Friday, May 13, 2011

Triumph: Overcoming Failures


A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
—Sir Winston Churchill

Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
—Thomas Edison

You always pass failure on the way to success.
Mickey Rooney

Triumph: In the 1924 film by Cecil B DeMille, King Garnet, the son of a factory owner, redeems himself after two years living a squalid existence and a fall from his inherited station in life. King regains his position in society and also gets the girl. He triumphs over his failures, some of which he created, after some soul searching and self-recognition.
Photo Credit & Source: Wikipedia

One of the themes common to notable persons, the famous and not-so-famous, is how they have overcame failures. Many failures. Some large. Some small. Now, I am not looking to write an inspirational essay, although there is nothing wrong with a pep talk at times. But I have been thinking about the ideas surrounding success and failure, including my own.

Success rarely comes easy. It might seem that way when one reads about some young billionaire, or some athlete, or some Hollywood actor. Leaving aside the question of what success they have achieved, and how they will leave their mark on history, success for the vast majority of us is the eventual triumph of a succession of failures. One can say painful personal failures.

I am reminded of the first stanza of Emily Dickinson's lyric poem, Success is Counted Sweetest (1859):
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
That's right. Success is not meant to come easy. If it does, it's not truly meaningful. It has to involve some battle, some resistance, often internal, to go beyond the restraints holding us back. Success comes on the heels of hard work. Success often comes on the heels of a succession of failures, sometimes when one is at the lowest point in life. That's why expressions like the Comeback Kid are popular. That's also why people like to see and read stories on how people have overcome adversity. To cheer on people who have been down-and-out and have come back. Stronger than ever.

That might sound like a cliche, but all cliches have some internal meaning, even if  they sound hollow. It's considered bad form to use cliches in writing, especially among the literary mavens, but that doesn't mean the cliche itself is untrue. An overused form does not make it less true than a new, original form. That is, new and original is not always better. It could be worse. But I digress.

Now, after a profound failure, there are the critics, who say "I told you so," or "You shouldn't have done it that way," or some words to that effect. Some are well-meaning, some are just plain critical, and many are fearful of life itself.  Beware of the critic and the critical, a point that Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the United States, said:
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Like most humans walking this planet, I have had some defeats, and they have been painful setbacks, made more so by foolish and harsh critics. Yet, I have learned to disregard them, and eventually forged ahead. Without my most recent failure, a humbling closure of the business that my wife and I started, I wouldn't have started this blog. That has led to many other avenues and introductions, none of which I would have foreseen. And I have met many wonderful people along this journey of life.

So, in my small way I feel successful. In the failures, I have learned some things about myself that weren't fully evident before. I have also learned more about human nature, and the varying kinds of people who populate this planet. You can find good if you look for it.


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