Sunday, October 13, 2013

What unsuccessful people know

Today, October 13, is The International Day for Failure. It is intended to emphasize that failures are a natural part of life and it is alright to try and sometimes fail, too. I have read and heard different interpretations of successes and failures especially in the enterpreneurial context, where there are many variations of "fail often, fail fast" (and learn something in the process).

Some time ago, I encountered this image in the social media (attributed to Douglas Karr):
I noticed that at least some of my Facebook friends thought this was good advice - to remind that you cannot usually achieve success without failures, and one failure does not mean the end of the story. This makes sense. It reminds me of what Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back: "Do or do not. There is no try."  - but isn't it unfair to judge people only based on the results where the only thing they can do is try?

In this "motivational" image, there is a trophy at the end. Successful people know that there is success (because they are successful). In this context, everything you do is a success or a failure, and you do everything because you want to succeed. To see how unsuccessful people might think given these assumptions, I proposed an addition:

Indeed - if almost everything you do is a failure, you may end up believing your whole life is a failure, and it ends in a failure.

I have listened to many wise men and women talk about their accomplishments. I have also succeeded and failed at many occassions. It is true that many experiences we have could easily be labeled as successes or failures - by somebody - but this binary classification might not be justified or fruitful.

If your company goes bust, is that a failure? Maybe you employed ten people for a couple of years, while you developed great products and technology and are now better prepared for anything that comes your way, and your investors knew this might happen and they were willing to take the risk. Doesn't sound like a complete failure (and doesn't make you an "unsuccessful person"), but that might very well be labeled as such, and only as such.

I have always tried to play it safe, and good things have come out of it while I have avoided many pitfalls. In 2010, I abandoned my safe life and financial security in Finland and moved to United States to get a degree. That was a leap of faith and a huge bank loan was part of the commitment. Maybe I also abandoned the idea that there are only successes and failures. In 2013, I'm still in USA, studying my second degree here. It hasn't been easy at all times, but somehow I'm going forward.

If you can't have binary labels, what would be a realistic but motivating framework? Abandoning Yoda's advice, I would say there is only try, and even if you can't do, you can often still try. And regarding Day for Failure, it seems life (or career) is a constant flux of things that can be seen as successes and failures of some sort, and failures are about trying something. Day for Trying, how's that sound?

1 comment :

  1. Binary labels are a watchword for me: there surely are two sides to a coin, but all other things in life are not coins. So thinking in two is something I try to avoid.

    Trying is pretty much what I do. Sometimes it is tiresome and disheartening. I hear the Yoda quote at times and can't decide what I think of it. Definitely I have been in a situation where I must do, and only want to not do, but decide against it. Personally there's a lot of try.

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