” You see you have to pay the rent before you can achieve any level of success or accomplish any great achievement. Then you have to keep paying the rent to maintain and keep growing. You may have heard of some one-hit wonders, they write one book, make one movie, write one song and then they disappear. Could it be that once they’ve achieved what they feel is a success that they fear losing what they have and thus freeze up out of fear? In other words, they have stopped paying the daily rent, and thus, they disappear off the scene.

I believe that if you want to achieve anything significant in your life you’ve got to think about failure differently than everyone else.

Enter Jerry Seinfeld

Let’s examine the life of Jerry Seinfeld and look for clues to help you relate to failure in a more productive way. You likely know Jerry due to his extreme popularity as a comedian and his 7 season hit comedy show “Seinfeld.” Do you know what it took for him to achieve that success?

When Jerry was a kid, he used to listen regularly to albums by Bill Cosby. He was already paying the “rent”. He would follow his dad around writing down jokes. He loved to make people laugh, and he took advantage of his classmates who were like a captive audience. He managed to buckle down and graduate from college. But the night of his graduated he wasn’t at a party, he was at a local comedy club in New York where he worked up the courage to go onstage.

How to Handle “Failure”

When Jerry got onstage at that New York comedy club, and the spotlight focused on him he forgot everything he prepared. He could have run off the stage in fear, thinking he’d failed. But stood there trying to get words out of his mouth, but all that came out were single words: “Delis. Cousins. Roommates. Girlfriends.” To his amazement people laughed. That performance barely lasted a minute and a half, but he left committed to not just learning the general topics, but every single sentence. The next week again found him at a comedy club, this time he got even more laughs and was hooked.

How many people would have stopped frozen in the spotlight rather than continuing trying? How many people would have considered that night a failure and never tried again? Jerry knew what he loved to do; he wanted to make people laugh. Do you know what you want to do? It can keep you going through the ups and downs of your journey.

Nothing dramatic occurred overnight for Jerry, but he kept hanging around the comedy clubs and managed to get a job as an emcee. Then he managed to get his own HBO special. Then followed another comedy show. Then he got fired because they said he couldn’t act.

How many people would have given up at this point? Would you have given up at this point?

Stumbling Forward

Next, Jerry was offered a part in another comedy show where they handed him scripted lines and again he was fired. Instead of quitting Jerry decided to do a show and this time he would write his own lines. The funny thing, his idea was criticized as being a show about nothing. Ouch, that could have hurt and maybe it did, but Jerry didn’t stop. Instead of quitting, Jerry decided to make, “nothing”, the theme of his show!

Some people liked the show, and some didn’t. The show was sidelined for a while, but it came back, was shuffled around, and finally found its place. But through all of this turmoil Jerry kept his focus, he kept his focus on his strength, make people laugh. It didn’t matter to Jerry whether he made people laugh on the road or through a TV show, he just wanted to do what he loved. And then his show got traction and began gathering a following. You might say the rest is history. Jerry’s show about, “nothing”, has become one of the most successful comedy shows ever.

Just think, what would the world have missed if Jerry would have stopped at any one of those possible “failure” moments?

What Is The World Missing From You?

What will world miss if you don’t find your greatest strength? Find your strength and pursue it so you can give the world all you have to give. Just keep pushing forward in spite of the challenges, you will run into them along the way. Read back over Jerry’s story and put yourself in his place. Change the theme from comedy to your strength and imagine overcoming all the failures and setbacks until you have left a powerful and positive mark on the world. How does that make you feel?

Your Turn

Consider this thought from John Maxwell, “If your perception of and response to failure were changed, what would you attempt to achieve?” In other words if failure wasn’t some big deal that could stop you in your tracks, but was simply a learning opportunity to prepare you for further achievement what would you accomplish? Now go get started!


Photo credit: Sometimes you just have to say, “Ugh”. Thanks for saying it, Nathan Dumlao.

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Trevor Wilson

Trevor Wilson

I love helping business owners who are passionate about making a positive difference in their clients' lives. I'm a passionate learner and teacher. My purpose is to help people live a more fulfilled life. In my professional life, I love helping business owners get clear on their purpose and identity. Then I help them clearly communicate their story so they can attract their ideal clients. I do this because I believe that when you work with your ideal clients you'll live a more fulfilled life.

Successful people do what everyone else won't dare to do. Don't wish it were easier; make yourself better.