Failure and Nike, the Goddess of Victory



In episode 6 of the highly acclaimed HBO series Winning Time, an actor portraying Nike co-founder Phil Knight had a cameo in which he offered then-rookie basketball player Magic Johnson the chance to sign a deal involving shares of the early company. Magic passed this up to work with Converse, thus missing out on what would have become billions of dollars in stock.


“Oh, he regrets it,” says Knight’s character, looking directly at the camera. Ah, hindsight.


It’s hard to remember that even the titans of industry, like Nike, were, at one point, infants. It’s hard to remember that the venerable Goddess of Victory herself was once tethered to a company on the brink of bankruptcy and disaster. But such is the nature of entrepreneurship.


In his memoir entitled, Shoe Dog, Phil Knight explains the origins of his company and goes into great detail regarding the hardships and struggles they faced in the early years. As they plowed forward, past multiple bank rejections, a complicated legal entanglement, copyright issues, and bounced checks, the team of misfit heroes at the helm of what would become the world’s largest athletic apparel company soldiered on.


After a particularly harrowing story in the memoir, Knight recalls, “Fear of failure, I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. Not that any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith that we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it.”


If there’s a central lesson in Knight’s story, it’s just that—one can’t achieve success if one is afraid of failure.


The sentiment is echoed by countless pioneers including Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) who, in her Masterclass on Entrepreneurship, explains that failure should be re-defined to mean not trying in the first place.


Redefining failure is essential if we are to pursue successful lives. Redefining failure is essential if we are to dream big, to chase our goals, to realize our ambitions.


Not all of us will attain a net worth of $42.2 billion dollars (Phil Knight’s net worth as of 2022), but we can all apply the same level of grit and determination it takes to move beyond the stumbling blocks and seemingly insurmountable obstacles and live the lives we are meant to live.




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