Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Failure: A Stepping Stone On The Pathway To Success

September 27, 2010

Many people don't know what to make of a setback. Does it mean they have failed? How do they know it if what they've done is a failure. Or a success? Is finishing in second place a failure? Is finishing last and learning an invaluable lesson a success?

Here are some guidelines to help tell the difference between success and failure:

- Measure against one's standards. Success is knowing how well we have done when comparing our performance to our capabilities. What most athletes want is to give their best performance. Some people turn success into failure by comparing themselves to others. How others do is irrelevant when one has done his or her best. There are many private victories well away from the victory stand.

- Learn from defeat. One doesn't learn from success: Success is built on failure. Detection of what is false directs us toward what is true. Failure humbles us. It opens us up to rethink our assumptions and to learn something new.

Success comes from making mistakes, from falling short, and then recognizing and correcting errors. True failure takes place when we don't learn from our experience and mistakes. Failure is good when we learn from it.

Would we trade our failure experiences? Most people wouldn't. It would be giving up precious knowledge earned at a high price.

"One never learns by success. Success is the plateau that one rests upon to take breath and look down from upon the straight and difficult path, but one does not climb upon a plateau." - Josephine Preston Peabody.

- Know where you are going. Success takes time and purpose. Time will be the ultimate judge of success. Many times we can't judge the outcome of our efforts until we see how things turn out.

"The man who succeeds above his fellows is the one who, early in life, clearly discerns his object, and towards that object habitually directs his powers. Even genius itself is but fine observation strengthened by fixity of purpose. Every man who observes vigilantly and resolves steadfastly grows unconsciously into genius." - Bulwer.

- Try something hard. Many people hold back because of fear - fear of making mistakes, fear of what others might think. There is value in trying. Even failure may be seen as success.

''A noble failure serves the world as faithfully as a distinguished success." - Dowden.

"They never fail who die in a great cause." - Byron

- Just do it. How do we know what we are good at and what we enjoy unless we try? To try your best and fail is to learn something valuable. Once we start, the pathway to learning begins. Most failure is failure to start.

- Persistence makes it happen. Success is believing in what you are doing and persisting with great determination until it pays off. It takes great inner faith, vision and confidence to stick with a good idea or dream

when the outcome is doubtful. The vision of where one is going is clear. The journey is long and hard. Steps are taken one at a time. Failure is giving up too soon.

"Failure establishes only this, that our determination to succeed was not strong enough." - Bovee.

- Success can come from letting go. Life is built on a series of missteps, false starts and blind alleys. Failure is foolishly hanging on to something that is not working when the evidence is there that it won’t work.

The difference between failure and success is not letting our hopes, dreams and emotions blind us to reality. Successful people have common sense, fools don't.

Success is learning about ourselves, accepting limitations, finding our special gifts, and letting go of what cannot be. Success grieves and starts over with attainable goals. Some goals are impossible or become impossible. There are forces beyond one's control.

"Failure is often God's own fool for carving some of the finest outlines in the character of his children; and, even in this lift, bitter and crushing failures have often in them the gems of new and quite unimagined happiness." - T. Hodgkin

- Be faithful to inner convictions. Success is being faithful to that inner voice that tells us to live up to the principles we believe to be true. That voice buried within us resists being clouded over with rationalizations or a willingness to settle for an inferior life. We heed its call and return to the truth that is within us. Failure is not being true to the best one knows.

"Man cannot be satisfied with mere success. He is concerned with the terms upon which success comes to him. And very often the terms seem more important than the success." - Charles Bennett.

There is a fine line between success and failure. The telling moments in life are those when we confront defeat and failure and squeeze from them the truth that sets us on a path toward success.