Failing To Succeed

How Wayne Root failed his way to the top . . . and how you can, too.
Magazine Contributor
10 min read

This story appears in the July 1996 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Straight out of college, Wayne Root launched several businesses-and watched each one fold. Not yet out of his 20s, Root's life looked to be a shambles. Except for one thing. With each failure, he learned a little bit more and finally realized there is joy in failure: "Fail enough, and you will eventually fail your way to the top," says Root today.

His life is proof. With no background in sports broadcasting and with that string of business failures on his resume, Root set his sights on being a national sports broadcaster-and got rejected by hundreds of TV stations. But he persevered until Financial News Network (FNN), a cable network, offered him a job as its weekend sports anchor. From there, he leapfrogged to USA Networks, where he's a regular on "Proline," a weekly sports prognostication show. Just 35 years old, he lives a dream life in a Malibu, California, mansion.

Now he's decided to spread his message of the joy of failure, and companies are eagerly paying him between $5,000 and $15,000 per day to hear his pep talks. He's signed to host a weekly inspirational radio show, and, what's more, he's the author of a new book titled (what else?) The Joy of Failure! (Summit Publishing Group).

"Every time I fail, I know I'm that much closer to the success I want. Don't kid yourself-if you want to win big, you will lose big along the way. That's why my program for turning failure into success is so important for entrepreneurs," says Root. Read on to learn more about his program for success.

Entrepreneur:How can you say there's joy in failure?

Wayne Root: When I tell people I've had businesses that failed and have gone through bankruptcy, they think these are negatives, terrible things. Certainly, nobody wants this to happen-but there is also no question that all those things brought me to the point I am at today. The problems, pain, adversity I experienced have allowed me to live the life of my dreams-and that's why I talk about "The Joy of Failure" and how I've failed my way to the top.

Talking about it lets the millions of people out there who are mired in pain know that 1) you can live through it, and 2) failure can lead to something great. My personal example proves that. So do Steven Jobs, Sly Stallone and Bill Clinton-all have suffered failures, but look where they are today. There are so many great successes who, along the way, had to overcome terrible failure-and that means there's hope for all of us. The root of success is failure.

Entrepreneur:When did this idea click for you?

Root: When I saw my father die. Growing up, what I saw in my father was a man who had no passions. He worked long hours at a job he hated.

Later, when I'd gotten my big break and was a national TV anchorman, I got a call from my father. He had been diagnosed with cancer. As he lay dying, we talked a lot, and I learned how sad he was. His big dream in life was to go around the world, but he actually never went anywhere.

My sadness turned to shock when he told me he was scared for me because I'd had so many failures, so many disappointments. "What is he talking about?" I thought. "I'm on TV, I have a home in Malibu and a wonderful wife." Then, suddenly, it all made sense to me, and I figured out the theme that I wanted to share with the world. It's the reason my father never accomplished his dreams-he'd been afraid of failure his entire life, so he'd never taken risks.

There are millions of people just like my father. They don't see that by spending their lives afraid of failure, their lives become failures. But when you go out there and risk as I have, you'll have failures along the way, but eventually the result is great success if you are willing to keep risking.

If you want to win big, you have to be prepared to lose big. For every big "yes" in life, there will be 199 "nos." That's how success works, and that's why failure is good.

Entrepreneur:Is attitude the key?

Root: You do need the right attitude-but you need more than that to succeed. This is where so many motivational speakers sell their audiences short. They offer inspiration but not [concrete lessons for] becoming great. So much motivational material is reminiscent of the Nike commercial-"Just Do It!" But if people knew how to do it, they wouldn't need the motivator in the first place! Inspiration may make you feel good, but you've got to be shown how to do it.

Entrepreneur:So where's the beef? How do we turn failure around?

Root: Here's the first step: Develop positive addictions. I say that, and most people say, "Aren't addictions bad?" Well, I want you to know, I'm an addict. I'm a visualization addict-I "see" in my mind positive things occurring in my life, and that's one way I program myself for success. I'm also a goal-planning addict and a healthy diet addict.

Look around America, and you'll discover 90 percent of us need reprogramming. Faced with failure, most people choose addictions to drugs, alcohol, food. They do not turn to the positive addictions that will get them through the bad moments in life.

