Surviving Failure (and a few Successes) is a bracingly honest book about the struggles of failure and of wild success. It is also a story of hard-won hope and endurance. Here, too, for the first time is the inside story of the off-the-charts publishing sensation, Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook. Good acknowledges the searing questions he faced in the dark times and in the moments of out-of-control success. Who can I trust—and who will trust me? When the false gossip is overwhelming, do I ignore it, or do my best to counter it? The author offers transferable survival tips, weaving in advice from well-known figures who experienced failure yet went on to live productively and positively.
|Publisher:||Walnut Street Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Merle Good is an author, publisher, and playwright. He was the publisher of the phenomenally successful Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series, which produced a #1 New York Times bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies.
Read an Excerpt
Surviving the Darkest Hours
In July, 1996, after our company filed for Chapter 11 Reorganization, my wife and business partner, Phyllis, and I were devastated. In the year leading up to the crisis, we had tried everything we could think of to increase sales, cut expenses, and avoid catastrophe.
Neither of us had any experience with bankruptcy, so we had no idea what to expect next. But we knew it would be difficult, messy, and unpleasant.
It was. The only way to survive was to place one foot in front of the other.
We lived moment by moment. We took a legal pad and outlined each of those first days into 10-minute slots, carefully tracking what absolutely needed to be done during that time. Bankruptcy seemed less common in those days. I did not know of anyone who had gone through Chapter 11. It was all new, all terrifying, and completely humiliating.
One thing could not be denied. It was my failure. The company had been built around the vision and creative projects that Phyllis and I had developed together over the previous 26 years, ever since our company had been formed in 1970 (a few months after we had gotten married in August, 1969).
We had 50 shareholders and about 50 staff members in our various projects, including book publishing, an arts magazine, two outstanding museums, a ceramic gallery and a fine art gallery, various annual educational programs, a sandwich shop, and several retail shops and stores.
(From 1968 through 1977 we had operated a summer theater, producing 40 performances a year, most of them original plays — or dramas with music — that I had written. In 1973, we had also produced a nationally released movie, based on my novel, starring Academy-Award-winning actress Geraldine Page and the great actor Pat Hingle.)
But the crash landing in July 1996 was clearly my fault. Who else could be blamed?
Phyllis was amazingly tough. I, on the other hand, felt like shattered glass inside. I could hardly breathe, I was so distraught. For the first time in my life I sought the help of a psychiatrist, and the meds he prescribed definitely steadied me.
But it was war. Creditors came after us from every direction. Even though the court's stay is designed to give the Debtor time to reorganize, creditors still tried to have us removed from the leadership of the company so they could take over our company's assets. And it was understandable. People were frightened about losing their money and, just like politicians sometimes do, they stirred up fear and spared no efforts in ridiculing me. Some publicly talked down the value of our company's assets with the hope of buying them at a fraction of their value.
In the middle of this constant day-to-day battle for survival, Phyllis and I needed to find a way to not be swept away with the overwhelming sense of instability and loss. I can understand why so many persons in similar circumstances resort to walking away from the whole situation rather than trying to stay at the helm and deal with the daily hand-to-hand combat and anger.
In those fatal days when Phyllis and I were beginning to realize that we needed to file for Chapter 11 in order to reorganize, to save as much of the creditors' money as possible, I made two commitments.
First, I would make myself as big a target as possible in order to protect staff, managers, the board of directors, and family members. If there was any chance of our company surviving, I needed to shield those around us by drawing as much of the venom and blame to myself as possible, even if others may have been partly responsible.
I was determined to see if we could save our company (about $4 million in annual sales) and return as much money to our creditors as possible.
(A short primer here — Chapter 11 is when the owners of a company try to reorganize that company and its assets based on a detailed Plan of Reorganization, which the creditors and court must approve. If successful, the company can continue, under certain restrictions. A vast majority of companies that go into Chapter 11 never emerge from it and are liquidated. Chapter 7 under the Bankruptcy Code is when a company files for liquidation, with no chance of survival, and the court appoints a trustee to oversee said liquidation.)
So back to my first goal — I wanted to give shelter to all of the people around me (staff, managers, board, and family) so that, if we were able to get a Plan of Reorganization approved, our company could continue, return as much money to the creditors as possible, and save as many of our staff's jobs as we could. How to do this? One major factor would be for me to draw as much of the scathing criticism and anger to myself as possible.
Privately I told the Chair of our Board that I wanted him to understand the decision I had made. If I was personally attacked in the press, in some mass mailing from a creditor, or in some public meeting, I would probably not respond. I would, for the most part, not defend myself against all of the vicious things being said about me personally. Not because they were true, but because defending myself was not the most important urgency. But if the assets of the company were attacked or misrepresented (such as "that real estate is really not worth much" or "those publishing assets have no value"), I would speak up and defend those assets. My goal was for our small company to come out the other end of this and to pay off as many of our debts as possible.
