Rethinking Failure And Success

What prevents you from living the life you want? What frightens you the most? Is it the potential for failure, success, or both? Many times when a person seeks change in their life the fear and anxiety are larger obstacles than lack of skill or capability. And while realistic expectations are necessary, collapsing under the weight of fear maintains the status quo. Fear keeps us inside the box.

Let’s start with the idea of failure. Everyone has to define what failure means to them. But I would like to suggest that failure simply means unmet expectations. When failure is defined in this manner, we can then examine whether the expectations were realistic and attainable. Sometimes reducing the perception of failure requires an adjustment in our expectations of ourselves and others. One day when I was frustrated, a good friend suggested my expectations were too high and left me easily disappointed. The more I thought about this, the more I realized he was right. What might happen if I began to construct reasonable goals instead of ideal ones?

Now I want to move on to the idea of success. In the dictionary’s definition, one description of success is a “Hollywood ending.” Most of the time a Hollywood ending is not imperfect. In fact it’s typically the ideal ending. But ideal success is not attainable at least not for most and certainly not instantly. So again, what if we redefine success as improvement or even movement? What if we believed we were successful if we took one step toward our goal? Success may not equal the absence of a problem, but it may equal a series of steps in a single direction.

Let’s use therapy as an example. Often, an individual may consider therapy for months or even years before going. Why? We may have certain beliefs about therapy itself or ideas of what counseling says about us. Furthermore, we can become paralyzed by what others may think or say. In the situation let’s apply the new definitions of failure and success. Previously we may have thought of therapy as a failure if our concern didn’t resolve quickly. With a new perspective we can see that addressing our issue can be interpreted as success. In fact, making the appointment can reflect one single step toward our goal. Success. Step two could be attending the appointment. Success. Step three could be an honest discussion with the therapist. Success. Step four could be to complete the homework assignment. Success. Instead of saying to myself, “Therapy is only successful when my problem is solved,” I can say, “I was successful today because I took a positive step.” Over time with each step building on the previous one, we create momentum in the direction of our desired change.

Change is difficult. And, people tend to resist it. The process alone can be frightening and unsettling. For many of us it takes time to grow more comfortable with our need to make positive change in our lives. However, there is an opportunity to welcome change with less trepidation. Rethinking limiting concepts of failure and success can shift the perspective enough to create room to grow.

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