How to Learn from Your Successes

We all know about the importance of learning from mistakes. “Fail forward,” as they say. But we shouldn’t just look at our successes as magical moments when everything went right and think these experiences do not hold significant lessons of their own.

In the last episode of The Lede, Demian and I discussed mistakes that have taught us valuable lessons. In this week’s episode, we flip the script and talk about successful moments that taught us just as much.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The value of understanding how you accomplished an achievement.
  • Recognizing and honoring the co-creators of your successes.
  • Why passion and enthusiasm often accompany success.
  • The smart way to think about attention.
  • Overcoming imposter syndrome and trusting yourself.
  • Celebrating your successes, but knowing when to move on.

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The Show Notes



Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: How to Learn from Your Successes

Jerod Morris: Welcome back, everybody, to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media that is hosted by me, Jerod Morris, and Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger’s Chief Copywriter.

The Lede is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, which is our second in-person, live conference that we are holding in May of this year, May 13–15, in beautiful Denver, Colorado at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

And I can’t wait. I loved our conference last year, Authority Intensive, as did many of you, and I’m really, really looking forward to this year’s conference.

The lineup of keynote speakers is unbelievable with Henry Rollins and Sally Hogshead, and Chris Brogan, and Dan Pink. And then the rest of the lineup of speakers is just incredible.

It’s a list that I am quite honored to be on. I’m really looking forward to speaking there. But more than that, just really looking forward to the chance to be able to connect with so many people in the Copyblogger audience. That was my favorite part about the conference last year.

For a lot of people that I talked to, that was their favorite part as well: To be able to make those personal connections and just talk with other people who are out there doing content marketing.

To be able to swap stories and share tips and talk about what’s working and what’s not working, and then create those connections so that you can help each other out all throughout the year, when you have a question or if you’re looking for someone to work with.

That is such a valuable part of conferences like these. So if any of that is interesting to you, I really urge you to come to our conference. Again, it’s Authority Rainmaker. It’s May 13–15 in Denver, Colorado.

Go to for details, and if you have any questions, just send me a tweet: @JerodMorris. I’d be happy to share any of the details with you, and just share some of my experiences from last year.

And this one will be even bigger and better than last year’s was. So I hope to see a lot of you there.

All right. Well, if you listened to our last episode of The Lede, it was called “How to Learn From Your Mistakes.” Demian and I got a little more personal, and we shared some of the important professional mistakes that we’ve made and how we learned from them — what lessons we took from them, and really, what kind of mindset is important to have so that you can learn from your mistakes, so that you can be better the next time.

And today is the flip side of that. We’re going to talk about some successes, and we’re going to talk about some moments when we experienced professional success, and what we learned from it, so that hopefully the next time we are able to build on that success and continue moving forward.

So without any further ado, here is my conversation with Demian Farnworth, talking about how to learn from your success.

Hey there, Demian. How are you doing today?

Demian Farnworth: I’m doing well, Jerod. Recovering, for sure. Recovering.

Jerod: Ah. Recovering from the meeting in Dallas?

Demian: Yeah, from the meeting in Dallas, and we had people staying with us over the last couple of days too, so a full house. Two full-sized families in the same space for quite some time. But yeah. I’m grateful to be back and for seeing you guys in Dallas. That was a lot of fun, and I think Tony Clark said it best: It was a pretty intense two days.

Jerod: It was. It always is when we get together, and it was an intense drive to the airport, too, which I’ll just tease out there. I don’t know if we’ll ever actually publish it as a real episode of The Lede, but we did bring the recorder, and did record a live, in-person episode of The Lede.

Demian: Yeah. It’ll be interesting if that comes out. We were in Dallas, and my son asked me to take a photo of the gargantuan Cowboys football stadium. Jerod, since he lives down there, had a car, so he said “I’ll absolutely take you down there.” So we went, and it was a lot of fun.

Jerod: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’d be a little nervous putting that out there, just because really it’s different from what we’ve done. But the conversation we had was really good.

Demian: Right.

