Success and Failure

A successful person is not someone who wakes up one day and has a brilliant idea, immediately implements the idea — and enjoys massive success, just like that.

Great ideas do sometimes come on suddenly, although usually they do not. Usually, ideas evolve over time. Usually, it takes repeated failures and disappointments to narrow down a good idea, in the end.

Once you have a good idea — in business, science, technology, the creative arts, whatever it is — it doesn’t come into actualization immediately. Christopher Columbus had a good idea in the years leading up to 1492. Unfortunately, almost nobody believed him. He needed the moral and financial support of others to launch his mission, a mission that changed the world forever. He spent exhausting and frustrating years leading up to his mission, and the years after were a bitter disappointment as well, as it turned out. It doesn’t take away from the greatness of his idea; but it shows how great ideas don’t always lead to easy street, or in fact never lead to totally easy street.

There’s a crucial difference between the thinking of successful people and people who do not succeed. Successful people take failure in stride. They view failure as more data with which to figure out what is actually true. They see failures as far less important than the success they ultimately anticipate. Unsuccessful people have little or no toleration for failure. They see failure as unacceptable, so much so that they will never take risks. Successful people value the journey no less than the destination. Of course Columbus wanted to prove the earth was round, and he did so. But he also wanted to accomplish many other things, things that he could not — in part because the world was bigger than he realized, in part because he was a great explorer but not a great political leader, and in part because most of his supporters were less rational and great than he was. If Columbus had realized all this, he might have given up rather than persisted against unbelievable odds for years prior to his voyage. If he had given up, his own life and the lives of everyone else — even today — would be very different.

Success takes both good ideas and hard work. Hard work alone will make you a good or great employee, but hard work alone does not constitute greatness. At the same time, a great idea is worthless without the hard work and persistence required to follow it up. For someone who believes in and values a great idea, working hard is not a burden, nor even a “price.” The hard work which breathes life into the great idea — one’s own great idea — is part of the reward itself. People who are filled with resentment and envy don’t understand this, and refuse to do so. They look at someone who’s successful and they think, “How lucky that person was.” It wasn’t luck. It was a combination of creativity — coming up with the good idea — and the willingness and effort to bring that idea into concrete reality. Envy is based on the premise that one person is just as likely as another to achieve fame, fortune, or success of any kind, and that it’s a sign of metaphysical “unfairness” for one person to accomplish a lot more than another.

Successful people often foster envy, intentionally or not. They say, “I’m very fortunate.” Did your rich relative die and leave you millions or billions? If so, that much is fortunate. But it’s still up to you to hold onto that income, or spend it in a way that makes you happy. And most fortunes have to be created. Aside from someone leaving you valuable money or property, nobody is going to create anything that must be the product of your mind, such as an invention, a work of art, a computer program or anything else. Envious people evade the fact that most wealth is caused by somebody having a good or great idea, so great in fact that a lot of people are willing to pay money for it — hence the wealth created by the idea. By hating the person (and envy is hate) for having that wealth, or that success, the envious person hates a lot of things, in the process. He’s hating money, even though he clearly wants money (how can you hate something that you want so badly?) He’s hating the productive effort of others, all those who did the hard work to make the success a reality. He hates the person who came up with the great idea, for his own best talents. And he hates the people who decide to purchase, invest in, or otherwise associate with the content of that great idea. Envy is a destructive, invalid and irrational emotion. Nevertheless, it’s a prevalent one, and it animates much if not all of the social and political policy of our era, not to mention most eras prior to it.

We should all value and treasure success. In order to value something, you must understand its nature, and its cause. If you truly understand what success is, you will value it everywhere. You will value its potential or actualization in yourself; and you will value it in others. You will want success to flourish everywhere, the more the better. Success is both an end in itself, and valuable for all that it brings to all who benefit from it. It’s much more inspiring, comfortable and profitable, even for the less successful, to live in a world dominated by the always continuing advancement of success. Great success is special, and it’s not the norm. It doesn’t come to everyone, including some who make great efforts. This is no reason to despise it, thwart it or punish it.