Dr. Seuss put it this way: “Everything stinks until it’s finished.”

Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach said, “Everything looks like a mess in the middle.”

Even Vincent van Gogh’s work (including Starry Night) looked like a failure to the world at first.

If there’s anything that stinks, or is a mess, or looks like a failure in your life today, the good news is you can turn it into a success with a unique perspective I’ll share in this article.

I’m going to first briefly tell you about 3 great people who went from “a mess to success,” then I’ll show you a picture of a totally COOL piece of ART that will serve as a powerful visual reinforcement to this message.


1. My friend Joe Polish looked like a failure halfway.

“Life gives to the giver, and takes from the taker.” — Joe Polish

In his early 20’s Joe Polish was a dead-broke carpet cleaner and recovering drug addict. He was working his tail off but getting nowhere. He couldn’t afford to pay the rent, and was deeply in debt.

Joe looked like a failure with not much of a future.

I’ve now known Joe for over 20 years, and I’ve witnessed his meteoric rise. Today he runs Genius Network®, the highest level entrepreneurial discussion group on the planet.

Hundreds of people pay this once dead-broke carpet cleaner between $25K and $100K a year to belong to his groups.

He also runs Genius Recovery®, an organization with a mission to help addicts by changing the global conversation around addiction and recovery.

Joe’s life may have looked like a mess in the middle so to speak, but he’s a big success today.

He’s living proof a person can go from a mess to success.

Why not you?

2. Remember what happened to Steve Jobs and Apple®?

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” — Steve Jobs

After being fired from Apple, Jobs entered what’s known as his “wilderness years.” Things didn’t look so good for him at the time. We know the now famous story about how Jobs returned the struggling Apple, turning it around to become the highest valued company in the world.

Things may have stunk for Steve at times, but he just wasn’t finished yet.

By the way, Steve Jobs’ failures look different than failures you may be facing today. But the principle is the same: failure is not final — it’s often even inevitable on the way to big success.

3. Have you ever heard of this “Real-life Wizard of Oz?”

“There was something wrong with the path others had chosen for my life. The worst part was there was no getting out of there.” — Steve Sims

Steve Sims was an Irish boy in east London, working as a bricklayer with no future.

He later said, “There was no doing better, not for the folks from East End.”

But over the past two decades, he’s become known as the Wizard Of Oz to the world’s wealthiest celebrities, professional athletes, and successful entrepreneurs. Steve runs Bluefish, the internationally famous company that makes once-in-a-lifetime events happen for the rich and famous.

Impossible wishes? Hmmm. How about…

Get married by the Pope in the Vatican?


Sing on stage with the band Journey?

No problem!

Have a private dinner under the David statue while Andrea Bocelli sings to you?

Of course.

Steve Sims’s job is to make the impossible possible.

He wrote a great book I love, titled Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen. In the book, he reveals to the rest of us his trade secrets for making things happen. Well done.

Now…how about YOU?

It’s important to realize that failure is just something you must pass through to get to success (and it doesn’t have to take that long).

I’ve not told you how these three people went from failure to success — you’ll want to read their books to learn more about that. My point is that failure is not final — it simply means you may just be halfway to something beautiful.

You don’t have to wait years to go from failure to success.

I’ve given three examples of three people who over several years went from some failure to success. But it can happen much more quickly.

The author Benjamin Hardy recently wrote a remarkable book titled Willpower Doesn’t Work. He’s currently running a Contest (and giving away a Tesla as the prize) on who can read and apply his book to quickly make the biggest positive change in their life.

By reading his book and participating in his contest, Ben’s seeing stories of people who have transformed failure into success — sometimes in just weeks — by changing their environment (which is the focus of his book).

It doesn’t have to take years.

Art illustrates this powerful perspective

I’m an artist. I’ve been painting since I was 2-years old because I was lucky enough to be raised by a full-time professional artist dad.
(I’m going to show you a painting I did in a minute — it’s pretty cool.)

I’ve come to understand that even the greatest pieces of art ever created by could have been considered failures at some point before being finished.

Is it even possible that the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci was at one point a failure? Take a look at the depiction in the photo below and see what you think:

Imagine what the following greatest works of art in history may have looked like halfway through:

Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Water Lilies (Nympheas) by Claude Monet.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt.

David by Michelangelo.

I theorize that each of these works of art looked like a failure at some point before finished.

A Great Illustration: The artist’s visit to my 3rd grade classroom

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents” — Bob Ross

I was so excited when my 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Yoshita, announced to the class, “Timmy Paulson’s dad is an artist, and he’s coming today to do an art demonstration for the school.”

I immediately was the cool kid in school for the day because my dad was an artist, and he was coming to the school. (I particularly wanted to impress Heidi Sutherland, the girl I had a crush on in 3rd grade.)

