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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Musings: What is Failure? Success?



Fall views from my daily walk on the Oregon Trail

Several posts of my fellow bloggers such as Beth, Helen, Kathy, Sandra, Enid and Lynda made me think about how every time the seasons turn it is a opportunity for reflection on a life's course, past, present and future. This time of year when the ground goes fallow is especially conducive to contemplating the past. Not only the past, but what it means for the present and the future. And though the past is gone, it still impacts our behaviors and attitudes today. And while judging our experiences is a bit of a folly, still it's human.

But I've discovered that in judging the past, I'm continually...wrong. Which brings us to the topic. Because, what is failure? Success? It might seem easy to say, "I wish I'd been a bestseller with my first novel and therefore I'm a failure." Except that my first novel was written when I was 11 and much of it was written in colored markers. Now I believe that attempt was a success--certainly I knew I had the passion and discipline to write at an early age! And who can know what a "success" might bring?

And what is success? Again, the definition shifts like fine sand in a loosely grasping hand. I grew up in a posh ski resort and rubbed my hand-me-down Kmart coat elbows with the children of the rich and famous and "successful." And while having money is quite useful--still I'll never forget my friend who could never be without her nanny's supervision (we couldn't go outside often--fear of kidnappers) and who had never tasted peanut butter (chef didn't approve).

I suppose we'd all agree that failure is when we hurt someone, a successful life is when we leave the world a little better off for us being in it--but what about the less important aspects? For me, I count successes when I remain true to my writing passion and true to the love I feel for friends and family. I count when I forget those truths as my failures.

How about you? What do you see as past failures? Successes? Or perhaps more importantly, how has your perceptions changed over time of what might be a success or failure?

19 comments:

Carol Kilgore said...

Deep thoughts here. I don't know that I think of past events as successes or failures, but as things occur I often wonder why. Usually at a later date I understand about most of them.

Beth said...

A sports radio host has a favorite quote about how people shouldn't view losing as failure. Instead, he points out that it means you're pitting yourself against more talented people, and you should learn from them and be proud of yourself for stretching your boundaries. What I see as a failure might be a raging success to someone else. It's all relative. Maybe we should be kinder to ourselves and think less of failing and more of learning lessons... Great post, Conda!! And thanks for the plug. :-)

Jim Murdoch said...

It's all to do with expectations. We fail when we fail to meet whatever expectations we've set for a particular task. I see failure as inevitable since we invariably get it wrong when it comes to guessing what the future will bring, time and unforeseen occurrence being always against us of course.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." – this is a well known quote from Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho, and about the only thing anyone will ever remember from the piece. I think it's good advice, realistic.

In simplistic terms that means coming to terms with the expression "good enough" – something doesn't need to be perfect but it does need to be good enough for the purpose for which it's intended. Like this comment. I've got across my points in a reasonably concise way.

I could elaborate. I could trim. How much time can I reasonably devote to this? All things to be considered. Ultimately its success is dependent on factors I can't influence, the readers.

Enid Wilson said...

Very thought provoking question. To me, success in life is having improved myself. Am I a better person than yesterday? Have I grown, in the mind?

Steamy Darcy

SWUBIRD said...

Conda:

In my opinion, success is directly related to expectation. If you set out to write a story, and you expect to complete it, and you do complete it, that's success. But if you expect to also get paid for it, and you don't, you might feel unsuccessful.

I try to complete every project I do without loading myself up with the grand idea that I will be the great American novelist. But I must admit, when something does get published, it certainly feels good.

Happy trails.

Helen Ginger said...

It's hard to define successes and failures, I think. There's the usual, my kids and marriage - successes. Failures are more difficult. I try to learn from what I did wrong in situations so I don't repeat them. Perhaps that makes them successes, in a teeny way? Who knows.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Conda V. Douglas said...

Carol--so true that so often it's only in later context where we know whether an event was all for the good, or not.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Beth, you always show a lot of great wisdom in your postings and comments. And yes, we're too quick to find failure and dismiss success.

Caryn Caldwell said...

Well said! As for your questions, I think my biggest successes are the times when I've learned from my failures and moved on to become a better, wiser person who makes better decisions. Can't say that's always the case, but I do try!

Kathy McIntosh said...

Thought provoking post, Conda.
I've found that sometimes what we think of as failures may be successes. I once quit a job I hated, thinking I'd failed at it, but recommended it to someone who is still grateful for the chance to do something he loved.
Loved the Beckett quote Jim mentioned.
I believe we fail when we give up, so I keep trying, and remember Winston Churchill's advice to a graduating class (is it apocryphal?), "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up."

Conda V. Douglas said...

Jim--the quote from Worstward Ho says it all!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Enid, I too often use that yardstick, although sometimes it's also...am I maintaining at least?

Conda V. Douglas said...

Expectations--ah, yes, Swu, the bane of a writer's life--or at least this writer's life. Without expectations I don't believe I would be half as neurotic!

Elisabeth said...

I'm new to your blog, Conda, and intrigued by your thoughts on success and failure.

I'm of the view that a certain amount of failure is essential to life. Without it we remain unchallenged.

In my own life, one of my greatest failures has become one of my greatest sources of success. Life's like that I suppose. It isn't just a case of what you get and what happens to you, it's what you do with it.

I look forward to exploring your thoughts more.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Helen, if we never failed would we ever learn anything?

Conda V. Douglas said...

Helen, I believe any time we learn something it's a success--at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Caryn, I can tell from your blog that you often succeed!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Kathy, Winston Churchill's quote is true--and he said it during a time when many believed only failure was an option--how wrong they were!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Elisabeth, welcome, welcome to my blog--I've already popped over to yours and am enjoying your thoughts and insights on this odd writing life.