Secondly, I wanted to do everything we could to protect our two daughters, one entering her second year in college and the younger one entering her senior year in high school. God knows, they had done nothing to deserve this poisonous atmosphere.
In truth, they were the two best daughters any father could imagine having — thoughtful, industrious, creative, funny, respectful, and conscientious. Phyllis and I always tried not to brag about them but, in fact, we felt so fortunate that God had given us these two wonderful beings who were so loving and from whom we learned so much.
I wanted to do whatever I could to shield them from the ferocious storm. The first thing we did was to change our home phone to an unlisted number, so they would not be answering our phone (before widespread use of cell phones) and hearing threatening and mean-spirited messages. Some creditors put out the word that this proved that we were hiding from accountability. But enduring such untrue accusations was a small price to pay for a safe space for the four of us. In large part, I think our daughters would agree that our home became a safe place for our family during that excruciating time.
When something so crushing descends on you, you can barely breathe, barely sleep, barely put one foot in front of the other. But staff are depending on you, decisions need to be made, and a Plan of Reorganization needs to be developed in a hostile environment.
How to go on?
Phyllis and I developed a ritual of repeating four sayings out loud to each other every day. This routine became pivotal to our making it through those terrible days.
I share them here, hoping that perhaps in whatever situation you find yourself, these four sayings may be helpful, maybe even comforting.
1. "We did what we could."
In our case, we felt that way. We had done what we could, even though it was not enough. Not that we didn't make mistakes along the way. We did. But, in general, in hindsight, we honestly believed that we had given the situation 200% of our best energies, insights, and toughness.
Maybe we should never have tried to cobble together a series of arts-related projects into a business. That decision, made two and a half decades earlier, may have been the cardinal mistake.
But in 1996, things being as they were at that time, we could honestly look each other in the eyes and say, "We did what we could." And repeating that to each other every day became a lifeline of sanity.
Not that it was enough. We did fail. No hiding that. But there was at least some comfort and perspective in knowing we had done our best under difficult circumstances. Others may disagree, but in our own heart of hearts, we believed that our failure was not the result of neglect or lack of effort. Repeating that phrase each day anchored us in a bit of reality and honesty. "We did what we could."
2. "There are good days, even in the morgue."
Sounds disturbed and a bit macabre?
Maybe. But think about it. Could I work in the morgue if it was the only way to survive, to make enough income for food? Probably. Though I'd like to explore at least a hundred other jobs before I'd agree.
If I had no choice and ended up spending my days in the morgue, would each day be the worst? Would there be no redeemable moments? Would there be no sense of accomplishment, no flicker of the living among this work with the dead, no smile or moment of humor?
What Phyllis and I experienced in those days many times felt worse than death. And one ritual that helped us to survive was to remind each other to be alert every day for a sliver of hope, a tiny ray of sunshine in the middle of a life that seemed reduced to gruesome humiliation and grisly distress.
"There are good days, even in the morgue." It's true, if you think about it. That's the key. Take time to recognize that there is almost no situation where there is absolutely no hope.
3. "We can only do what we can do."
Faced with extreme pressures and deadlines, a hostile environment, and lots of persons pretending goodwill and helpfulness while exhibiting ulterior motives, we found it hard to put one foot in front of the other. Truly. What was the point? Seemed we'd never get out of this miserable dungeon we'd fallen into.
This third saying we repeated to each other at least once a day was a recognition that we had limited capacity, we weren't superheroes, we simply couldn't get everything done today or even tomorrow. "We can only do what we can do."
We were not quitting or throwing up our hands, you understand. No, we would try to go on. But we needed to be realistic about our expectations and about our demands on ourselves.
Let's imagine that a tornado roars through and destroys all of our property, possessions, dreams, and memories, reducing them to a pile of rubble. Devastating. But after some time to catch our breath and to survey the damage, we face several choices:
a) We can walk away and leave everything behind.
b) We can sit on that rubble pile until we die, either of starvation or of heartbreak.
c) We can begin, step by step, moment by moment, to organize, clean up, and re-build.
After any tornado, we have choices. It may not feel like it, but we do.
We need to find persons who can help us to catch our breaths, to focus our energies, to fight the urge to permit the overwhelming loss to immobilize us because recovery seems too big a task.
I had Phyllis. I was extremely fortunate. And every day we repeated to each other, "We can only do what we can do." It helped us to go on, even in the middle of intense anxiety.
4. "Some day, we will get to the other side."
Sometimes the days are so dark and the future so dismal that just surviving seems too optimistic. What's the point? Why not pull the wreckage on top of myself and create a tomb or a burial, and disappear?
At such moments, it only makes things worse when people around you go all cheery and optimistic. It only adds to your pain and sense of despair to be told that everything will be okay when clearly things are terrible.
