Success is failure turned inside out

We can create a new culture where individuals are inspired to try without fear and the stigma of failure

29th November 2017

I recently attended a competitive 2 day event based around creating an investable business opportunity. I found the whole event quite stressful. My decision to be an active participant meant that from the start I had made myself vulnerable to success or failure. When I was forced to face the rejection of my first pitch it was a very difficult time. I wasn’t able to stay present, to be in the moment. I found myself creating illusions about how the other participants perceived me, slipping back into old stories of victimhood. It took me a while to find my strength and inner-worth. I kept breathing, pulling myself back to the here and now and thankfully I did recover and focused on helping my team pitch our idea. Unfortunately our idea didn’t win or come second.

We can create a new culture where individuals are inspired to try without fear and the stigma of failure

On the way home at the end of the event I started to think about the differences between success and failure. My understanding of success and failure is that it is based on achieving a goal, an aim or a purpose. In competitive scenarios the successor is the one who comes closest to achieving the goal, aim or purpose. It makes sense then that the first thing we need to do is clearly understand the goal and then ensure that our plan of action is directed at achieving this. I realised that I hadn’t taken the time to understand the point system that the judges were using to evaluate the winner; I was never going to be successful without this knowledge.

We all know that failure is inevitable, it is part of life. Some say that failure is the key to success and perhaps that is true but only in so far as you choose to learn from failure. If failure has you feeling so hurt and disheartened that you decide not to expose yourself and give up then it won’t help you succeed. With this in mind we must choose our goal, aim or purpose carefully. If we are passionate about achieving our goal, aim or purpose because we know that it will bring us lasting fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness then we are more likely to learn from our failures allowing them to further motivate us to try again.

Perhaps the biggest difference between success and failure is our response to it. I imagined how my team would have responded if we had been successful. We would have glowed with pride and smiled with accomplishment. We would have praised each other on our efforts, quickly forgetting the difficulties that we had faced. We would have been open to integrating with other participants, taking praise and talking about how and what we had done to achieve our success. And how did we act in failure? We were outwardly sympathetic towards our team members. We were introvert, retrospective, critical and analytical. We wanted to to expose the weeds and acknowledge the areas of weakness. We made comparisons about the validity of our idea compared with those that were successful, keen to discover the key to their success.

We can glow with pride and smile with accomplishment because we gave it a go, because without those that try, those that are willing to expose themselves and make themselves vulnerable, humanity will not progress

When I think about success and failure they are two sides to the same coin. In both scenarios we have a vision, set a goal, make a plan and execute it. It is only the final outcome that is different. I believe that the best thing we can do to alleviate the suffering we create around failure is to respond to failure as we do in success. If we can fail in the knowledge that we will learn from our mistakes, then we can create a new culture where individuals are inspired to try without fear and the stigma of failure. If in failure we can be equally retrospective and analytical about our strengths and our weaknesses, then we can play a better, stronger hand and we can celebrate our strengths despite failure. And just as importantly, if in success we can maintain humility, if we reject feelings of superiority, grandiosity and importance and if we respond just as we do in failure then we narrow the gap between success and failure, and we highlight the significance and importance of the journey rather than the achievement of a goal.

Victorious in defeat, humble in victory