Here is the full transcript of radio personality Bobby Bones’ TEDx Talk presentation on My Story: Winning By Losing at TEDxNashville conference. This event occurred on March 17, 2017 at Nashville, Tennessee.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: My Story – Winning By Losing – Bobby Bones at TEDxNashville
Hello! Thank you. Thank you. I’m here to talk about screwing up, because that is what I do a lot of. And so it’s all about winning by losing, and it sounds like a foreign concept, because you think, wow, people are good; they win. But really the biggest winners are often the biggest losers from what I have learned. And you know, we look at winners and we see basically their byline.
What we see is someone who is super successful and why they’re super successful, we see a few lines about them. But what we don’t see are the years, the days, the minutes that they put into, of just straight failure to be able to get where they are.
And people tend to fail upward and that’s what we don’t get to see, because, again, we only get to see the polished product. Now, for me, losing is a tool. I’ve also hand-drawn all my sketches tonight.
So I’ve learned that using the tool of losing is so great for me, because first of all I tend to lose a lot. My career has been one mess up after another. I’ll probably mess this up. First of all, I tried to do a TED talk before and they rejected me. So — thank you — they said no, that’s not good enough. So I put another one together about not being good enough and they said yes come on up.
And so what I do is I use losing as a tool and I think a lot of us don’t see losing as a positive at all. But if we do, that’s where we can start to succeed.
So what happens with losing is, the first time like this guy here, Walt Disney. Now, you know Walt Disney because he has won more Academy Awards than anyone else. What you may not know about Walt Disney is, Walt Disney was rejected for some nutty theme park idea that he had by like over 300 investors. He created this mouse that they said, hey, that’s going to creep women out.
This guy here, Steve Jobs — I don’t know what you’re laughing at; I hope it’s not my drawings. Steve Jobs basically created the way we all talk to each other now. But Steve Jobs wasn’t always super successful, like Steve Jobs started the company in his garage, true; but he had four, five, six massive product failures. And not only that he was fired from the company that he started, right? These are all people that we know is super successful; they really lost so many times before they were able to make it.
Elvis Presley, the king of rock-and-roll, let’s talk about him for one second, because — we know him as pretty much the greatest American artist of all time. Go to the Opry, they said, hey dude, don’t come back, like you can’t sing. They literally said you shouldn’t come back and play the Opry. You should go back to driving a truck or being a gravedigger which is what he was. He also didn’t get in an Acapella group; they told him he couldn’t act. All this happened to Elvis Presley, like these are three really successful people that we see now and we go wow, those people are so awesome; they must have always been good at what they did, which is not the case at all. And it’s really not the case with anyone.
Hey, there’s me. Now, I want to tell you guys my story, because my story is that of being able to take three steps back to take one step forward, if something is really important to you.
Now a lot of people ask me: how can I be successful? And you know, I’ll go speak at schools; I’ll speak to college kids; I’ll speak to groups. They say what is the key to being successful? My answer is always the same exact thing: it’s just to fail and then to fail and to fail.
And there are two things that you can learn why you fail. Number one is, Do you have the resilience to bounce back after you fail? That’s the most important thing and I think that’s the thing you see with super successful people over and over again. It said it doesn’t matter how many times you knock them down, they get back up. That’s number one.
Number two, to be successful is, Okay you get back up but what did you learn. That’s a very important part of it.
If you can do those two things, if you can lose, if you can fail and you can get back up and you can learn from why you fail, and continue to do that over and over again, that’s where success comes from.
I grew up in a small town called Mountain Pine, Arkansas, not really the greatest culture if you want to be someone who gets out; it’s a sawmill town, 700 people the population. And so for me I wanted to get out; I wanted to build this mega empire of radio and books and TV and I wanted to do comedy. You know, there wasn’t a lot of that for me. But I knew that in order to get out, I would have to start somewhere and I wanted to do radio.
And so I grew up in a town where there wasn’t a lot – 50% under the poverty level, most people ride around the level and just a few above. They had above-ground pools. Yeah, sweet.
And so I grew up with a grandma who raised me. I grew up with a mom who at times was in and out as I was adopted by my grandmother at times. My mom had a drug addiction problem, died in her 40s and suffered through alcohol abuse her entire life. And so it wasn’t always the easiest time for me and I always felt resentful about that. I thought there are so many people with safety nets out there that I wish I was like that. I wish that I would have had something to fall back on and it wasn’t later into life that I realized the fact that I had nothing to fall back on was actually the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
So as I talk about winning and losing and failing and succeeding, I think we grew up or taught so much different than what the real world is. We’re taught that if you’re good at something, you just succeed. That’s not how it works. If you’re good at something, you try and you learn and you get better, you take the losses and then you succeed, and sometimes it takes a month, sometimes it takes ten years.
For me, I was upset because I never had a safety net. Little did I know that that is why, it was that made me succeed. I had two plans. I had plan A. Plan A was to be on the radio to have my own radio show. Plan B was to go back to plan A at all times. So I have Plan A. You laugh; that was it. I had nowhere else to go.
So because I had no other job, I couldn’t go to be an accountant, I couldn’t go to my cousin’s Walgreens and work there. It was only this — and I’m thankful that that’s what happened to me now. And it took me a long time to realize that.
Mountain Pine, Arkansas, love my hometown, there wasn’t a lot there for me. Frosted flakes, expensive cereal, didn’t get to eat it. At Mountain Pine, we didn’t get frosted flakes. We got frosty flags. We didn’t get that — they’re great, we got like the weird giraffe, is like they’re all right, like borders on trademark infringement, you copy, but I love where I came from because it really did make me.