Jerod: And maybe that’s natural as you kind of bust out of your comfort zones, you’re a little bit nervous about trying something new, and frankly, that’s how I felt about this two-part series, which started last week, where we talked about some of our failures and what we learned from them, and the episode was titled “How to Learn From Your Mistakes.”

Demian: Right.

Jerod: And today we’re doing the second edition of that series, which is “How to Learn From Your Successes,” but I have to admit: I was a little nervous to put the “mistakes” one out there, just because I wasn’t sure how people would respond, if people would think that it was kind of irrelevant to what we’re doing, but the response was great.

So thank you to everyone for that, and it just goes to show you that sometimes you don’t know, and you’ve just got to put something out there and trust that the audience will find it useful if you put something useful together.

Demian: Yeah. I saw the same thing, the sort of traction we got on that episode, and I think a lot of people enjoy seeing other people being vulnerable and talking about their weaknesses and their failures.

It reminds them, “Hey, I’m not alone. I’m not such a moron as I like to think that I am.” And so anyway, for those of you who are listening to this, if you would be interested in actually hearing our off-the-cuff football road-bender episode, give us a holler and let us know.

Jerod: Yeah. Let us know, and maybe we will put that one together and put it out there.

Demian: Figure out something to do with it, right?

The value of understanding how you accomplished an achievement

Jerod: Yes. But for today, now we get to beat our chests, Demian.

In our last episode, we had to admit failures, like forgetting to plug in the microphone, and by the way, I did check. We are plugged in here. But in this episode, we will talk about some successes.

I think, of course, it’s important to learn from your mistakes, and that gets talked about often. You make a mistake, learn from it, don’t do it again. But I think there’s a lot of value in learning from your successes, too.

And sometimes we don’t talk about that as much, and so I think it will be interesting to highlight a few times when we were successful and what we learned from that, because obviously you want to build on successes and multiply them, and I think you do that by making sure that you understand why you were successful doing something so that you can replicate that again in the future.

Since I went first last time, Demian, I will turn the floor over to you first this time. What is the first success that you want to highlight, and then tell us what you learned from it?

Demian: I just want to be clear here. We’re talking about professional successes, right?

Jerod: Yes. Yes. Professional successes.

Demian: Because I guess the biggest personal success would be convincing my wife to marry me.

Jerod: Yes.

Demian: Another one would be continuing to convince her, at least persuade her, to stay married.

Jerod: We could do a whole podcast series on that.

Demian: Maybe that’ll be a side project: Marriage Advice from The Wolverine and Our Lord and Savior.

Jerod: (Laughs strongly.) That’d be awesome.

Recognize and honor the co-creators of your successes

Demian: So, yeah. This is a hard one. I don’t know about you. Mistakes are easy to find, right? Because they seem to be just sort of everywhere. And like you said, this is our chance to beat our chests.

I don’t know about you, but I like to win and I like successes, but celebrating them doesn’t come easily to me. So I had to kind of sit back and think through this.

The first one I want to talk about was the native advertising survey, and the reason I think that was a success was because I’d never done a survey of that size before, with the size of the audience that we have.

Of course, working for Copyblogger, we all have the do-it-yourself work ethic. We could have hired somebody to do the survey for us, but that just wouldn’t have made too much sense with our DIY ethic.

I figured out what I needed to do, and then I got some help from Jessica Commins on the back end on how to use gravity forms for the survey to set it up, how to ask the questions, and set the type of responses.

I say that it’s a success because not only did I finish it and get it rolled out, of course I had a lot of help from you guys, too, and there were a lot of support people behind there. But then, actually, we got a ton of responses. Over 2,300, close to 2,400 responses, which is just huge in the sense of getting survey responses. So I viewed that as a great success.

Jerod: Yeah, and I think the other big takeaway from that is just how a lot of times our successes, they’re not just ours, right?

Even if we’re the point person for them. Your name went on that, but there are so many people who had to contribute to a success like that. Which you mentioned, it was a true team effort. You led the team effort, but it required the contributions of so many people.

Demian: And I guess that’s the other reason I had such a hard time thinking about these successes. Unless it’s an article that I wrote by myself, most of my successes are a team effort. There’s teamwork behind it and there are other people behind it, supporting it.

