A year ago, I was an idiot. I spent 10% of my company’s annual revenues, about half our profits, on a harebrained marketing scheme that didn’t pan out. I did this instead of paying a vendor. Because I ended up in debt to this vendor, I ended up selling off most of my client list to him. But this left me without many clients, or revenues, and I had to build my company back up from practically nothing. In retrospect, I should have paid the vendor, kept my clients, and today I’d be far ahead of where I am. But I was an idiot, and I made a bad decision. And this is good.

No, it’s not good that I made a bad decision. It’s good that I now recognize it as a bad decision. If I can look at myself a year ago and say “What was I thinking?!” that’s good because it means I’m still progressing.

Sure, there are people who seem to make all the right decisions from the beginning. I envy those people even as I pity them. I envy them for being far ahead of where I am even though I’ve been working at it longer than they have, for having things seemingly fall into their laps while I struggle, and for having cash in the bank while I’m in debt. I pity them because I imagine they have no concept of overcoming real difficulties, of truly struggling and being at wit’s end and then finding the solution that makes you want to cry because it’s a ray of hope when you thought there was no hope, because they don’t know what it means to feel like a failure and not be able to stop. Because maybe they’ve never felt like an idiot, and then been able to say “Hey, I might not be all that bright, but at least I’m not as much of an idiot as I was a year ago. That guy I was a year ago was really dumb!”

I probably misjudge other folks, which is why I try not to judge at all. I don’t know what other people have really been through. A lot of people think I’m much more successful than I ever have been. When I’m tempted to judge and compare, I remind myself that the race isn’t between me and anyone else. I shouldn’t care if someone else is ahead of or behind me, even if I could accurately judge our relative positions. What matters is that I’m ahead of where I was last week, last month, last year. What matters is that every year I can look back at what an idiot I used to be. That’s certainly the case today. I suspect it will be the case a year from now. At least I hope so.

Supplemental story: What if my marketing scheme had worked? What if, instead of failing and being a drain of money, it had succeeded and I had doubled the size of my business as a result?

One of my mentors was once invited by a friend of his to invest in a residential property. But my mentor didn’t particularly want to invest with this friend of his, so he declined the offer. The friend went ahead and bought the property all by himself. He got a screaming deal on it. “Idiot!” my mentor thought after his friend bought the property. “Why didn’t I do that deal? What was I thinking?!”

Then there was a fire and the property burned to the ground. It was a total loss. “Yes, I am smart,” thought my mentor. “I avoided a catastrophe. I would have lost everything.”

Then the insurance company wrote out a check to his friend for twice the amount his friend had paid to purchase the property. “Idiot!” my friend said to himself. “Why didn’t I do that deal?!”

Poor decisions aren’t poor because of the outcome, they’re bad decisions because of what goes into them, regardless of how circumstances may cloud the issue. My decision was a poor one, even if things had turned out well. I had a commitment to pay a vendor. I should have put that commitment first before taking a large risk. I had 10 birds in my hand. I should have focused on them before going after a few more that were in the bush. That the result of my poor decision was a bad one was to be expected, and in a way, I’m grateful, because I won’t make that mistake again. While that decision could pay off from time to time, I believe making the right decisions pay off more often than the poor ones, even if the poor ones sometimes have a higher chance for reward.