Extra: Failure Is Merely An Event

“A man may fall many times, but he won’t be a failure until he says that someone pushed him.” — Elmer G. Letterman

The psychology of success and failure is complex but not particularly hard to understand. It starts with personal responsibility. Unless you accept the responsibility for failure, you can’t take the credit for success. Either you are the agent of your life outcomes or the victim of people who are pushing you down. What Letterman didn’t say is that, if you blame others for pushing you down, people other than you deserve the praise for pushing you ahead.

Separating yourself from what you do comes next. As William D. Brown put it, “Failure is an event, never a person.” Your success and failure aren’t who you are. They are merely what you do. S.I. Hayakawa expanded on the same theme, “Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, ‘I have failed three times,’ and what happens when he says, ‘I am a failure.'” The key is in how you manage life’s events, not in the events themselves. Robert Allen expressed it like this, “There is no failure. Only feedback.”

Now consider what you do with the feedback life provides. Napoleon Hill observed, “The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.” It’s not enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and climb back on that horse that threw you. You need a better plan for staying in the saddle. Sure, getting up and starting over is tough. Yes, that damn horse may throw you again. Indeed, your new plan may not work any better than the old one; but it’s like Beverly Sills said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Thomas Edison managed the disappointment this way, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work;” and Samuel Beckett had a similar persistent optimism, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With role models like Edison and Beckett, you can hardly go wrong, so long as you keep trying. As Charles F. Kettering put it, “One fails forward toward success.”

George E. Woodberry knew the essence of success, “Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” Continuing effort is seldom elegant or easy; but Elbert Hubbard’s simple point may be all you actually need to know, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” With that said, Mary Pickford gets the last word on the psychology of success and failure, “Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”