It’s kind of hard. I say it was my success, but I don’t want to hoard the attention or the credit. But I think in that case, by all means, point to the people who have helped in that situation.

Why passion and enthusiasm often accompany success

Jerod: So speaking of team successes, one of our biggest team successes last year at Copyblogger was Authority Intensive, the conference that we put on in Denver in May, and you heard me mention it at the beginning of the show.

Authority Rainmaker is the second conference that we’re doing this coming May. Go to for the details.

As I was coming up with which successes I wanted to talk about, my presentation at Authority Intensive came to mind, and the reason why is that it was only a 10-minute presentation. It was part of a panel.

And frankly, there are so many ways I look back on that presentation and I see so many different ways that it could be better. My slides weren’t very good, and it really was about a 45-minute presentation for only 10 minutes.

I couldn’t really get into any depth with it. And so it really was flawed in so many ways, but I got a lot of good feedback from it afterwards, and I think the reason why the feedback was good is simply because despite all of the issues that it had, my natural enthusiasm and passion for the topic came through.

I think the big-picture point, the importance of servant leadership and a few key ways how you can do it in your own life, that came through. The passion and the enthusiasm came through. And overall, based on the response that I got from people, I considered it a success even though internally there are so many ways I thought that it was a failure.

But I consider it a success, and I guess the lesson that it taught me really is that if you’re going to do anything, make sure that you do it with passion and enthusiasm. Because if you have those two things, it can be flawed in a lot of other ways.

That’s not saying that you want to accept the flaws. You want to get better at those. That’s almost pointing back to learning from your mistakes. But if it’s got passion and enthusiasm, it can make up for so much else that may be lacking. So make sure that you have that, and I think you’ll go so far if you have those two elements.

Demian: Yeah, I have to agree. Talking about passion and enthusiasm. My second success that I’m going to talk about is working for myself. And not so much working for myself, because that only lasted for about 18 months.

About eight months in I realized I did not want to do this for the rest of my life, and then spent the next 10 months looking for a full-time job with a company. But I am proud of myself in the sense that I actually did it, because I know you know the story, but maybe a lot of our listeners don’t.

I quit my corporate job without a plan in place. There was no plan A. There was no plan B. There was simply, “I’ve been here too long, and I need to leave,” and just being who I am, unless I’m backed into a corner, I am not going to put up much of a fight.

That was sort of the case. I knew that I needed to get out of there, and I knew that I needed to throw myself into desperate circumstances to do that. So I did it, and it was scary, and I don’t recommend it to anybody.

But in some sense, I’m proud of myself, because that event changed the course of my professional life. And I’ll talk about that on our third success. But now I want to transition to you and your second success, Jerod.

Jerod: Well, if you don’t mind, I want to ask a follow-up question.

Demian: Yeah, yeah.

Jerod: And I guess you can tell me if this needs to go in the third section. You transitioned to working for yourself. Obviously I’m sure you made a lot of mistakes along the way, but if someone were telling you, “Hey, I’m going to do this, so I’m not going to heed your advice” … as you said, you don’t recommend it to anybody.

But if someone said they were going to do it anyway, what lessons did you learn that you could teach him? Like maybe what did you do right? What were some things that you did wrong in terms of properly setting yourself up for success?

Demian: I would just say relax. That experience taught me a lot, and now I can answer a lot of people’s questions who ask, “How much do I charge? How do I get clients?” I learned all those things.

For someone who says, “Okay, I’m quitting my job now. I have no plan in place. I’m just going to go work for myself?” I was able to replace a third of my income almost immediately because of contacts that I had. My advice to those people out there who are in that sort of desperate situation is, just relax and tap into your network. Start calling up contacts you’ve done favors for in the past.

Just ask people. Be bold, and be blunt with people, and say “Hey, listen, I’m working for myself now. Do you, or do you know anybody who might have any work for me?” And you have to be very forceful, and you have to be very deliberate with that. So that’s the advice I would give, and just relax and keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

The smart way to think about attention

Jerod: Okay. So here’s my second success. As a lifetime sports fan, and former sports blogger, I certainly consider it a success to have been on the show Outside the Lines on ESPN. That was always one of my favorite shows.

