Redefining failure

October 4, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog

Life has only one finishing line, which is when you die (I hope I didn’t break that news to you). Everything else is a part of life — no more an end to one thing before than a beginning to something else.

That view seems inarguable. Whatever happens to you, no matter how much you like it or not, if you haven’t died you’ll continue past it.

So how can anything be a failure?

Sure, you can call any result a failure, but you never have to.

If it didn’t go your way, you still haven’t finished yet, so you can still make something of it. Everyone has had things go the opposite of how they wanted from the most successful person to the least.

You have the choice in how to evaluate a situation. As I’ve written before, I find successful people tend to describe the disasters that made them successful. They joke about them now though must have felt a lot of pain when they happened. By contrast, I find people who suck at things talk about how great they are.

How you evaluate results is not the only element you need to succeed, but it helps a lot. Since your beliefs are totally under your control, it’s something you can work with easily.

If you feel bad about something, you can use your beliefs to influence your emotions. Too many people let their emotions dictate their beliefs, giving up power.

Look for complements, not opposites. Take responsibility.

If you wanted to sell thirty widgets this week and you only sold two, some people would say you failed.

Some people would look at what I just wrote above and say “Two for thirty is nowhere close to the goal. If you don’t call it a failure you’re delusional.” They think the only other way to look at something is its opposite, or something like that. I used to do that too, calling myself a realist.

I don’t recommend saying about something you don’t like that you love it. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on your dislike or disappointment. I prefer looking for what I call complements — perspectives where I can take responsibility for what I do next.

If I sold two when I planned to sell thirty I could say I learned ways not to sell so I can waste less time next time or that I learned at least two things that worked, following the famous lines of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Nobody would call Edison a failure, and few people stop long before getting poor results 10,000 times. Most people don’t reach 10,000 “failures” in their lifetimes, let alone one task.

You could look at it as part of the learning process, like a baby learning to walk.

You could decide to change your line of work.

You could look at it as a wake-up call to shape up or ship out, like one of my defining moments in sports, which helped define what it meant for me to take something seriously for myself on a life level.

You can look at outcomes in countless other ways.

Successful people

Successful people use their results, however unwanted, to their advantage — to motivate themselves, to learn from, to build on, and so on. Anything but to dwell on and feel sorry for themselves.

Dwelling on a past result and calling it a failure is quintessentially looking at a past you can’t change and judging, the opposite of taking responsibility for your future.

I feel funny writing a post like this that others have written in other terms so many times, but it comes up so often.

I see and hear people dwelling in the past while their future lies before them unconsidered.

“Well, my next one will be better!”

Johnny Depp played an award-winning role in an Oscar-winning movie called “Ed Wood” about a guy, Ed Wood, who made odd movies that he loved, though few others did.

In any case, I wanted to quote a relevant line from the movie. Depp, playing Wood, talks on the phone to a studio producer he’s sent a movie for review who hasn’t returned his calls. He loves his movies so much he’s bubbling over with enthusiasm. Of course he expects others will love his movies too.

Ed (on phone): Mr. Feldman! I haven’t been able to get through, so I just showed up.
Yeah, out front! So, are we gonna be working together?

(his face slowly falls)

Really? Worst film you ever saw…?

Here he looks glum. But he knows nothing will set him back. With enthusiasm he continues

Well, my next one will be better!

I love that line. You can’t stop a guy like that. He loves his work too much.

And he continued doing what he loved, making movies. You can do what you love too.

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter