Successful Utahns turn failures into opportunities

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 6:00 a.m. MST

Mindy Gledhill sings and plays the piano in her studio in Provo on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Jonathan Johnson began law school, he knew his career path.

Upon graduation, he submitted applications to the firms of his choice. He was rejected by every one.

In time, Overstock.com's eventual president and executive vice chairman of the board of directors came to see that his successive failures were opportunities. He was hired on as a clerk for the Utah Supreme Court, which prompted him to become Bar certified in Utah, the state where he has been most successful in business.

"The perspective of time helps make challenges and failures learning opportunities," Johnson said.

He and other leaders at Overstock.com embrace failure with the motto "Fail failure fast." They learn what they can from every business idea that does not work out and move on to the next.

The idea that failures change into opportunities through perspective follows the mentality laid out by Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his book "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big," released in October.

"Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don't let it leave until I extract that value. I have a long history of profiting from failure. My cartooning career, for example, is a direct result of failing to succeed in the corporate environment," Adams said in his book.

Many who are successful today got there by learning from things that turned out differently than they had planned. The Deseret News reached out to some current and former Utahns who have used their setbacks as launching pads into each new opportunity.

One of these is singer songwriter Mindy Gledhill. Gledhill moved to Provo in her teens and knew one thing.

"I just felt like I was meant to be a singer," she said.

Hoping that her natural talent would get her in the door, Gledhill — who describes herself as a musical "late bloomer" — tried out for the high school play, choir and dance team. Each turned her down.

In response, Gledhill began making smoothies for $5.15 an hour to pay for voice lessons.

She visited her high school counselor who connected Gledhill with NuSkin's recording studio. Through this she was exposed to the world of recording music. Gledhill started her own band and practiced in the basement of a local restaurant.

"I just decided that if nobody was going to let me in, I was just going to create my own opportunities," Gledhill said.

After graduation, Gledhill tried out to be a singer and dancer for Lagoon and was rejected. She was also turned down from BYU's Women's Chorus and the Young Ambassadors performing group.

"Not getting into those things was really good for me," she said, adding that she was able to figure out where she fit in as a musician. "It helped me find my voice."

These and other failures led Gledhill to her current success, which is in line with Adam's philosophy that "failure is where success hides in plain sight."

Gledhill made one record as an LDS artist under the label Excel Entertainment in 2004. Eventually, tired of the inefficiency of the label system, Gledhill went independent, releasing her first solo album in 2007.

Her timing matched that of the rise of the independent artist, and with the help of YouTube and social media she has gained a following.

The 32-year-old mother of three will tour the Pacific Northwest in February and cross country in March. Her work has been featured in TV shows and as a guest artist on Grammy nominated DJ and electronic dance musician Kaskade's album. She was also commissioned to write a song for Fruit of the Loom's Olympic ad in 2012.

"So many of my failures were guiding lights to where I needed to be," Gledhill said.

For Meghan Stettler, news and current affairs producer at Al Jazeera America and Made Woman magazine's December Made Woman of the Month, her guidance came in the form of a $50 bill.

She graduated with double majors in broadcast and music dance theater from BYU and began working as an on-the street interviewer for L'Oreal, Microsoft and Apple. Things looked bright for her future.

However, she soon got sick and realized that she was not using all of her talents in her current job. Stettler's love of singing was put on hold when her voice deteriorated as a result of her illness.

At 24, Stettler returned home from her job in New York with the skin peeling off her eyelids and looking horrible.

Stettler became a waitress, making about $15 a day and wondered how she would create a new life for herself.

One day an older couple visited the restaurant and after chatting with Stettler, left her a $50 tip with a note that read: "We believe that you have what it takes to be successful. Good luck in your endeavors."

She keeps the bill in a frame on her wall to remind her that even in the worst times, there are kind people who come to help.

After graduate school and working for KCET, the nation's biggest independent public TV station, Stettler made her way back to New York. She created a detailed plan A and a plan B, in case the first didn't work out — something she said she always does.

"People don't know about all of the plan A's that I had along the way. They just see all the very successful plan B's."

Her current job is the plan B, she said.

Her life has followed a motto she learned from her mom: "There's no such thing as failure. It's either a success or an education." To which Stettler adds: "And a really good story."

Stettler embraces the idea that life is a series of systems, rather than goals, something Adams also promotes in his book.

Once she hits a goal, she starts looking for ways to move forward.

She has learned that in order to achieve success, "you have to learn how to fail."

"I've been in that place where it's like the world loses its color and everything turns grey and you feel like you're sort of trapped in a box and you'll never get out," she said.

These times are temporary, she said, and can be used as learning tools.

"You're not your failures, you're not your successes. Your identity is just you and what you love to do."

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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