Customer Reviews: When Smart People Fail
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VINE VOICEon September 15, 2002
Failure among the ambitious, upwardly mobile, educated and intelligent of our modern, industrialized society often comes across as being more devastating, more defining, and more frightening than it actually is. What in actuality defines us is not the number of our failures, but how we deal with our failure, how we look upon it, and most importantly, how we either use our failure or allow our failures to define us.
Hyatt and Gottlieb have written an excellent text on professional/career failure. The authors start the book by imparting intrepid examples both personal and private, of the emotional processes associated with failure. They accurately describe (often in painful and excruciating detail) the feelings of fear, isolation, shame and remorse associated with losing a job, status, money or some combination of the three. One can not only relate to the loss of purpose, the punctured egos, and the declining sense of self of those who have failed professionally, but also can actually feel as if it is happening to him or her- for it at some point has happened to him or her. They emphatically stress that career failure is something that eventually touches every professional, in some cases sooner, and in others, later. In this way, they show that failure has no prejudices, and everyone is a card-carrying member of this club, whether they realize it or not. As such, in dealing with failure, it is extremely important for the individual to realize that he or she is not alone in the experience, even if our greater society compels us to put up a strong front and pretend that nothing is really wrong. In order to healthily deal with failure, the authors emphasize the importance of understanding the meaning of failure in both the personal and the societal context, and elaborate upon how the feelings associated with failure unfold in the individual. Many people define themselves based on their occupation, their professional affiliation, or their status in life, and it comes as no surprise that these are the people hardest hit by career failure. Those of us who have cultivated other sides of our personality, such as those of us who live for our weekend hobbies, or those of us that are family or community oriented, tend to handle career failure much better, and can even take it in stride. Although many readers and those who have experienced failure or are currently experiencing failure may not believe it, failure actually gives people options, which the authors not only demonstrate, but also help the reader identify and ultimately take advantage of in later chapters.
In the first part of the book, one chapter each is devoted to defining the characteristics of failure at the level of the individual and the society, dealing with the feelings, which occur in stages, associated with failure, how our career failures can affect those closest to us, and how men and women respond to career failure. The second part of the book focuses on taking failure in stride, and offers a comprehensive strategy for personal reinvention after suffering a career failure. Arguably the most important part of the book, this section devotes one comprehensive chapter to each of the following topics: discovering why one has failed, gleaning from the failure some positive knowledge by re-interpreting the events leading up to the failure, recognizing and casting off old and inappropriate labels and finding new ones, expanding one's career choices, and making the transition from the old professional to the new, centered and focused individual. The authors also include in this section of the book a bonus chapter that showcases two successfully reinvented individuals, and elaborates upon the nature of their failure, how they dealt with failure, and the process of their reinvention. Each chapter in the second part of the book provides the reader with powerful tactics to build a new, improved person from career failure, and allows one to rise triumphantly out of the ashes of failure, much like the proverbial phoenix. The third and final part of the book, entitled `Towards Real Success', helps the reader to win the internal battle associated with failure. While the second part of the book helps to outwardly reinvent the individual for career success, the final section of the book helps the individual to cultivate a new perspective, a new outlook- on career failure. This part of the book encourages the reader to look upon failure as a learning experience, and as such, helps one to regard failure as a temporary setback that one can learn from.
The authors have written a truly empowering book, one that entrepreneurs and professionals must read and keep alongside all the other books on career and entrepreneurial success, as there inevitably will be one or more notable, spectacular and in some cases unfortunately public failures on the path to a successful career journey. In the end, I can only say that there is no shame in taking a risk, giving one's all, and failing, and I wholeheartedly believe that true shame results from failing to try, failing to risk, fearing change, and failing to grow. These, I truly believe, are the things that comprise the regrets in one's life.
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on February 13, 2002
I picked up this book after being let go from a F50 company late last year, and it has been a lifesaver as I've navigated unfamiliar territory. It lays out the stages most people experience when they've been fired, downsized, or eliminated -- shock, fear, anger & blame, shame, and despair. It addresses how failure changes the balance of power in a relationship, and how it affects men and women differently. It then moves to how we reinvent ourselves -- identifying the cause of failure, reinterpreting the event, relabeling yourself, and getting unstuck. There are numerous stories, including the authors' own, about failing and ultimately coming back better and stronger. One quote especially resonated with me: David Brown (he produced The Sting and Jaws, among other Hollywood blockbusters) was fired three times from top jobs. "Each time, [he] was stunned. And each time he never stopped to analyze what had caused him to be fired in the first place. Only after the third time did he begin to examine his working behavior. Why was he always running after corporate jobs...when in the end they held neither safety nor a degree of control over one's fate?" Whether you feel that corporate life is truly your calling, or you yearn for something different, this book can help you push past self-imposed limitations and re-invent your career in a unique and satisfying way.
