YPN Book Club

Posted by: YPN South Bend on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Failing Up: How to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning

By Mike Franz, Formerly with Visit South Bend Mishawaka

When you think of failure, what are a few words that come to mind? Defeat… nonfulfillment… disappointment? In his autobiography, Leslie Odom, Jr. explains how “spectacular failure is the secret ingredient to your ultimate success.” Through mentors, a willingness to fail, and a tireless work ethic, you learn how an aspiring young actor from Philadelphia found success and became a part of theatrical history in the Broadway masterpiece, Hamilton.

Throughout Odom’s life, he has been inspired and challenged by his mentors. Three of his most influential mentors are featured throughout the pages of this book with each having a separate, but equally important, life lesson. Mrs. Frances Turner was Odom’s grade school social studies teacher. At first, Odom was a handful in Mrs. Turner’s classroom, causing trouble day in and day out. It wasn’t until a parent-teacher conference where his father gave Mrs. Turner all the power and control, that Odom and his teacher finally became congenial, even friendly. Their relationship would grow stronger when his teacher helped Odom enter the African-American Oratorical Competition in fifth grade. Despite coming in second, Leslie used the motivation of failure to retool and come back to win the competition the next four years in a row. 

"When I hear people complain or bemoan coming close to a sought-after goal and missing by inches, I am quick to reassure them. Celebrate the fight and the proud run. Coming close can be confirmation you are on the right path."

After seeing early success in his acting career with a short stint in the Broadway ensemble of Rent, Leslie attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

There, he met Tony and Grammy Award-winning performer Billy Porter. Porter taught Odom some valuable acting lessons in college, but it was not until years later that Porter taught Odom his greatest lesson. Porter called Odom years after they met and said he wanted him to star in a theater piece he was working on called Being Alive. There was a part in the piece where Odom’s character is supposed to have a “Billy Porter moment” and amp things up all the way to ten. He had never really taken a risk with any performance but decided to risk everything by embracing his willingness to fail.

"Everything changed in an instant the first time I really gave myself the room and the permission to fail spectacularly. ... I screamed. I flailed. I jumped. I ran. I cried. I let go. I flew. I soared. ... In my willingness to fail, I flew instead."

Whether you are seeking out a new job, looking to reignite the passion for your current position, or are looking to embrace failure and pursue your dream, Leslie Odom, Jr.’s autobiography Failing Up is a source of inspiration for us all to wait for the opportunity to present itself and not throw away our shot when it is right in front of us.


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