Turning Failure into Success: Thoughts from a Hockey Referee

Turning Failure into Success: Thoughts from a Hockey Referee

By: Jason Lortie (@doctor_jaylo)

In terms of my personal and professional life, I have failed more times than I can remember. But let me try and run you through the major failures of my life and how many of them there have been.

Two of the first major failures in my life came at the end of my playing career. I was cut from the high school team I had moved across the country to play for my senior year. I had played with them for the two years prior. After getting picked up by a junior team to try and finish out the season, I was cut by them too.

That led to the end of my playing career and a transition to school and officiating. I failed from the start with school. Tons of rejections as I was submitting applications to schools I was interested in. And this was the start of my major failures in officiating – I was not doing well with the assignments I was receiving as I was just starting to try to take officiating seriously.

It was similar throughout graduate school. I failed to get into many of the good programs I applied to. My officiating career was progressing, but I was failing to get all of the opportunities I wanted. At important tournaments and towards the end of the season, I routinely failed to get the assignments in the important games that I had worked all season towards.

More recently, in my personal and professional life, I have experienced many of my biggest life failures. Getting a job in my field requires a lot of applications as jobs open up every year. Over a three-year span of looking for a job, I submitted over 200 applications – almost all of them ending up in failure as I was not offered those positions. My full-time job requires me to publish regularly in academic journals. I routinely fail as journals reject my work on an almost weekly basis. Personally, my marriage of seven years recently failed and ended in divorce.

Currently, I continue to fail in my officiating career as well. Every game I work I fail to in some aspect of positioning, rules knowledge, judgement, communication, whatever it might be. I fail regularly as schedules are released and I do not receive assignments I would like. I still fail to receive the games at the end of the season I want to work, similar to when I was starting off with officiating.

To summarize – I have failed a lot in my life. At the age of 31, it is fair to look back at all these failures in my life up to this point and conclude that I have failed personally, professionally, and in officiating.

But to be honest, that perspective would be short sighted. Failure is something that happens naturally in life. I work as a professor of entrepreneurship and I regularly guide hundreds of students every semester through starting and growing their own companies.

One of the main lessons we teach is that you HAVE to fail. You MUST fail. There is not a single successful person in this world that has not experienced failure. And in my opinion, successful people probably have bigger failures and fail more often than those that are less successful. We see this with a lot of the successful entrepreneurs we use as examples in our classes. I hear it from a lot of the successful officials I work with on a regular basis.

Failure implies effort by its very nature. Trying to do something can end with failure, and the sooner someone attempts something and fails, the sooner they can learn and move on with more knowledge, focus, and motivation.

And I believe this idea of failure leading to success has been a guiding principle in my life. Failing in my playing career was instrumental to two very important paths in my life: officiating and my education leading to my career. Both of which, by any account, I have been tremendously successful in even with all of the failures mentioned above.

In terms of officiating, I currently work as a part-time referee in the SPHL and a part-time linesman in the ECHL. I have worked seven different USA Hockey National Championship events including three national championship games as well as receiving playoff assignments in both the SPHL and ECHL.



For someone with a full-time job, I am very proud of my accomplishments in officiating. Professionally, I was one of the youngest people ever to receive a PhD from the school I attended, and I currently work in a job I absolutely love. I have been very well published when compared to others in my field of research, and 2019 is shaping up to be one of my best years.

The secret to using failure to your advantage is being able to admit when you have failed. As I stated above, I fail in every game I work. Whether it is the late-night adult league game or the pro assignment, in the 18 years I have worked as an official, I have never worked a perfect game. And I try to take stock of that after every game I work.

What did I fail at doing perfect in that game? What aspect of my game is causing me to fail and preventing me from becoming a better official? This doe not mean I dwell on my failures, I take stock of them, learn from them, and decide how to avoid them in the future. Those that learn from failure are miles ahead of those that refuse to admit they have failed.

In social psychology and business management research, Self-Serving Bias occurs when humans naturally attribute their successes and failures in ways that promote and protect their egos and identities. It is natural for us to attribute successes to ourselves and blame others, luck, or uncontrollable things for our failures.

Put simply, the Self-Serving Bias gives you credit for your successes and credits something or someone else for your failures. This is the fatal error that people make which makes it impossible for them to learn from their failures. The fact I was cut from the teams I was playing for was not because the coaches were idiots, it was because I was not good enough and I did not do what I needed to in order to become a better player.

When I fail to publish a piece of research, it is not because the reviewers were stupid and did not understand my work, it is because I was not clear in explaining it or presenting the evidence to support my ideas. When I fail to work a game correctly and coaches and players are letting me know, it is not because they do not understand the rules or are out to get all officials, it is because I have failed to show them I can handle that game in terms of positioning, rule knowledge, game management, and communication.

When I fail to get the assignments for games I want to work, it is not because my schedulers and supervisors are out to get me or are incompetent, it is because I have failed to impress them to the point where it is impossible for them to not assign me to those games.

Fighting the natural urge of the Self-Serving Bias is also hard when accounting for many successes in life. It is easy to take credit when accounting for life’s biggest accomplishments, but the truth is I owe a large majority of the credit to others – and I am sure you probably do too.

I encourage you to take stock of your life’s failures, the small ones on a day-today basis as well as the large ones that have occurred in your life. If you have been stuck looking at these failures as the result of someone or something else, stop. Reevaluate these failures as the result of your actions, ability, and effort. I promise that you will see room for improvement and growth that will lead to the biggest successes of your life.



Be sure to follow Jason Lortie on Instagram (@doctor_jaylo)


  • Ryan H

    Very well said Jason….

  • Dave

    Thanks for this; very uplifting..

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