Success in business has to do with what you put in your body and mind-the thoughts and the food-and you have it in your power to put in only the positive ingredients that will help you face and overcome the inevitable failures on the path to big successes.

Entrepreneur:Back when TV executives were essentially laughing at you, why didn't you quit your dream?

Root: They were literally laughing at me. I know because I couldn't get an agent, and I was playing my own agent. Several called up and told my agent-me-that Wayne Allyn Root was "a joke," "an embarrassment."

Why did I keep going in the face of terrible failure? Whenever I was rejected, I used my positive addictions to put me in a positive frame of mind, something that would help me keep going. Plus, I had a great faith in and commitment to what I wanted to do. That's essential, and it comes above all else.

Goals are crucial-no one should underestimate their importance. But there's something much more important than goals, and that's having the commitment and the passion to stick with your goals. That's the first of the Power Principles I teach in workshops.

Entrepreneur:Power Principles?

Root: These are the meat and potatoes of attaining success. My Power Principles are fundamental doctrines people all over the world use to be successful. Study their lives, and it's incredible-so many successful people in business, sports, entertainment take the same steps.

Entrepreneur:Exactly what are the "Power Principles"?

Root: First, passion. Look at the people who make it to the top. One feature they have in common is a passion for what they do. This is true in business, politics, sports and entertainment. Even liberals have to admit Newt Gingrich has passion. Even conservatives have to admit Jesse Jackson has passion. These are men who have such strong convictions that even people who hate them have to agree they are successful at what they do. And it's their passion that has let them get to that place.

You cannot win without that passion. It's crucial in facing down failure. When you have passion, you persist despite the temporary setback posed by a failure. No matter your field, have that passion-or find another field where you can be passionate. Without passion, you won't get to the top.

The second Power Principle is energy. People don't make it to the top with low energy. You need stamina to overcome the failures you'll encounter on the road to success. How do you maintain high energy? You eat the right foods, exercise, live a healthy lifestyle. Do that, and you'll have the energy to compete, day in and day out, for the long haul.

Third is discipline. Discipline is essential for getting beyond failure. Every night before I go to bed, I organize the next day, down to the minute. If there's a task I can't get to during the day, it goes on tomorrow's list. You need that attitude to succeed. You can have all the energy in the world, but if that's all you have, you are a wild stallion who tries to do a million things but accomplishes few of them. So get very focused on what you need to be doing to succeed.

The fourth Power Principle is action. In the end, if you haven't taken action, nothing will happen. You have to hit the pavement in pursuit of your goals. You have to take the risks.

John Travolta's career was going nowhere [several years ago] when he was offered a part in a movie by a young director; the pay was $150,000. That's small change to Travolta. But he took the chance, made "Pulp Fiction," and for his next film, he was paid $7 million. When I got my start in radio in New York, I was paid nothing-and I was on every week. But the money didn't matter and neither did the many other sacrifices I had to make in those days because I knew I was on my way to the top. And you will get to the top when you take action and take risks.

Entrepreneur:Let's get specific about your success. How did you get your break on television?

Root: I'd been doing radio-in New York and Chicago and, later, nationally on the NBC network-so I made a TV demo tape, sent it out, and started getting massive rejections. This is when TV executives were telling "my agent"-me-that Wayne Root was a joke. Hundreds of stations turned me down. But I kept sending out tapes and calling TV executives. In fact, I wound up calling FNN 15 times.

The sixteenth time I called, the general manager accepted the call-this was the first time he spoke to me. He invited me in for an interview because his sports announcer had just quit. I went in and was offered the job within the week. That's vivid proof the program works.

Entrepreneur:Couldn't we say you were just very lucky?

Root: You create your "luck" by hard work. "Luck is the residue of design," as [Hall of Fame baseball manager] Branch Rickey said. Getting the FNN job wasn't luck-it was the culmination of a lot of effort, pain and rejection.

Life is not a roll of the dice. Getting to where I am has involved an incredible amount of pain, but if you follow the Power Principles, practice the positive addictions and hear the "nos," eventually you hear the one "yes" that changes your life.

Entrepreneur:What's the bottom line about failure?

Root: You may hear rejection all day long, but when you get that one "yes," it makes it all worthwhile. So understand this-yes, you are getting rejected, but so did I and look where I am today. Failure is good, and when you've failed enough, you will begin to succeed. That's what a successful life is all about.

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