The fact that I actually got to go on that show, I will always consider a success. But the details of how I ended up there are somewhat interesting, and I think they can teach us a lot that is instructive for our careers as online content creators.

When I was doing Midwest Sports Fans, which was really my first foray into blogging, things were pretty quiet for about five to six months, I guess. I’m not exactly sure how long I’d had the site up.

But it was me, and some friends, and writing sports articles, and I never really thought about a career in blogging, necessarily. It was really more just to have my own WordPress site, to get my hands dirty and learn about all this stuff.

So anyway, one day I wrote this post about a baseball player named Raúl Ibañez, who was having a great start to his season. Someone in my Fantasy Baseball league had mentioned, “Hey, maybe he’s on steroids or something,” so I decided to write the post to disprove it and did all these statistical analyses thinking, “Okay, I’ll find some other reason, like he had gone to a home run-friendly park, or this, that, or the other.

And the ultimate conclusion was, “Well, you know, I guess I don’t think he’s on steroids, but you can’t really disprove it, and since all of these other guys have been on steroids before in baseball, I guess we all just have to live with our suspicions.” Right? It wasn’t calling him out. It was more saying, “This is just Major League Baseball’s problem.”

Anyway, one thing leads to another, and the post ends up getting to him. Like, to the player. And someone asked him about it in the locker room. I’m sure they didn’t read the post. They were probably just like, “Hey, did you hear some blogger accused you of using steroids?”

And he just goes off. And he’s talking about how he’ll give a stool sample, and this little twerp in his mom’s basement, where does he get off saying all this stuff. I mean, it was just this mushroom cloud over 48 hours that ends up with me going on Outside the Lines to defend myself.

I basically got kind of railroaded by a couple of writers who were on there, who I’ve talked to since, and everything’s cool. It was one of those situations where the headline was more inflammatory than the post. So that was the first lesson I learned from that: Most people are only going to read your headline.

Demian: Yeah.

Jerod: So you can either get upset about that, or just understand that that’s how a lot of these things go, especially when it comes to viral content. So make sure you’re okay with that.

But the real lesson that it taught me is that the experience brought a lot of notoriety to the site. I mean, traffic was crazy. People actually knew who I was. It was a lot easier for me then to submit a link to something else, to a big site, and actually have people respond to me.

And it did a lot of good in that sense. But what it really taught me is that attention isn’t really that important. I mean, it is important, but it’s not the most important thing.

Influence and authority are the most important things, because ultimately when I woke up the next day, it was great that this one post had done well, but then it’s about, “Okay, what’s coming next? And what’s coming next?”

If you can take attention and turn it into influence and authority, and people come and they like what you have to say, you get them to become a member of your audience and come back. That’s great, but attention in and of itself doesn’t mean that much.

What’s really funny is that there were two other posts by other bloggers that were about the same stature as mine at the time, that were about the very same topic that had come out a few weeks earlier. But those just kind of fell off into the Internet abyss. No one really paid any attention to those.

Mine, for some reason, just happened to get in front of the right person and again, led all the way to Outside the Lines. So there is a certain amount of viral-ness online, if you don’t have a name already, and that’s kind of like winning the lottery.

And so yes, you want to be ready to capitalize on that when it happens, but you also don’t want to put too much stock into it. Like it didn’t make me that much more qualified just because I went on Outside the Lines.

I just happened to get this opportunity, and then it was all about, “What are you going to do with it from there?” And you’ve written about that, too. You’ve written about how attention is somewhat overrated, because what it’s really about is doing something with that attention and building something that lasts.

Demian: Exactly. I’m definitely not one to shy away from it, but I think we have to look at it with a level head. So you’ve been on TV, man? That’s awesome.

Jerod: Yes. Yes. One time. And I think the guy who wrote about it for Deadspin said, “We wonder if poor Jerod Morris has ever been outside and seen the sun.” It was something like that. We’ll put a link in the Show Notes.

Demian: (Leans back from the microphone and laughs.)

Jerod: See, I didn’t have any makeup on, so I looked really pasty and white on television.

Demian: You were the twerp in his mom’s basement, right?

