LinkedIn and Home Depot founders tried and tried again until they found success

Much of Thomas Edison’s life went up in flames when his West Orange, N.J., factory caught fire in 1914. As the fire raged, Edison’s 24-year-old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father. He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his white hair blowing in the wind.

Charles’ heart ached for his father. Edison was 67 at the time, and everything was gone. When he saw his son, he shouted, “Charles, where’s your mother?” Then he said, “Find her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives.”

The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Leaders always look for the positive, even in the direst of circumstances. This story about Edison, which came from Bits & Pieces magazine, is a prime example.

As daunting as it may seem, you can start anew. There doesn’t have to be a fire, and it doesn’t have to be the beginning of a new year. Think about what you really want. Some things are hard to let go of, to leave behind. But letting go need not be the end of the world. Think of it instead as an opportunity you can’t pass up.

Author Marsha Petrie Sue said: “Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been and look at what can be.”

The world is full of people who changed their lives or jumped to a new career and started anew.

Reid Hoffman began his professional life in academia, but soon caught the entrepreneurship bug. After working for Apple in the ’90s and attempting to set up social networking for the company, he formed another social networking platform called SocialNet in 1997. After that company went bankrupt, he applied all his knowledge to what became the world‘s premier platform for career networking: LinkedIn.

Brad Pitt at one time chauffeured strippers to and from bachelor parties. He also worked as a furniture mover and dressed up as a giant chicken mascot for the restaurant chain El Pollo Loco. He enrolled in acting classes with the dream of a movie career. Within seven months, he signed with an agent and today is one of the most famous and recognizable superstars in the world.

Pope Francis went from being a bouncer at a Buenos Aires nightclub and working as a janitor during the day to becoming pontiff (granted, with a few stops in between). But he proved that big leaps, even unusual or almost impossible ones, are worth taking.

The husband-and-wife team of Tim and Nina Zagat behind the popular dining surveys were corporate lawyers when they first started printing their Zagot restaurant guides. The guides became so popular that the couple left their already prestigious jobs.

Bernie Marcus was fired in 1978 as chair of Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers. I learned in interviewing Marcus for my book “We Got Fired … and It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us” that the following year, he and Arthur Blank decided to open a huge home-improvement store called the Home Depot. Today, of course, Home Depot is the largest home-improvement retailer, with more than 2,300 stores.

From inauspicious beginnings to dreams come true, these stories are repeated every day all over the world. There’s no reason why the next big story can’t be about you.

Mackay’s Moral: Starting anew is the beginning of a new you.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail [email protected].

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