Facing Two Imposters: Failure and Success
“Meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same” - Rudyard Kipling, If
In his poem If, Rudyard Kipling described the qualities that would set a person up for success. While the tone of Kipling’s poem might be a little out of place in a modern, egalitarian age, it highlights many fine qualities, not least the benefits of a healthy perspective on failure and success.
What If doesn’t do is to point out the seeds of those qualities already lying within us all.
A Liberated You
A misguided attitude to success can hold us back, just as much as the wrong approach to failure.
It’s easy to see the danger that lies in a fear of failure. We become over cautious and unwilling to take risks, a problem holding back business in modern Africa. We don’t stand up for what we believe in, or speak out when we have good ideas. Fear itself becomes the chain holding us back.
But the same can be true of success. It’s easy to rest on our laurels, to say ‘I’ve done well, and that’s enough’. But being better than others is not the same as being the best that you can be, and if you stand still then eventually you will be surpassed.
Next time you’re tempted to stall in the face of failure or success, treat them both the same way. Think about how much better you’ll feel if you speak up, act on your ideas and keep moving towards higher things. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.
A Dynamic You
A healthy attitude to success and failure can help you to be more dynamic. Great innovators are risk takers. They’re people who try out all sorts of things, accept the failures and celebrate the successes. They don’t stand still.
Being better than others is not the same as being the best that you can be, and if you stand still then eventually you will be surpassed.
It’s why PBS used failures as a measure of success, and why this proved so productive for them. Doing more new things may lead to failures but it leads to successes as well. And the desire to improve on your failures or to replicate your successes becomes an emotional energy that drives you forwards.
Channel your failures into more successes. Think of a time when something went wrong but it inspired you to a better solution. Or remember an occasion when a setback motivated you to something more. Let success and failure both be your fuel, making the most of all of your energy.
A Healthy You
If we become too dependent on success as a measure of self-worth then we lose the ability to cope with setbacks. Higher status people have been shown to struggle after a humbling loss, their sense of self often so tied to being seen as a success that public failure damages their motivation.
But there’s no need to give in to this. Learn to see your successes and failures as both equally valuable. If you did your best, if you applied your talent and made something happen then are you a worse person if it didn’t succeed? Of course not. And do your successes make you a better person? No, it’s the work that you put in along the way, the people that you help, the things that you try, the fact that you learn whether something works or not. Success is good, but it isn’t what makes you great, and deep down you know that already.
Nurture that feeling, because it will keep you healthy.
Two Impostors, One Real You
You don’t need to learn from Kipling to take a healthy attitude to success and failure – the potential is in you already. Tap into that, and find a better you.
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