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There is no finality about failure, said Jawaharlal Nehru. Perhaps, that is why learning from failure is easier than learning from success, as success often appears to be the last step of the ladder. Possibilities of life, however, are endless and there are worlds beyond the stars—which is literally true. What appears as success in one moment may turn out to be a failure or even worse in the next moment.
We often do not know what is failure and what is success ultimately.
There are examples of people who became wealthy but renounced all their wealth achieved after a lifetime’s effort. The kings like Bharthrihari gave up their kingdoms because of their failure in love. The Duke of Windsor abdicated the throne of England for marrying an American divorcee Miss Simpson.
While we can see our failures clearly, success is prone to blind our vision. Yet, the time-world that we live in is a mixture of pain and pleasure, sorrow and delight, light and darkness, success and failure! Success as well as failure are parts of our life and experience. We gain from both and also lose from both. Failure dejects us, success delights us, but experience accretes them both. After a while, success also loses its shine just as failure loses its sting. An aware person learns from both successes and failures of life and begins to see life what it is.
Most people try to achieve what they want. They either fail or succeed in getting what they want. In a difficult world trial and error become our way of solving life’s problems. Yet there are escapists who avoid undertaking the trial because they are scared of meeting failure or committing the error. They, perhaps, consider making mistake as wrong and harmful but the fact is that, for most of us, trial and error are both helpful and necessary.
Error provides the feedback for building the ladder to success. Error pushes one to put together a new and better trial, leading through more errors and trials, hopefully, finding ultimately a workable and creative solution. To meet with an error is only a temporary, and often necessary part of the process that leads to success or well-earned achievement. No errors or failures, often, means no success either. This is more true in business and while handling an on-going project.
According some business training programmes, an early partial success is not commended. In fact, early success in a long-term project is regarded as a premature outcome of good efforts that is likely to cause complaisance and slackening of effort to achieve the ultimate objective of the project. Early success might tempt one to get fixed on to what seemed to have worked so quickly and easily and stop from looking up any further. Later, maybe, a competitor will learn from the slackened ‘achiever’ to further explore for larger possibilities and push on to find a much better solution that will push the earlier achiever out of the competition.
Yet, there are many organisations who believe in what they call ‘culture of perfection: a set of organisational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable’. Only a hundred per cent, untainted success will be acceptable. “To retain your reputation as an achiever, you must reach every goal and never, ever make a mistake that you can’t hide or blame on someone else”.
But this is a flawed strategy because the stress and terror in such an organisation, at some point, become unbearable and lead to attrition. The ceaseless covering up of small blemishes, finger-pointing and shifting the blame result into rapid turnover, as people rise high, then fall abruptly from grace. Meanwhile, lying, cheating, falsifying of data, and hiding of problems goes on and swings and shakes the organisation from crisis to crisis and, ultimately, weakens it irreparably.
Some ego-driven, ‘experienced’ achievers forget that time and environment have changed and demand other kinds of inputs. A senior lecturer of ten years’ standing was rejected and one with only one-year experience was selected. When the senior protested, selectors told him: “You too have only one year of experience—only repeated ten times. The selected lecturer has fresher and more relevant experience.”
Balance counts and a little failure may help preserve one’s perspective on success. Finally, life is more than a count of failures and successes, as a humorist said: “try and try—only twice, the third time let some one else try” is yet another way of looking at life’s struggle.