Jerod: I know. I know. And unfortunately, I fit the stereotype a little bit too much in that appearance. But yeah. It was a crazy few days.

Demian: All right. I bet. Yeah. Like you said, that sort of whirlwind activity that that can bring you is pretty phenomenal.

Jerod: Yes.

Demian: So the attention — especially the sort of attention that I like to get — deals with getting in front of the right people. And that leads into my third success, and the third success I kind of alluded to.

If I had not quit my job and sort of just flung myself out into the freelance world, which then changed the trajectory of my career, I would not have gotten in front of Brian Clark. So I knew Brian Clark, and I’d written for his blog in the past, and I remember clearly when he started first blogging on Copyblogger, because he and I both kind of grew up in the same direct-response copy writing world.

The people who were behind it were either really cheesy, or just dry and boring and lame. And so he comes on the scene, and he’s writing about the same stuff they are, but he has punk rock references, and he’s speaking about Depeche Mode, and so I’m immediately drawn to him.

But once I became a freelancer, I knew that I had to continue to write for Copyblogger, and I was able to do that. And so, ultimately, I wrote a number of very successful articles for Copyblogger. Brian brought me out on contract, then ultimately he hired me on full-time. And that was a success.

Working for a company like Copyblogger, this is hands-down, I’m not just saying this to sort of rub my nose in Brian’s rear, or anything like that — but it’s a great job. It’s probably the best job that I’ve ever had because of just a number of things that I get to work on, the projects that I get to do, and the autonomy that I have and the creativity that I get to express, and the people that I get to work with are all just incredibly great people.

So I consider being hired and working for Copyblogger to be the best, the greatest professional success I’ve had to date.

Jerod: I would echo everything that you said about working for Copyblogger. Because it is all of those things, and actually, it’s a good segue. It’s funny; we didn’t actually plan these out. I didn’t know what successes you were going to talk about. You didn’t know mine. And it’s funny how they’ve kind of transitioned really well into each other.

Demian: Good.

Overcome imposter syndrome and trust yourself

Jerod: Brian Clark is going to be involved in my third one, as well.

When I first came over to Copyblogger, I was working in Support, and ultimately ended up coming over into Editorial and became Director of Content. After that, I was promoted to VP of Marketing. And one of the challenges with success, I think, is that sometimes we don’t necessarily feel worthy of our success. And when that happens it can really create some internal strife.

Demian: When you say “internal,” you mean like, “internal” in you?

Jerod: Yeah. Internal in you, especially if you get that impostor syndrome at all. Where it’s like, “Man, I’m in this position, I don’t necessarily know if I’m qualified for it. I don’t know if I’m doing it right.”

I had a lot of those feelings when I got both of those promotions. Because for some reason, I really was focusing on the things I couldn’t do, as opposed to what I could do. So when I came into Editorial and I’m in these positions, I started comparing myself to Brian, and to Sonia, and to you, and all of your backgrounds in writing, and your business backgrounds, and you with your copy writing background. Just your extensive knowledge.

All I could think about was, “Man, I don’t have any of that!” I got so caught up in things that I didn’t have, that I think it affected a little bit my confidence to go out and do my job as well as I could. I mean, certainly my effort was there, but I think I was held back a little bit by just these nagging thoughts of, “I’ve got to do something super-special to prove that I’m worthy of this position.”

But the thing was, the people whose opinion mattered trusted me with the position and kept trusting me with more responsibility. And yet, instead of trusting that, I questioned myself.

Demian: Yeah.

Jerod: And it took me, really, about a year, I think, to get comfortable and say, “You know what? They gave me this position for a reason.”

No, I don’t have X, Y, and Z, but guess what? I have a lot of skills to offer. I like getting up and presenting in front of people, which other people in Editorial don’t like doing. So there are unique things I bring to the table.

Demian: Exactly.

Jerod: I need to think about those. And I need to think about the things that I can do. Yes, focus on the limitations, because you want to improve those and get better at them. But not to the point where you obscure the reasons why you were successful in the first place, because that can make it harder for you to get to the next level of success.

