ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Why Being Content With Failure Won’t Result In Success​

So why do we celebrate it?

Monarch butterflies that choose to summer in Ontario, Canada, haven’t made life easy for themselves. In fall, when it’s time for them to migrate south, the route of their journey requires a 250km non-stop flight over the Great Lakes. How is this even possible? That’s a great question, and this is how.

Before their flight, a monarch will bulk up and increase its body fat reserves. Then it just sits there and waits, and waits, and waits, for exactly the perfect moment when temperature and wind direction are ideal. Once the monarch sets off to cross the Great Lakes, it is one hundred percent committed for the long haul.

Was Winston Churchill fully committed for the long haul? He may have been, but in the same breath, I think it’s fair to question his commitment to success based on a famous quote of his. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It goes like this…

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Churchill didn’t believe in dedication and long-term commitment. I just take issue with his quote. It sounds like a cop-out. In this article I’ll share why I believe Churchill was wrong in his quote by discussing the following:

  1. The glorification of failure
  2. The disregard for specialization
  3. Where’s the motivation?

Let’s get started by discussing whether failure should be glorified. I’ll begin with a question.

What’s the opposite of success?​

The answer is easy — the polar opposite would have to be failure. So where does Churchill come up with the notion that failure after failure equates to success? Is it the addition of enthusiasm that turns an apparent negative event into a positive outcome? It sounds to me like Churchill is suggesting that if we’re enthusiastic about our failures, in essence, we’ve then succeeded. Really? Does failure equal success? I don’t know. Honestly, from my experience, this is how I feel about it.

Failure isn’t all that great​

If I had an outright choice between being successful and failing, I’d choose to be successful seven days of the week. Failing time after time kinda sucks. Before you start to remind me, I know what you’re gonna say — to be successful, to some extent, failure is necessary. Sure. But why glorify it?

Failure needs to be the enemy​

Failure should be conquered. No one, at least no one I know, includes failure in their goals. Having a motto like “Success consists of going from failure to failure…” is like saying failure is good, failure is fine because when I fail, I’m actually succeeding. I disagree. Failure is bad and failure is not going to pay the rent. Legitimizing failure can become an endless loop — try something — fail — try something different — fail again. See where this is going? This brings us to my second point — the disregard for specialization.

It’s easy to quit when the going gets tough​

Learning a new skill, tackling a new project, or navigating a relationship — those can be tough. Quitting on them is easy. But commitment to them is hard, right? If we quit, have we succeeded? No — we’ve failed. However, according to Churchill, this may be the path to success. Perhaps you’ll agree with me on this — nothing in life comes easy and is without work. If you want it you have to work for it. This means not quitting when things get difficult. Not giving up when it looks impossible. But rather, staying committed and persisting during those tough times. This persistence is what brings about specialization.

Success comes through specialization​

When we don’t quit but rather keep working at getting better, we become a specialist. We become an expert at whatever it is that we conquer. Then we’ll have success. Not by quitting and moving on to the next shiny object. Success comes from being an overcomer. A victor. Besides, if our pattern is one of quitting and starting over, how do you keep up the enthusiasm? We’re now up to the third point — where will the much-needed motivation come from?

Do you have someone to encourage you?​

Failing is a drag. No fun at all. If all we experience is failure, it’s going to take a lot more motivation to keep us going. So going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm, well, there’s gotta be a motivating force to sustain that. Even the best of us will need someone to cheer us on when things don’t work out as we had hoped for. Count yourself blessed if you have that person or team in your corner. But what if we don’t? What can keep us enthused?

Victories are like a perpetual enthusiasm machine​

It’s so much easy to keep going, to stay motivated and enthusiastic, when you’re having success. Wins help us build momentum. Momentum becomes our best friend and gives us that added boost of motivation. There’s no lack of energy when all you do is win. Getting out of bed in the morning is easy! Not so much when failure is just around the corner. Winning sounds great, but isn’t there some amount of failure required before anyone can achieve success? Is it even possible to succeed on the first try? It’s possible, but not very likely. Now watch this — I’m about to contradict myself.

Failure isn’t all bad​

There — I said it. Yes, there will be some attempts that end in failure. It’s inevitable. No one succeeds at everything all the time. So here’s where wisdom plays a large role — knowing when quitting is the right decision. At that point, moving on will bring us closer to success. We’ll have discovered what doesn’t work for us. So instead of trying to succeed against all odds, we need to move on to our next undertaking.

But hold on! What gives?

One minute ago I was preaching about how failure sucks, how it’s the enemy and needs to be conquered. And then I dare to ascribe an iota of positivity to it? Looks like an example is due.

Let’s use Andy Frisella as an example​

The fitness and nutrition entrepreneur started 1st Phorm supplements in the year 2000. For many years, the business struggled, big time. It was a challenge just to make ends meet. In fact, after ten years of being in business, Frisella could still only pay himself $700 a month. But Frisella didn’t quit. There were failures along the way, but he didn’t accept failure as a whole. Today, twenty years after he started 1st Phorm, it’s a $200 million a year business. Frisella was committed for the long haul and knew success would follow. You can hear more about Frisella’s incredible journey in his podcast interview with Nathan Chan of Foundr.com. Ok, let’s circle back to Churchill and his infamous quote.

Is it possible to improve on Churchill’s theology?​

Perhaps, and maybe this is a better line:

Success consists of going from trial to trial without loss of enthusiasm.

What do you think? As long as we’re striving, there will always be trials. Of course, every attempt has the possibility of ending in failure. Succeeding is so much better though. Failure shouldn’t be the goal, as we covered in this article by looking at the following points:

  1. The glorification of failure
  2. The disregard for specialization
  3. Where’s the motivation?

Winston Churchill was a brilliant man, a true leader when times were tough. He exhibited much wisdom when difficult decisions had to be made. But his admiration for failure, that’s where I can’t agree. Let’s rather aim for success, and accept failure as a sometimes necessary evil.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful.

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Steve Kehler

Sharing my experience in marketing. To a 2nd grader, a 4th grader is a genius.