I remember walking into the school library where several classes met to watch the demonstration. I was so proud of my dad — he was handsome, cool, fun and engaging.

Dad’s demonstration was scheduled for 45 minutes. He started with a blank canvas, and about halfway in I began to get really nervous. The painting he was working on looked terrible.

“Oh no!” I thought. “This isn’t going like I expected. I’m going to get laughed at because my dad painted a bad picture.”

Flashing before my eyes was how I would be going from the cool kid in school, to getting laughed at.

However, dad was as cool as a cucumber. He knew what he was doing. He continued to paint until a beautiful, dark, seascape developed on the canvas, right before our eyes.

The painting was a success after all.

“Everything looks like a failure halfway through.”

-Rosabeth Kanter, Harvard University

Since third grade, I’ve seen dad paint hundreds of paintings, including on his long-running television show Painting with Paulson. (His show has aired on PBS television since 1988. Have you seen it?)

Every painting I’ve ever seen him do looked like a mess at some point before it was done.

But when finished, his work is amazing. He paints masterpieces.

This photo below from my dad’s Painting with Paulson television show illustrates my point.

The painting on the left is one of dad’s finished paintings. On the painting on the right he’s showing the TV audience how to paint the same painting. The unfinished painting could be viewed as a failure at that point, but it ended up a success when finished.

Introducing the Halfway Principle™

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” — Thomas Merton

A lumberjack, a botanist, and a monk walk into a forest. What do they see? The lumberjack sees trees to cut down, the botanist sees plants to study, and the monk sees the miracle of existence. Three people, three different perspectives on nature.

Three people walk into an art museum and look at a Van Gogh painting. One focuses on the brilliant colors, another focuses on the thick application of paint, and the other — me — well, I listen to what the painting is whispering to me.

If you’ve followed me at all you know I discover success principles hidden in art. I’m playfully referred to as The Art Whisperer™ because I discover cool principles, then write and speak about them.

It was when I created an abstract painting that solidifying and naming The Halfway Principle happened for me.

4. This is an UGLY abstract painting!

“Creativity takes courage” — Henri Mattise

I earlier shared brief stories about Joe Polish, Steve Jobs and Steve Sims. Here’s a bonus — “Story #4” — this one using art to illustrate the point.

I painted the picture below over several painting sessions. When it got to the point you see in the picture I felt it was finished, I signed it and stood back to admire it.

But I couldn’t.


I looked at it and said, “This is ugly! What in the world is it? It’s a failure.”

I was a bit dejected, and disappointed in myself. How could I create something this bad and sign my name to it?

As I pondered this I remembered my dad’s visit and art demonstration to my 3rd grade classroom.

It was then I had the thought, “If it’s a failure, it just means it’s not done yet.”

I took a deep breathe, and went back to work on it. Inspiration quickly came as I considered paintings of Marilyn Monroe done by Andy Warhol.

I decided to create a painting after Warhol’s work.

Little did I know the failure of a painting was perfect as a backdrop for my version of Marilyn Monroe. The abstract work makes this a completely unique painting.

Here it is:

I titled it Marilyn Monroe — Complete to reinforce the Halfway Principle.

Real-life example…

“Every artist was first an amateur.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the roles I have in life is leader in my church congregation.

In my service I have counseled with many people, including couples who struggle in their marriage. I’ve seen wonderful couples who fight and can’t seem to be able to get along. They come to me for counsel when they are about ready to “throw in the towel” on their marriage.

I ask them, “How long have you been married?”

After they respond I say, “Gosh, you’re not even half way yet. Everything looks like a failure halfway through!”

Quizzically they look at me, and I tell them the story of my dad’s visit and art demonstration to my 3rd grade class. “You’re only in the middle, where it’s messy. But you have the potential to make a masterpiece of your marriage if you’ll stay together and work at it.”

This Halfway Principle has helped couples see things more clearly, to understand masterpieces take time, and I’ve seen miracles happen in marriages as a result of their understanding of this perspective.

Your application of this principle

Do you have a business? How’s it doing?

Do you have a job? How are you doing in it?

Are you in a relationship? How’s that looking?

Are you raising kids? Do they look like a success yet?

Are you struggling with addiction?

Is life not going the way you’d hoped for?

What stinks, or looks like a failure in your life today?

Remember, “everything looks like a failure halfway through.”

Failure doesn’t have to permanent — it may just mean you’re halfway there. This perspective, this shifting of your thinking, can help you make monumental changes in your life.

Ready to upgrade?

Would you like to turn failures into successes like those featured in this article? CLICK HERE to get my FREE “Halfway Principle Tool & Checklist” so you can implement this too.

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