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5 Winners Teach Us How to Learn From Failure

By Joe Kita — from Reader's Digest May 2009

"I failed at everything when I was young, but I just sold my company for $75 million..."
— Bob Williamson, 62, South Florida

In 1970, when I was 24, I hitchhiked to Atlanta and, ironically, ended up on Luckie Street. I was anything but lucky at the time. I was a drug addict and was wanted by police. Everything I owned was in a pillowcase. I had decided I was going to either straighten up or commit suicide. I sold a pint of blood for $7 and got a room for the night at the Luckie Street YMCA. The next day, I landed a job cleaning bricks, then moved into a boardinghouse and slowly started making my way back.

But luck wasn't on my side just yet. I got into a head-on collision in a borrowed car and was hurt so badly, I was in the hospital for three months. While I was there, I took to reading the Bible. I picked it up out of boredom and really thought I would disapprove of it. But I read the New Testament, then the Old, and then the New again—every word of it. And at that moment, I started to feel a gentle, steady pull of encouragement. Even though I had the morals of a junkyard dog, I felt forgiven and even loved.

Shortly after I left the hospital, I met a wonderful young woman, whom I married six months later. She was like something out of The Brady Bunch, as opposite to me as you could imagine, but we've been married now for 38 years and have a large, loving family. I went on to become a pillar of the community and a successful businessman. In fact, I just sold my software company, the ninth business I founded, for $75 million.

I don't believe in coincidence or luck. I believe in God. And if there's a lesson I learned from this, it's that God seems to show his strength and power through weakness. I think he picks the down-and-out on purpose to demonstrate what's possible. But it isn't always an aha moment. He doesn't just bless you and heap on the millions. Rather, God shows you the way and supplies the opportunities. Then it's up to you to set the goals, devise the strategy, and, most important, provide the man-hours. That's the way you get to lucky street.