The Thin Line Between Failure And Success

I launched this blog a week later than planned, due to a few technical snafus, but my content was ready for a week before that.

What did I do with the unexpected extra week? Plug away to get a jump start on new content? Prepare some guest posts? Create a Twitter campaign to bring down the house? Nope, nope and nope.

Mostly, I second-guessed everything:

Even though I’ve worked hard to address all of these risks and concerns, I know with 100% certainty that having hit publish, I have failed on multiple fronts.

Many things have undoubtedly already gone wrong. Somewhere I have chosen the wrong voice. I have written something verbose and boring. I have overdone it and sound pompous in one post, and in another I am sure I seem totally clueless. Scariest of all, I am perhaps pleasing a few people, but I am surely disappointing at least as many.

The Difference Between “Failing” And “Being A Failure”

I know I have failed, and will fail, in the ways above, and many more. Every day that I run this blog I will fail at something. What I have to remember is that there is a huge difference between failing and being a failure.

It’s human nature to confuse what we have done with who we are. When we confront our shortcomings, our mind naturally leaps to the conclusion, “I am a failure.” It’s why career feedback discussions are so painful, why we hate to let people see “ugly” photos of us, and why publishing my blog is so darn frightening. We attach our sense of worth to

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snapshots of what we did at one moment in time. Naturally, it hurts to be reminded of moments when we showcased less than our best selves.

The opposite case is true as well. Consider the LinkedIn profile. It’s a place where we assemble all our achievements and call it our professional identity. When you’re feeling low, you can always browse over to your profile and re-live all the glory you’ve had – where you went to college, where you worked, how fast you got promoted. The truth is that none of this is “us.” We are none of the things we’ve done, nor the institutions we’ve attended and worked at, nor even the places we grew up. It’s all a mind trick we use to boost the ego.

The reality is that we are failing and succeeding constantly, and none of it is who we are. Past triumphs and travails are like dust that vanishes on the wind. Our future is just

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a daydream. The only constant is our experience of being human, refreshing itself from moment to moment, every moment. Everything else is just a set of imaginary visions we conjure in our heads.

The Thin Line Between Failure And Success

Letting go of the attachment between our identity and the things we’ve done is not only healthy, it’s also empowering. Being willing to see and examine our failures without shame gives us constant opportunities for improvement.

Better yet, being willing to fail enables us to take on greater challenges, in spite of the great risks and inevitable failures that accompany them.

Success and failure go joyfully hand in hand.
Thin line between failure and success
That bears repeating: When we challenge ourselves, we will fail. The greater the challenge, the more we will fail. Actually, I can’t think of a simpler way to measure a challenge than the likelihood with which we’ll fail.

Of course, our success is also intimately tied up in challenge. One or two successes can be attributed to good luck, but over the course of a month, a year and a lifetime, our greatest achievements will have been our greatest challenges as well. They are times when we stretched to the limits of our abilities, closing the gap between “what I already know I can do” and “what I have the potential to do.”

The trick is to see that there is almost no difference between success and failure. They are two sides of the same coin. Ying and yang.

When we do big things – things that scare and excite us – success and failure are our trusty companions. Yet, if ever forced to choose one over the other, I always choose failure – it is by far the greater teacher of the two.

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  • Sukoon

    I’m back home after meeting Santanu and the gang for dinner and a drink at Janata. I was just telling them about all the rejections so far and how things have been really tough – you know it. I’m still helplessly hoping to get accepted somewhere but I didn’t really understand the difference between ‘failing’ and ‘being a failure’.

    I wish I had read this earlier.

    Thanks bro..

    • Taylor

      Sukoon you will never be a failure brother.

  • http://WiseandFunnySaying Ruth Cox

    I ready a really wise and funny saying the other day on a classroom teacher’s wall. It said, “It takes great courage to be a chicken!” Isn’t that soooo true?!

    • Taylor

      Hi Ruth!

      Haha :-) Yes the concept of courage certainly has some nuance to it. I interpreted “being a chicken” here as being willing to follow, or listen, or just generally step into the background, or to look silly or crazy or small in front of others. How did you interpret it?

      -T.

  • http://www.JudyTsafrirMD.com Judy Tsafrir

    Taylor, I love this post. Its so important. The fear of failing keeps us in hiding and inhibits us from taking the risks that could be really original and meaningful contributions. It is linked to caring too much about what others think or say about you, which then gets overlaid on all the self crititcism. This post is synchronistic for me because I am on the verge of trying some new things that may provoke criticism, and I found your words empowering.

    • Taylor

      so excited and glad to hear that Judy! I hope to hear more!

      • Gideon

        I like this post

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