Monday, August 11, 2008

Success and Failure

Like most words, success and failure carry with them a wildly diverse assortment of meanings. For many, success is only seen as Olympic gold, Best Sellers' Lists or Awards for Outstanding Achievement. In the western world, success is equated with big homes, fancy cars, stock portfolios, etc., ergo, the phrase Status Symbols.

Conversely, failure is most often construed as the antithesis of the former. Not only, does it reflect NOT achieving a goal, but more than likely would also include evidence of lack and limitation. It’s as though you took a 180° shift and simply added the word NOT to the earlier achievements.

When I first came up with the idea for my company CreativeSuccessWorks, several years ago, one of the things that became clear to me was that as far as creativity goes, success or the lack thereof, was a matter of personal viewpoint. Now, I’m broadening my perspective to include the idea of success in any arena.

Think about this for a moment - - What if success were looked at as merely any movement in the direction of a goal and "failure" (if there even in such a thing) were merely a stumble, a wrinkle or a temporary backslide. Paulo Coelho, author of the highly-acclaimed book, The Alchemist, says that "success is falling seven times and getting up eight."

This theme also brings to mind Thomas Edison's response when asked what he had to say about his 9999 failed attempts to invent the lightbulb. Edison's reply was something like "Those weren't failures, I just learned 9999 ways NOT to make a lightbulb."

Abraham Lincoln is another great example. Neither bankruptcy, mental illness or numerous failed attempts at achieving public office, thwarted Lincoln. He just kept moving forward. The result, of course, was a certainly an outstanding one.

Like most people, I have had my own fair share of experiences of success and failure. On one occasion, I had a scheduled book signing at Borders on one particular Saturday afternoon. I set up my table, greeted incoming customers and handed out my promotional postcards. Some people smiled and thanked me, some people read the postcards and nodded, but only a handful even came over to the table to look at my books. At the end of the afternoon, I had not sold one book.

Now despite the fact that I had had a huge success only a few weeks earlier, in which I sold 100 books to a local nonprofit organization, this "failure" really knocked me for a loop. Self- doubt and negative thoughts engulfed me and I began a downward spiral into misery and despair.

But the episode drove me to examine these two concepts from the viewpoint of those who have come before me. I began to look up quotations on failure and in every case, I discovered that the ONLY true failure is to never have tried or to have given up. Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM, summed it up by saying:

"Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't that at all. You can be discouraged by failure -- or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that's where you will find success."

Curiously enough, the next thing I knew, my mood had lifted and the blues were gone. What I concluded was that the “success or failure” of our lives is quite simply determined by our point of view.

So, in closing, I'll leave you with my personal recommendation for a life filled with success - - "Fail On!"

1 comment:

SunraySheryl said...

Susan, wow, how timely! On two counts, actually, because I was just thinking the other day about how close a shave the Olympians are from each other in milliseconds or millimeters.

And on the other, I was ranting and wailing (internally mostly!) in trying to create and recreate an "event" on FaceBook, only to make a date error that looked like the whole thing was already over!

Fail on!! Yup, can do! Looks like it's rolling now!