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In Association with

The Sweet Smell of Failure



by Mark Victor Hansen as told to Steve Young

Mark Victor Hansen and his partner, Jack Canfield, created what Time magazine has called "the publishing phenomenon of the decade" with the hugely successful and inspirational book series, Chicken Soup for the Soul . A master motivator, Mark Victor Hansen has helped people reshape their personal vision of what's possible for themselves. But this man who breathes optimism with every breath and sits on top of a motivational empire, had to first lose everything before he found something more.

It was 1974. I was twenty-six and building geodesic homes in New York . Geodesic homes that required no loadbearing interior walls to support the roof were developed by Bucky Fuller. I was doing extremely well. Making very good money. Then, the oil embargo hit. At the time we were using plastic materials to construct the homes. I couldn't get any more supplies, went upside down in a day and lost two million dollars.

I wanted to kill myself. I thought that self-esteem and net worth were the same. I began sleeping eighteen hours a day. I was escaping. I was eating peanut butter until my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. We were in a recession in America and so was I. I didn't feel anything good was going to happen. Any day you read the newspaper it would show you all the aberrant behavior on the planet and confirm that nothing, in fact, is going right.

I was taking in all negative ideas. When one's conscience input is negative then the output, or what we call results, will be negative. It's very much like the classic archetypal story about the guy who gets his leg broken and because of it, he's the only one who lives through a war. Unfortunately, when the yogurt is hitting the fan, it's difficult to understand that. When you get a higher, more cosmic point of view, you begin to understand that if there's a recession going on at one level there's a ton of other business going on at the other end that is doing blissfully well.

Luckily I had received an audio tape entitled Are You The Cause Or Are You The Result? by Cavett Robert (known as the Dean of Public Speakers, Robert was the founder of the National Speakers Association). I listened to this one tape 287 times. Cavett asked, "Are you the creature of circumstance or are you the creator?" I asked myself, "Holy cow, did I create this?" And I had. I created it so I could get to what I thought was my right place.

The mind at it's most basal is a very simple system. Like Bill Gates says. It's binary. 1's and 0's. Cavett's tape explained that we should take the input and turn it into a positive. I had never heard a tape that had so strongly wound up people and it worked that way for me. Today I think, "how can I do it?" instead of "why can't I?" In time, Cavett became my friend and mentor.

I learned everything from my business going under. Everyone can relate to failure but very few can relate to success. When we ask ourselves if we're enough or not enough, most will say, "I'm not." It doesn't help that all of us are programmed by advertising to feel that we're never enough. So how do we overcome adversity? You change your thinking. You change your life at the most basic level. I also now know that when your self-esteem goes up so does your net worth.

So, here I was, only twenty-six years old. I looked around and I thought, "what did I learn from Bucky Fuller and now what do I really want to do?" It was then I decided that I wanted to talk to people who care about making a life-changing difference.

My soon-to-be partner, Jack Canfield, told me about a little book of positive short stories he was putting together, Happy Little Stories .

I told him that was the stupidest title I've ever heard. After filtering through different titles we agreed to the book together. We spent three years perfecting this art and I came up with the first Chicken Soup book. At the time we were both about one hundred forty thousand dollars in debt but we were enthusiastic and knew we had something special. We knew it would sell.

Thirty-three publishers in New York turned us down and made it quite clear that, "No one buys short stories." To add an exclamation, our agent fired us!

After spending a great deal of time on the road attempting to sell our book, we went to the American Book Expo. Sixty thousand people in the book business were there. The who's who of the book industry. Former Presidents go there to sell their books. Along with the authors, there are publishers and thirty -three thousand independent book store owners. It was an intellectual orgasm for me.

Jack and I carried back packs of our spiral ring note book and another one hundred and thrity people said, "Buzz off and get out of here."

Then, the publisher of Health Communications, a small publication that was going bankrupt at the time, said he would read it overnight and call us in the morning. The next day the publisher said he had tears in his eyes reading our stories.

The rest is history. Though it was far from the greatest deal, it became an unimaginable success. We have sold over seventy-five million books and the number continues to climb.

Many people fear failure. Some of the top grief counselors agree that there are only two real tangible fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. Everything else is a pseudo fear. Fear is not so much real as much as it is something we buy into. It's actually your thinking that makes it so. If you were to look back just before you die and see an instant replay of your life, you'd find that all these other fears were really learning experiences at one level or another. Though yogurt may be hitting the fan, it's hitting it for your benefit. You just can't see it at the time.


Excerpted from Great Failures of the Extremely Successful by Steve Young. Copyright © 2002 by Steve Young . All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Tallfellow Press. $15.95. Available in local bookstores or click here.

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