"I failed," remarked my friend, Miguel.
"Don't bring the subject up. I lost a quarter of a million dollars — most of my life savings. Don't even go there."
Miguel's lamenting really brought sadness to my soul. He was a hard worker and a very creative individual.
The 55-year-old wholesale food distributor had spent most of his life working for other people. "Mike," as his friends called him, had started his career path with nothing more than the determination to succeed.
"When I immigrated to this country, I spoke very little English," he told me.
He entered the fourth grade in a school were only English was spoken. There were no ESL (English as a Second Language) courses. Students had to learn by immersion. By the time he was 18, Mike had no accent, and could read and write with the best of native-born Americans.
"I worked my butt off every day to learn the language and the culture. I was so happy to be in a country where opportunity was far greater than anything I could have experienced in my native country of Mexico."
In his early 20s, Miguel was given a chance to sell food products for a large national distributor. The managers liked the fact that he was bilingual and could build their business with a number of Hispanic restaurants. He was so successful that Mike was soon in a management position.
He worked a number of years for this company, but was never quite satisfied.
"I could see areas where these guys were really asleep on the switch and could have grown the company," he told me. "But the gray beards were content to plod along without a lot of innovation."
It was a scary decision, but Mike made his move. He decided to start a competitive operation in hopes of achieving a dream by running an independent distributorship.
Unfortunately, timing is everything in life, and the industrious vendor could not have chosen a worse moment. Wholesale food companies were merging and being bought out by large national and worldwide corporations — leaving the little guys unable to compete.
I tried to help Miguel with his depression over the situation:
"You have nothing to be ashamed of," I told him. "Did you ever read about Preston Tucker — the guy who started his own car company back in '48?"
Mike said he had.
Tucker was only able to produce 50 cars before going broke. When a reporter asked the innovative inventor how he felt about failing, Tucker replied, "What failure?"
He wanted to build his own car company, and he did. Tucker saw no difference in whether 50 cars had been produced or 50 million. The goal had been accomplished.
Miguel took the story to heart. He reframed the "failed" experience and went to work as an executive for one of the large wholesale food conglomerates.
His salary and job satisfaction are now highest in a long career. Without his "failed" experience, it is unlikely that Miguel would have been successful or even hired in his present position.
As a commentator on this tale, I suppose I could summarize with the old adage of, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." However, I prefer to simply say: Aiming for our goals is the key to happiness. Judgments about "success" and "failure" during our relatively short lives are simply in the eyes of the beholders.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.