Failure is not the opposite of success, quitting is
In my previous post I dealt with success formula. For the current one, I am flipping the coin and looking at the other side. We have been told since our childhood that success and failure are the two sides of the same coin. I have read two great books very recently. Dilbert man Scott Adams’ “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” and Freakonomics fame duo’s “Think Like a Freak”.
The duo is Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, in case you need to be reminded. The former, as the name suggest, is an autobiographical account of Adams’ journey towards his eventual success. The later, as you would expect from the fabled duo, exhorts us to think differently on any topic including failure and quitting.
Adams provides a list of failures (a large one at that!) and also summarizes them in a funny way as we can expect from a cartoonist of his caliber. He mentions that failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. In the failure lie the seeds of success.
Failures need to be taken in right spirit. They simply are the blind alleys on life’s path. They tell us “Stop. This path is leading you nowhere.”We need to grasp the message and take a U turn, left turn or right turn. They must be taken as lessons.
You may argue what about the time and resources expended in quest. Though it may seem like a loss but it is never a total loss. Treat it as an experiment which can provide you valuable feedback.
Former New York mayor and founder of Bloomberg TV Michael Bloomberg seem to have understood it better than most of us. “In medicine, or in science, if you go down a path and it turns out to be a dead end, you really made a contribution, because we know we don’t have to go down that path again. In the press, they call it failure. And so people are unwilling to innovate, unwilling to take risks in government.”
“Civilization is an aggressive, almost maniacal chronicler of success,” say the authors in “Think Like a Freak”. This for me represents the medieval mindset in which winner took all.
In those days most of the human achievements manifested in activities that measured physical strength and brute force.
There were victorious and vanquished. Society hardly cared for the vanquished. We have carried these triumphal genes along with us.
This tendency is today manifested in the arena of sports, though, in muted form. It should not have been an issue has failure carried less of a stigma.
Failure is not fatal after all
True. If we have learned with each instances of failure. If they have made us better able to survive future challenges. Nietzsche had famously said “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Not only stronger but abler, smarter, healthier, energized and more prepared can be added to the list of qualities.
Adams says “If I find a cow turd my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I will be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again.” In another words, we need to treat failure as a resource which can be managed as any other resource.
Look around your role models in any fields. Perhaps most of them have had their own share of failures. Many of them would gloss over their success and not like to reveal the uncomfortable part of their journey.
You can take it for granted that they had to fight out their own failures. Remember-everyone has their own feet of clay.
How to deal with failure then?
Having accepted the inevitability of failure as part of human experience, let’s examine how we can deal with the necessary evil.
- Change the definition of failure:
Believe that making mistakes is a necessary part of success and it cannot be avoided. This is against the belief we have been fed from our childhood
You can avoid it only if you “play it safe” for the rest of your life and if you are happy to remain in your comfort zone and stop expanding and enjoying the exhilarating feeling of continuous growth.
- Remind yourself that you are good enough
Do not get disheartened by the obstacles that may block your path. If you are trying to achieve something significant, you will find challenged at times.
In such times, it is easier to recede into the shell. However, this is the time to keep your chin up and believe that you are good enough to defeat these challenges.
- Remain calm
During this period of perceived “tough time” you will be tempted to lose your temper or lapse into recession. You need to guard against both of these tendencies.
Practice some mind calming techniques. Five minutes of meditation each day will go a long way in quietening your mind.
- Do not compare yourself with others
Comparing ourselves with others is a source of many miseries. Often, we measure our failure or success with others and brood or gloss over it.
Measure yourself on your own set of standards. For this, you need to have one in place. Work out your own matrices on which you would like to measure yourself. These will be derived from your current goals.
- Practice resilience
Simply be resilient and persist with what you are up to with dogged determination. Persistence is the source of success for the majority of people on this planet.
Overnight successes are rare. There are people who have been trying and failing and trying again many times over.
- Look for the small wins and appreciate them
Look for the green shoots of success in the ruins of your “failures“. For a change do not look at the larger picture, look at the smaller pictures and you will definitely find something that you have improved upon.
You will find that you have learned a new skill, or a better way of doing something. Identify these small wins and reward yourself for these.
To cap it all
These are but a few of the ways to deal with our friend called failure. As a friend, it more generous. Success is more selective in choosing its friends.
The whole idea is to kick start a thread of discussion. I am no expert to talk on this. I have my own long list of failures in life.
To my credit, I didn’t get bogged down and continued merrily on my journey. More of those later.
I will expect you to chime in with your views as comments. Let the ball roll and gather its own momentum.
To your success.
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