Success and Failure

Are you devoted to seeking success and avoiding failure? Do you believe that achieving success is absolutely essential to building your self-esteem and sense of personal empowerment? Do you believe that failure will rob you of confidence, autonomy, and feelings of competence?

Success and failure are the great imposters of life. Think about it: Success tempts you into believing you are special, the best, the unerring captain of your ship. Failure tempts you into believing you are unworthy, incompetent, and incapable of managing your life. These false messages will make you believe that if you’re going to lead a productive and satisfying life, you must increase your odds of success in everything you do. By the same token, if you are in a situation and detect the slightest hint of failure, these imposters will have you run away, and avoid that situation in the future.

If those beliefs about success and failure describe you, you’re in trouble when it comes to coping. You have totally missed the point about success and failure: Experiencing them is irrelevant; what counts is how you react to them.

For instance, success is a terrible teacher because it doesn’t tell you what changes, corrections, and adjustments you need to make for the future. Success implies you should just keep doing what you’re doing. That can be OK until the situation changes, and situations always change.

Failure, on the other hand, is a tremendous teacher, at least when you make an effort to examine it. For instance, examining your failures will show you that blaming others will not help you improve, that you must be accountable for your actions, and that you must find solutions for your failure. Furthermore, honest examination of your failures will teach you to look for solutions that are task-based – “Next time, I need to prepare and practice before facing this challenge.” – not emotion-based – “My report would have been right on the money if my lousy boss had given me more time.”

Nearly every day you see people who, when criticized and backed into a corner, claw their way out by blaming someone or something else for their failures. Don’t model your actions after them. Doing so will make you weak and insecure, unable to accept personal responsibility for an outcome. You will focus on the emotions brought on by failure, and overreact emotionally. You will develop avoidance patterns of behavior that lead you into denial of who you are, and make you excessively dependent on others. In short, your emotions will not allow you to analyze failure as a learning experience.

Success makes you happy; failure makes you sad. If you focus solely on those emotions you will only seek easy tasks because you are more likely to succeed, and you will avoid difficult, challenging situations because you may fail. Both those cases are emotionally-driven. They lead to psychological stagnation and outward displays of narcissism, to cover up inward low self-esteem and self-confidence. You are neither coping nor growing; you are simply existing.

Rather than being emotionally-focused when experiencing and analyzing your successes and failures, you must be task-focused, solution-focused. This emphasis requires examination of what happened. Then you must develop resources by consulting with and reaching out to others; you must focus on being realistically optimistic and willing to change your behavior. In short, whether you have experienced success or failure, you must develop a workable plan of action to help you improve your performance the next time.

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