Feeling Like v. Being A Failure

It keeps popping up in my social media feeds. A Google search reveals its attribution: Abdul Kalam, or, more precisely, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen “A. P. J.” Abdul Kalam, the 11th president of India.

Google’s define feature presents the following definitions for “failure:”

  1. Lack of success, or an unsuccessful person, enterprise or thing.
  2. The omission of expected or required action, or a lack or deficiency of a desirable quality.
  3. The action or state of not functioning, or a sudden cessation or power, or the collapse of a business.

I read those definitions and wonder what “success” means. Google gives the following definition:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose, or the attainment of popularity or profit, or a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

Being miserable in California feels like a failure. Looking at Google’s second definition for failure, it strikes me more as being a failure due to “deficiency of a desirable quality,” namely being happy. Playing pickup soccer games, joining a league, taking continuing studies classes at Stanford all failed to yield some sense of happiness. And all of them are activities that have brought me happiness elsewhere, even in Vancouver.

It’s hard not to think of the entire experience as being a failure. Even work, but everyone will tell me work is not a failure. And they have stressed not to think of it that way. It wasn’t a failure, but a symptom of failure. Of unhappiness. No one doubted my ability to do the work. People pointed out the contributions I made, the impact I had, and the surprise/shock of my departure. Every one of them was more empathetic than I expected, and that I am to be commended for taking such a big risk. Many people also pointed out the gravity of recognizing when something isn’t working, and taking action. Course correction.

Course correction feels like failure. The litany of “what could or should I have done better” circulates, makes you question everything. If my aim is to be happy, though, or simply not to be miserable, a No to misery if you will, then this is a step towards a new opportunity.

Perhaps the thing to do is stop figuring out how to classify failure, and start figuring out how to classify success.

What feels like success? What is a success?