You want to build on success, and sometimes if you allow yourself to get that imposter syndrome, or question yourself, it can be hard to do that. So that was the big lesson I learned from that whole experience.

Demian: Yeah, and I think the other lesson, too, is for us to recognize that we should hire, we should bring in people who may not necessarily have to have the credentials, but we have the faith in them to get the job done.

Because if you think about it, everybody who works for Copyblogger had great track records, but we were all asked to do things that we’ve never done before.

It’s sort of like Brian and the gang trusted us and said, “I know these guys will be able to grow into this position,” which is incredibly encouraging and incredibly motivating, too. When you think, “I have to do this. I have never done this before, but he’s trusting me to do it, and he thinks I can do it,” you very well will just go to the wall for that.

Jerod: In a lot of ways it’s almost more important to hire someone who’s a culture fit and who has the right attitude, as opposed to just specific skills. Because specific skills can be learned, to a certain extent.

Not totally, but I think that’s why it’s so important to find people who are willing to work hard, who fit your ideals, who exhibit the behaviors that you want. Because some of the specifics can be taught. But some of those other things are a little bit harder to instill in people if they don’t have them already.

Celebrate your successes, but know when to move on

Demian: So let me leave our audience with an overall closing lesson, and that is: celebrate your successes, but move on. Move on.

Because I think you alluded to this before. You’ll win, and that success will wear off, and you realize you still have to get up out of the bed. You still have to go to work. You still have to continue to do the things you need to do. Elizabeth Gilbert, the gal who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Is that it?

Jerod: Yes.

Demian: So, she has a great, short TED talk, and she says, “Hey. My book might be the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done and ever will do. I may have to live in that shadow for the rest of my life. I may never, ever, ever, ever top it off again. Yet I still have to go out there and work, because I love to work and I love the creativity.”

And a lot of times we have to do that success — we celebrate, but then we move on and we keep on trying to add to that win column.

Jerod: Yep. That’s where maintaining your humility is so important.

Demian: That’s right.

Jerod: You’ve got to take pride in your successes, of course, but then you’ve got to learn lessons, take them forward, and move on to the next one.

Demian: That’s right.

Jerod: All right, man. Well, I enjoyed this little two-part series. Hopefully the audience did too, and hopefully you did as well.

Demian: I did, dude. This was great stuff. And let us know if you enjoyed it, and if you did not enjoy it, we’d love to hear from you either way.

Jerod: Yes. Either way. Tweet me: @JerodMorris, or tweet Demian: @DemianFarnworth.

Just to give listeners a quick preview of what’s to come, actually, with The Lede, Demian, since things will change a little bit: We have a series of interviews coming up.

We’re going to be interviewing several of the speakers at Authority Rainmaker, Sally Hogshead, Bernadette Jiwa, and Dan Pink. So you’ll start to see those over the next few weeks, and then there is a podcast project that is in the works. We don’t want to give away too much. But The Lede will be a part of that.

It’s certainly going to be staying, and you and I will continue to host it, and we’re really going to be focusing in, zeroing in on using The Lede to bring some old Copyblogger concepts and lessons back up to the front, because we know how easy it is for stuff to get lost in the archives.

We want to use The Lede as a way to deliver that content to people in a different way than you’ve had it presented before. Both in case you like consuming it in a different way, and in case you missed it or forgot about it. So you’ll start to see those episodes of The Lede in the future as well, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Demian: I am, too. It’s great, Jerod.

Jerod: All right. Good to talk to you, Demian.

Demian: You bet.

Jerod: We will talk to you all in a couple of weeks.

If you did enjoy this episode, if you enjoyed our last episode, and if you enjoy what Demian and I are doing, we would definitely appreciate a rating or a review on iTunes. They help out a lot.

And don’t forget to go to I’m really hoping to see a lot of you there. It would be great to connect with the people who are listening to The Lede and the people who are reading the content on Copyblogger.

As I told you in the intro to this episode, that was my favorite part about last year’s conference. So I hope to be able to do that and do much more of it at this year’s conference. So All the details are right there.

All right. Thank you again for listening. We will be back in a couple of weeks with a new episode of The Lede, and we will talk to you then. Bye.


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