I believe that, at times of great loss and dejection, it is important not to give up. It is very tempting to do so. Why not just surrender and quit?
Because your life is not over. If it were, you wouldn't be reading this. It is a dark chapter in your life, to be sure. But it does not need to be the last chapter or the final verdict.
When I feel lost in an unfriendly forest, the only way to survive is to believe that I can definitely find my way out to a clearing, or to an elevation where I can see better how to get to safety.
"Some day we will get to the other side." I'm not saying that such a hope guarantees prosperity or health. But essential to survival is believing that there's a time coming when I will overcome the tentacles of shame and fear that grasp me now.
You may need another person whom you totally trust to help you with this. God bless me, I had Phyllis.
In truth, many persons reached out to us in those days, saying how much they cared for us. But unfortunately, on closer scrutiny, in most cases we realized that they harbored less than pure motives. They wanted information, perhaps, so they would have the power to tell others "the facts," inflating their own importance. Or they wanted an inside track to buying some of our assets for a fraction of their value. Or they wanted to share with others the fragile nature of our emotional state and use that to drive us from leadership.
In the end, we could count on two hands the persons we truly trusted. So I am sympathetic with the view that, in times of devastating trouble, it is hard to find persons you can trust.
Also, in times of trauma, we often no longer trust our own judgment any more. "I've lost faith in myself."
Nevertheless, I highly recommend that you find another living, breathing human being with whom you can daily repeat these words — "I believe that some day I will get to the other side of this."
If not, if you can't trust anyone, then trust that person you see in the mirror. And repeat, every day, as that friend in the mirror faithfully joins you: "Some day we will get to the other side."CHAPTER 2
Know Your Treasure
I had my first thing published when I was 11. A little poem about snow, in a children's periodical.
Several years later, as a teenager, I attended a writers' conference in the Midwest and heard the story of a writer who was asked what it took for him to achieve his success. In answer, he handed the questioner one end of a sturdy string and then walked to the far end of the stage, holding the other end of the string.
When the string was fully stretched, the audience could see that it had many pieces of paper attached to it.
"You're looking at 300 rejection slips," the writer said. "That's how I succeeded."
In the old days, a rejection slip was what a writer received from an editor when the editor returned an unsolicited piece of writing which had been submitted to the editor's magazine or publishing house. The language was boilerplate but courteous. "We regret that your submission does not meet our current needs."
These days many publishers have a policy that says something like, "If you do not hear from us in 90 days, assume that your submission is not of interest to us." But some small and medium-sized publishers still send rejection slips or notices by email.
What is the meaning of a rejection slip or notice?
Really, it's rather simple. "Your writing has failed to catch our interest." It's definitely a notice of failure.
Regardless of how innocuous the note, it means only one thing — "No." Slammed door. Your stuff's not good enough. You failed.
During my early teen years, I had literally dozens of essays, short stories, and poems published in small periodicals. But I also received dozens, maybe hundreds, of rejection slips. Sometimes the editor would scrawl a personal note on the pre-printed form. "Nice to hear from you." Or "Maybe next time."
One displeased editor even made the effort to be painfully frank with me — "Please take the time to read some good poetry before sending me anything else." Not hard to mistake the implications. Such scolding can rock the self-confidence of a teenager.
But he had a point. Most of my pieces were mediocre at best. I had a lot to learn. The overwhelming prospect was that I would never be as good a writer as I hoped to be.
On the other hand, enough readers were connecting with my writings that I received many words of encouragement and was thought by some to be a promising writer.
That was decades ago. Living on a farm with no radio or television, eons before computers, I found that the daily delivery of mail to our mailbox at the end of our lane was a major event. (The mailbox was a quarter of a mile from our farmhouse.)
I always searched for any SASE — "self-addressed, stamped envelopes" — in each day's mail. Enclosing a SASE was required in those days. That way, said editor could just shove your rejected manuscript into that envelope which you had enclosed with your submission and shoot it back to you. If sufficient postage was not enclosed, your precious writing went into the waste can, spilling over there beside that heartless editor's desk.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Surviving Failure (and a few Successes)"
Copyright © 2018 Merle Good.
Excerpted by permission of Walnut Street Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
First Word 5
Part 1 What Happened? 7
1 Surviving the Darkest Hours 9
2 Know Your Treasure 21
3 Facing the Public 35
4 Ambushed by Success 58
5 Benevolent Capitalism? 81
6 Surviving Success 87
7 Oh, Please God, Not Again! 108
Part 2 What, if Anything, Did I Learn (that might be helpful to others)? 143
8 Let's Be Honest 145
9 Two Realities in Tension 146
10 Assigning Blame-Or Not 148
11 Flawed Persons May Be Trusted More 157
12 How Much Is Enough? 159
13 A Word about Faith 164
14 Learning to Be Thankful 173
15 A Last Word 179
About the Author 184