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on April 8, 2001
If you are having problems confronting a business defeat (whether you were fired, lost your business, or "failed" in your career), this is the book for you.
If your setback is affecting your health, your marriage, your friendships, there is hope.
If you have been moping around the house for a year or more, read this book.
If you've tried and tried to "move past" your personal problems, buy this book now.
If you have been searching for an answer, this is it.
Read this book.
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on June 3, 1999
I read an excerpt from this book in the Reader's Digest in the spring before I was fired from a job where I had been both a professional and personal failure. (It was for a company that had asked much and gave nothing in return, but it still hurt) In addition, my long-dysfunctional marriage was on the rocks, and it was just a matter of time before he would leave me since I was no longer a breadwinner and able to be his meal ticket. Pretty pathetic, huh? I found the book while on a getaway to Toronto, and worked through it as well as Richard Bolles' What Color is Your Parachute? over the next couple of months. I knew I still wanted to work with people--just not in mental health--and the examples of what career counselors did with people in this book really sparked a long-dormant interest in doing that myself. With a little bit of luck, a lot of prayer, and a lot of help from this book in facing my failures, looking at what I still had going for me, and, as the authors call it, "relabeling," I hit the interview circuit. The best opportunity and the one I was most excited about involved doing educational/career counseling with low-income, first-generation college-bound adults. They took a chance on me, and it was the best job I've ever had, bar none. (I left it to marry and move to a larger city) I recommend this one, along with the Richard Bolles book, for anyone who's just been jarred out of their skull from being fired, downsized, abandoned, or just plain told, "you're a failure." As the back cover says, "when SMART people fail, often they've taken the first step toward renewed success." It was that way for me. . .hope it is for you, too:)
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on June 1, 2013
Really great book . Anyone who has had a major setback or dissapointment in life will find this book very helpfull in understanding why it affected them in such a dramatic way , and what they can do to move on . I read it off in one day , it was so interesting . It even helped me to undersatnd a majour job dissapointment I had way back in 1974 which almost caused me to lose my mind , I now see that managers prefer to promote their own people over you , even if you are more capable and have been promised the position for some time .
Great book .
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on June 12, 2000
One of the few books around that deal effectively with failure. If you have experienced disappointment please give this book a read. The authors offer intelligent , caring and practical advice. Full of real life case studies that show ways of coping with failure and disappointment. Definately a 5 star book.
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on August 22, 1998
Many books nibble at the definition of failure. Most descriptions are sifted through screens of emotion, religion, and speculation. This reduced it to 'an individuals inability to overcome a particular event at a particuular time in their life. Nothing more. Great stuff
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on October 9, 2014
I love the lessons and examples from this book. The authors really did a good job in convincing me that failure is not a bad thing. It is an opportunity to review what went wrong so I can be more successful than I ever hoped for. I highly recommend this to everybody.
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on May 3, 2015
The important message of this book is we all experience difficulty in our lives and we can learn from and be encouraged by others, even people we think we have nothing in common with. Carole Hyatt is so insightful and really hits the mark with this book. Even if you haven't experienced failure lately you will get a lot out of this book.
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on May 16, 2007
I work as a Business Coach and Life Coach and refer clients to this book regularly. This is an older book, originally published in 1987, but its message is timeless. The authors talk about success and failure in a unique and thought-provoking way. Their primary point is that failure is a larger concern for Americans than for people in other cultures, that we are the most success-oriented people in the world. Americans don't seem to have the ability to distinguish between their judgment of events and the events themselves. We judge our lives and careers based on perceived success or failure whereas people in other cultures tend to gain a sense of self from their families or themselves.

I found this book to be compelling and useful in the context of both business and personal well-being. Understanding the historical and social aspects of the concept of failure is helpful, as is considering the two types of failure they identify: Overt failure (e.g. getting fired) and hidden failure (e.g. looking successful on the outside but feeling disappointed in oneself and like a failure inside). The book guides the reader through the process of learning from mistakes and reinterpreting the failure, not only into a learning experience but also into future success. I found this book to be both informative and practical. The subject of failure holds such taboo in our culture and yet anyone who takes risks in life will fail at some point. I think it makes sense to study the subject and emulate what the authors teach, accepting and learning from everything life's rich pageant has to offer us-Lorna Kellogg
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