Success or Failure

By Chris Chittenden

“Most people think of success and failure as opposites, but they both are products of the same process.”

… Roger von Oech in "The Speaker's Electronic Reference Collection"

We have spoken in the past about some of the “language traps” in which people find themselves. These language traps relate to the stories an individual has of the world thereby narrowing their view of the world and the actions they can see to take. Many language traps are found in the black and white nature of a story. For example, if I hold that something is “right” then all other options can easily become “wrong”. The use of such language is liable to create an “either/or” response to a situation and as result limit my possibilities as once I see something as “right”, I will largely ignore other alternatives.

This “either/or” approach can lead to a potential language trap in the concept of success and failure. Even though many people are able to see success on a spectrum, for some this is not the case. These people hold a black and white view of success and anything less than complete success is seen as a failure. Such people often show up as the “perfectionists” of this world, where the focus is on attaining unrealistic outcomes and where mistakes cannot be tolerated. The focus for such people tends to be on what is missing and their conversations will reflect this.

The black and white view of success and the focus on what is missing means that what has been achieved is inclined to be overlooked or outweighed by what has not been done. This often leads to feelings of inadequacy. Although it is useful to have goals and to seek to achieve them, it is also important to generate feelings of accomplishment in order to enhance the possibility of achieving the next set of goals. Hence if we cannot see that there is value in what we have done, even though we may have not completely achieved what we set out to do, we are likely to develop a lesser story of ourselves and therefore trap ourselves in another way. We may begin to believe that we are not good enough and that we cannot succeed.

We see the outcomes of the black and white story of success in people who feel they have not achieved and deems themselves a failure even though it could be said that they had achieved a great deal. They are often people who have defined or been given unrealistic goals and not been able or willing to question these goals. In many ways, they were set up to feel unsuccessful even though they were able to accomplish a great deal. When you find yourself in the situation of establishing your own or other people’s goals, we encourage you to be realistic in what can be achieved and celebrate what has been achieved rather than emphasise what is missing.

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© 2007 Chris Chittenden