Sometimes Failures Can Be the Keys to Success

Richard Chambers, CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA, shares his personal reflections and insights on the internal audit profession. 


You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they respond to a setback. I often comment in this blog on best practices and technical issues relating to internal audit. Today, I offer my thoughts on an issue of broader interest — perseverance. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known over the years who have suffered a setback and never recovered. They just couldn’t get over that hurdle and get on with their professional or even personal lives.

In my career, I can recall at least three times when I dearly wanted a promotion or an assignment, and didn’t get it. Each time, failure presented me with a choice: I could press on and thrive, keeping an eye out for future opportunities, or I could quit — literally or figuratively — and let failure define me.

For me, there was really no choice. I can tell you that every time I failed to get what I wanted but I chose to persevere, I ended up achieving much greater success down the road — opportunities I might have missed if I’d been blessed with what I was sure in my mind was a “big achievement.”

But don’t take my word for it. History is full of similar examples.

Growing up, Milton Hershey thought he wanted to be a printer. I can’t help but wonder what we’d be making s’mores with today if he hadn’t been fired and signed on as an apprentice candy maker.

Walt Disney’s dream of becoming an ace reporter got shot down in flames when an editor at the Kansas City Star fired him for a “lack of creativity.”

Thomas Edison’s teachers told his parents he was stupid.

And Steve Jobs’ greatest successes at Apple came only after he was forced out of the company he founded.

As for me, I was devastated when I did not even make the list of finalist candidates for the Deputy Controller in a large U.S. military command almost 20 years ago. I look back today in awe at how limiting such a “prestigious” career assignment would have been for me.

All of that to say, never be sure what is right for you and never give up — even when you fail to achieve a goal.

I’m not suggesting that failure guarantees future success. You should always examine the reasons you didn’t succeed and seek to grow and improve. Learning is one of the greatest gifts of failure. I’m just urging you not to let failure define you. I would say the same of success. Both are merely mile markers on your personal journey. Neither is a destination.

Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book and Gunga Din, addressed the similarities of despair and complacency, and the importance of not putting too much stock in either, in his poem “If.” He wrote:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
  If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same.

Kipling had to overcome some adversity of his own, when he was forced as a child to leave his beloved home in India for boarding school in London.

Life and careers really are journeys. Speaking with the hindsight of more than 40 years in the workforce, I’ve probably questioned every career move at some point, but I don’t regret any of them today.

Take adversity as it comes. You will always learn more in life’s valleys than on its lofty peaks. And never quit.

When we accept failure as our lot, then we shortchange ourselves. Do you have a story of perseverance? I’d love to read about it. Share it here.


Posted on Oct 2, 2013 by Richard Chambers

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  1. Well put, Richard. We all learn by doing, and sometimes these best lesions come from mistakes or setbacks. It speaks volumes about someone's character when they pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get back in the game when you encounter what seems like an insurmountable obstacle or letdown.  Frankly, sometimes setbacks happen for a reason and an even better opportunity exists around the corner. Think about the experiences you had at TVA, Postal, The IIA and PWC - all due to that one setback with the Pentagon. And think about the joy millions have experienced because Walt Disney didn't wind out being that ace reporter. 

  1. I really found this article amazing and an example how to lead a life. Thank you Richard for inking your thoughts. This article is quite similar to what I am currently going through. I got laid off as part of restucturing, but I never left hope, I started to gain additional qualifications to sharpen my skill, did motivational speech on radio and many other things. Through all of which I keep reminding myself don't ever let somebody tell you that you can't do it and in order to win the race you got to be in the race. 

  1. Encouraging words Mr Richard,thank you,''Take adversity as it comes. You will always learn more in life’s valleys than on its lofty peaks. And never quit.''
  1.  This article is not only interesting but it is true many times in everyones professional career as auditors. Success and failures are part and parcel of the the individual's career. Let us not forget failure in one's individual career could be a success in somebody else's individual career. It does not mean one cannot strive best and accomplish greater heights like many individuals have done in their professional career viz., Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison or whoever who met those personal goals in their life time. What is more important here is to have the ability to recognize failure and not repeat those failures since the cost of failures are heavy and many times there is always somebody else who think that the individual deserve better or a greater chance to succeed again rather than brood over things that really caused the failure at the first place.

  1. Richard,

    The timing of the article is amazing. Just today my pastor shared a message titled, "When You're Overlooked--The God of the Underdog" and the message falls in line with your blog. Basically, he was encouraging parishoners not to be disheartened because they don't achieve what they want when they THINK they should have it, whether it's a promotion or whatever the case may be.

    Now I understand many readers are not religious or may be agnostic or atheists by choice; I respect their choices. However, we can still learn something valuable that Pastor Ron shared today. When we think we've been overlooked, there are three things we need to ask ourselves:

    1) Am I a faithful servant?

