I’ve read some dumb-ass motivational statements in my time. One of my favourites is: “To succeed, simply outlast failure.” It sounds wonderfully and deceptively simple. Just keep going. You’ll get there. Failure will give up. But if what you’re doing doesn’t work—i.e. there is a structural reason for your failure—then continuing to do it will simply bring you more failure.
That’s the situation I found myself in some years ago. Everything in my life was failing. Work, relationships, projects—you name it. I became increasingly desperate for success, any success, that I could hold up as evidence to prove that my life—and I with it—was not a failure.
Lowering the bar
As my failures piled up, I set the bar progressively lower and lower. My definition of success broadened to include the most trivial of positive occurrences that no one in their right minds would have paid any heed to.
It didn’t work.
The bar eventually ended up on the ground—I was even thinking of digging a trench below ground level for it to sink into—but success never materialised. As the failures piled up, the belief that I was a failure simply became magnified and entrenched. There was a structural reason for my failure.
It started with an assumption—the assumption that my belief whether I was a success or a failure was driven off whether I experienced success or failure. I was experiencing failure; therefore I believed I was a failure. Actually it was the other way around: I believed I was a failure; therefore I was experiencing failure. The problem was how to reverse the cycle.
The Eureka moment
Once I rooted out this assumption, the Eureka moment arrived. There was one thing in the world that nothing and no one could stop me from being not just successful at, but being brilliant at… an industry leader, a world champion.
I could succeed at being a failure.
Unlike the mantra, “To succeed, simply outlast failure,” my logic was impeccable. I threw myself into celebrating every failure as if I had just won the lottery, the World Cup, the presidential election (a bit of a poisoned chalice these days).
Unlike the mantra, “To succeed, simply outlast failure,” my logic was impeccable. I threw myself into celebrating every failure as if I had just won the lottery, the World Cup, the presidential election (a bit of a poisoned chalice these days). I genuinely celebrated. I danced. I jumped up and down and shouted. I whooped and hollered. I punched the air and high-fived myself, all the while fervently believing that my latest failure made me a roaring success.
Guess what? It worked.
Undermined by my success, all my buried feelings of failure rose to the surface as emotional pain. It took weeks to process, a little each day, but I got there. There came a day when that pain was gone—and with it my belief that I was a failure. And with that belief gone, success started to show up. That didn’t mean that everything was successful, but when something didn’t work I didn’t feel like a failure. I learned, moved on, and experienced growing success.
If the sense of being a failure sounds familiar, why not try this? What have you got to lose? If you’re failing at success, then succeed at failure.