If We Define Success, Do We Also Define Failure?

In my last post, I was working through what success is and how it is dynamic and specific to the individual. I think it is impossible to consider what success is without defining failure.

I was having a discussion with my mental health professional about my predisposition towards fear, and more specifically my fear of failure. He was trying to provide me a new framework for both success and failure, so it struck me when he said, “I see failure as …” My immediate, trained response was that failure is losing, which isn’t open to interpretation. If you don’t win, you lose, which means failure.

I think that if we did a deep dive into people’s understanding of failure, especially men, it would be something similar. We are trained from day one to have a sense of competitiveness. I don’t think this is bad, but it was incomplete. It was too black and white, to final, and didn’t account for our longevity. It only makes sense, with that definition of failure, to look at professional athletes. Baseball is my favorite example because they play so much that failure is the majority. How often would we consider 35% a good thing? That’s in F in math, but that’s an all-star batting average. They go to work day in and day out making little adjustments to constantly improve. They play the game so many times, that they cannot define themselves by each game. A true professional is out there competing against himself, because that is the only thing that the we have any power over.

There are plenty of cliches to support this too. “Lost the battle, but won the war.” “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I’m sure we could all think of 100 more, but they all say the same thing. True success and failure is in the process, not the end. It’s stacking up a million little wins, rather than focusing on the big flashy win. A few years ago, there was a women’s tennis player who was ranked #1 in the world, but she hadn’t won a Major (and I don’t think she did that whole year). How was this possible? Well, while everyone else was out focusing on the big flashy Major tournaments, she was out grinding the small tournaments. She had stacked up so many small tournament wins that she became #1, while everyone else was sleeping. It was fun to watch her that year because she played so much, we could see her progress and we could see her “failures” on the big stage. That is the true test of failure though. Did she learn and grow, or did she give up?

losing is not failure, giving up is
Is losing the big flashy tournament a failure?

That, I have come to accept, is the true meaning of failure. Giving up. Giving up is self-centered. It’s fearful. It’s having a vision of something great and throwing it the garbage because you are unwilling to do what is right, what is good.

I want to make a quick distinction (going to use semantics to clarify concepts) between giving up and quitting. To quit something is to assess something critically and choosing not to pursue it. Quitting is action oriented and still pursuing the good. Giving up is non-action, not pursuing the good. Quitting is usually in the micro (like quitting your job…to pursue a career that makes you happy). Giving up is in the Macro (giving up on disciplining my children, because they don’t listen anyway. Why try? What’s the point?).

I am a firm believer that those whose cheers will be loudest in Heaven are not those covered in gold, but those who quietly persevered and never, ever gave up.

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