And I was rejected from 32 radio stations and I know that number exactly, because I hate them all. And so I drew some of them here, my favorite was I was [accidentally] rejected by station called WBUT. I sent off 32 of what they call airchecks with me doing a show and with me writing these things, like I want to be on your radio and nobody was like you’re good enough to come be on the radio. So — but what I would do every single time is I would say why am I not good enough, and I’d bounce up, I would learn and I would do it again.
I’ll tell you about my first job. I went to a station called US97. It was a small country station in Hot Springs, Arkansas and I go to the station. And they say to me you’re not good enough to be on the air. And I say, okay, I didn’t get the job.
I went across the street to a station called KLAZ and I said, hey, I’m not here for radio job. I’m here to clean the front of the building. And they said, oh, cool, you’re hired. And I was like, cool, I got in. So what I learned from A was I’m not good enough to be on the radio but what I wanted was to get inside the building. So I took that loss; I took the knowledge from it. I got back up but went across the street and I got a job there.
Now lucky for me there are a lot of thieves in communication, and they stole a bunch of equipment at the radio station and they put me on the air; and it was fantastic. And then I applied to all these stations here, including BUTFM and I didn’t get on. And finally it worked out for me.
I also just sketched a bunch of girls who rejected me too. I could also list them by name, if you wanted, but a lot of rejection there. I’m a very hot rock star girlfriend now, but she’ll dump me and we’ll be through this again next year; we’ll do the same thing. So there’s that, if my career was like one of those IMDB movie reviews like percentage-wise, I’d be like Joe Dirt 2, right? Like I’d be about 10% successful in the things that I do but that’s okay because it’s that small 10% that really makes a difference. Nobody looks at the losses, everybody only sees the successes. The question is: can you weather through all the losses — and let me tell you the story about me in a book here.
So I go to a book publisher, and say I want to write a children’s book. And they say, okay, tell me the story of your children’s book. I said well, it’s about a kid, he doesn’t fit in; he has a humungous head, everybody makes fun of him. Yes, it’s me; thank you very much.
Yes, and so they say, no. I went to six different publishers. On the seventh they said we don’t think that, that is good but we want you to come back, we want you to tell us your life story. So I said okay. I went back and I told them how I grew up and I told them about being adopted by my grandma and the struggles with my mom, and my career, going through radio. And they said, well, we think you should write a book about your life because I think your story actually touches the lives of a lot of people.
And for me I always felt alone, until I wrote this book, and people come up to me and say, wow, I thank you for sharing this story about addiction, or this story. And this book only came because I was rejected seven times for doing a children’s book. And now I’m going to write a children’s book. It’s one of the things coming up, it’s funny how it all circles back around.
One of the awesome things because of the success that I’ve had is that I go back to my hometown and there’s a sign that says Mountain Pine population 772 and I give a scholarship to a kid at my high school. And when I was driving into town, the coolest thing that’s ever happened in my career and in my life was I drove back into my small town and they put a sign up they said welcome to the boyhood home of Bobby Bones. And I know it’s a small town and you don’t go through it or you don’t — but it really like I wanted to cry when I saw the sign because it was my town saying we’re proud of you. And you know, that’s what I search for.
And so to me that was awesome, and I think of people like this is Michael Jordan right here, a lot of people would compare me to him, and almost 30 times he took the game-winning shot and missed the game-winning shot and that’s what he talks about that defines him. It wasn’t shots that he made, it was the shots that he missed because he learned, wow, that ain’t so bad, and I can do it again next time and do better. And so because of that I’m like Michael Jordan.
I want to show you guys this here. This is my bank statement. I’ve been in radio like five years and this is — that’s, no don’t laugh; that’s $21 or $27. This is really my bank statement. So after I finished – and I get my paycheck and I paid all my bills. I had $27 to live off of and I’ve been right here for like five years, finish school, all this. And I love this. Since I loved my job, it was easy for me because if you love what you do you’re going to work harder at it, if you work hard at it, you’re going to be more successful. That’s how I feel about life in general.
And so this is my bank statement at $27, when I’ve been ready a few years. I never chased money and I think if you love what you do, you should never chase money, because it’s not about money; it’s about the love of what you do. This is my bank statement here, and I want to show you this is so weird for me to do this. I want to show you my bank statement now. Hold on, oh, I’m under-estimating but hold on a minute.
I want to leave you guys on something I wrote right before I came. I’m just going to talk like this because apparently I have the weirdest ear in the whole world. A poem that I wrote – this is called a slam poem, and it’s basically about this and I hope you take away from this that it’s okay to fail. Failing is awesome. The more you fail, the more you learn. Get back up and do it again. The greatest winners in America, the greatest winners in the world were also the biggest failures. Period. So go fail your brains out, because that is awesome.
Now here we go, I’m going to hit you with the slam poem and then I’m going to walk off. All right. Cool.
Even Disney got fired the opposite of winning. He wasn’t creative enough and now we love Mickey and Minnie. Honest Abe, he failed at business, how much lower can you get, he lost a state election but then he was our 16th president.
Colonel Sanders was turned down, we almost never ate KFC, a couple of hundred times they said no to his chicken recipe. And as you know how many jobs Steve’s was fired from, now we’re swiping Apple so much, we’re getting blisters on our thumbs.
Oprah was fired as a mere reporter at the age of 23 and then she became the highest-paid person on all of network TV. The Beatles, they were turned down by some record label jerk; could you imagine telling Paul McCartney that his music wouldn’t work. And Elvis was told, you won’t make it as a singer, go back to driving a truck, go back to being a gravedigger. And I don’t stand here before you as the picture of success, I just got real good at losing and I’m trying to hang on longer than the rest.
Thank you very much.
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