    2) Am I a passionate seeker?


    3) Am I an obedient follower?
    He also made a very powerful statement: "If you take care of the depth of your life (i.e., being true to yourself and your values), God will take care of the breadth (or reach)of your influence." I believe that as long as we do our job with passion and give 100% to do our very best, ultimately we will reach our goals and achieve a measure of success. It may not be recognized by others or come in the way we want it to, but it will come.

    Bringing it home, internal auditors are often challenged and overlooked. The question becomes will internal auditors continue to tow the line when needed and stand for what's right in the face adversity even if it means losing out on a promotion?

  1. I think, article is based upon looking at the life after one has achieved the success but going through failure, turn down, rejection, is hard, devastating. Yes, time is great healer and being live means keep moving. Yes, it is true to be Persevere and life takes you to the unknown destinations. Need to have clear definition of success, what we may call it. Richard, this is so true that "You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they respond to a setback" and also this is very true as you states that every time I failed to get what I wanted but I chose to persevere, I ended up achieving much greater success down the road — opportunities I might have missed. Great Article ! Thanks


  1. You can be our IIA "Dear Ann Landers!"  You truly have a calling!  Looking forward to IAA in making a regular column for you.

  1. Indeed! Thank you for this sharing you had.


  1. I started off my working life as a Ph.D. chemist. However,there were no jobs at that time, so I became an accountant and internal auditor. But perseverance does not mean continuing to bang your head against a brick wall. As your examples above show, it involves a need to rethink your aims. Look at your strengths and look at the opportunities to use them and, as Lillian says, be true to yourself and your values.
  1. When i first read this post six days ago, i was still reeling from the fact that i had been given a fail in the CRMA delayed score exam, so the timing was impeccable. Your article helped hold on to a flicker of hope as i have never failed any IIA exam, that when they finally get to the scoring things might change, and they did. The good news is that two days ago the IIA withdrew the fail result and replaced it with a pass, i am glad that i do not have to write the exam again, your post was instrumental in my decision to sit for the exam again, had things not changed. If you sat for the CRMA exam and did not pass, i can honestly say that i know how you feel, i went through that also, but rememebr this, you have courage very few have, you helped validate future exams and you helped contribute to the IIA's vision, you helped lay the foundation to a properly calibrated exam. It is better to have tried and failed than to not have tried at all. [ close to 400 wrote the exam, out of 100k plus, it took guts,] Thank you.
  1. What an article. It sums up my own experience ; Never Give Up On Your Dreams. I cant count how many applications I made or how many interviews I attended trying to land a NEXT LEVELS career job in auditing & risk but today perseverance as made me a Risk Assurance Manager in a Global bank . Perseverance is a vital key in reaching your goals and beyond. Failure is never final if you dont learn from your failures in the past and Success is never ending if you dont make your past or current success a destination.

  1.  This piece is really inspiring. Mr. Richard, it's as if you were refering to meee.

  1. Richard,

    Thank you for a fantastic article on perserverance.  I, too, have experienced career setbacks and much disappointment. But each "setback" actually brought me into a better role...a role that was designed just for me.  Like Ms. Laitman-McAnally commented, I believe in sticking to your values and letting God do the rest.  Thanks for the words of inspiration.

  1. Dear Richard, 
    Is wonderfull article. All is the attitude in the life, each one can choose either learn about failures and to re-start, or quit the dreams.
    There are many stories of the people that found in the failure and the disappointments,  the value and the courage to challenge the obstacles and achieve the dreams, and this is a inspiration for me.
    I remember a ex-boss that teached that everything that you do in the life with passion and discipline, will have always great results inevitably.
    I think that the better is always in front, and each experience, help us to grow and improve and many times was neccesary to be more strong.
    "A diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under pressure" - Henry Kissinger
    Richard, Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
  1. "Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity a greater."
    -- William Hazlitt, British writer and philosopher

  1. Richard,
    Thank you for this great reminder! Sometimes in the midst of difficulties it’s easy to forget how blessed we are each time we persevere under trial. Rather than letting fear of failure paralyze us from taking action or cause us to overlook the blessings in the midst of difficult situations, we should consider each failure a gift. Failure teaches us and strengthens our faith and resolve. When I reflect back on the highs and lows of my own career, without exception it was the setbacks that provided the growth and endurance that prepared me for future opportunities. Don’t get me wrong – I treasure the awards on my office shelf that represent significant achievements, but those accomplishments didn’t bless me nearly as much as the failures. Perhaps I should add a couple of “failure trophies” to my collection as a reminder that trials are keys to future successes! I bet they’ll make great conversation starters…

  1. is an important experience source for highlighting where to improve in all actors.

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