Getting Started Professional Development

What You Can Learn From Obama’s Biggest Failure

Written by Peter Jones

Everybody fails. Even the fanciest and most successful of celebrities, historical figures, and our most idolized idols. Including the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Here’s a look at Obama’s biggest failure in his career and how it paved his path to the presidency.

You know Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and an all-around successful guy, helping dig the economy out of it’s 2008 chasm, presiding over recovery, stimulating job growth, improving global opinion, etc., But did you know that he was once a big fat failure? Really.

He lost. Big time.

His first bid for national office was a total flop. Having spent two terms in the Illinois Senate, he made a run for Congress in 2000—running as a practical nobody against an opponent who was both a household name and had a 70% approval rating. His first failure was choosing the race. His second? The race itself. He lost by 31 points.

Part of this was out of his control. His opponent’s son was shot and killed during the campaign. And while Obama suspended his campaign for a month and worked to help champion gun control legislation, circumstances found him stuck in Hawaii caring for his sick daughter when the vote occurred. The story told by the news media? He was lounging on a beach instead of helping to make Illinois a safer place.

He made up for it.

What matters is what he did with that failure. First he went back to the state Senate, then he ran successfully for U.S. Senate in 2004. Somewhere in there he retooled his message, shooting bigger and higher, focusing on hope. He wrote his book, The Audacity of Hope, and set his sights on the presidency.

Without that one humbling failure, Obama may never have had to do the kind of soul-searching and message re-thinking he did in 2002. The next time you fail, take a few steps back and remember how a guy from Chicago went from getting spanked in a run for Congress, and turning that failure into the spectacular success of a two-term presidency of the United States.

President Obama: A Profile in Failure

About the author

Peter Jones