Being wary of success

When we don’t meet our expectations or the targets we set to achieve; we are often told to take solace in the fact that failures are a stepping stone for success. We are reminded to introspect ourselves and find out where we went wrong so that we would not repeat the same mistakes again.

However, our successes are always met with adulation and praise and we are made to feel that we have done everything right. As a result, we often fail to introspect and ignore the role of chance that might have played a part in our success. Rarely do people ask us to introspect when we surpass their expectations. 

Consider India’s recent Champions trophy triumph. We only talk about how well India played  in the tournament and how they deserved to win the cup. But it was actually a couple of minutes of  English self destruction in the final that gifted India the cup. Of course, they did play well to get to the final but on another day India could have been on the losing side and we would immediately find a host of reasons for their loss. But for us a victory overshadows all the small mistakes which (un)fortunately did not have to play a major role.

The major reason why we dont ask others to introspect in their moment of glory is that we are bothered only about the final result and not the process leading to that outcome. We dont ask a kid who gets a perfect score on his class test, if he had skipped certain portions but was lucky not to see them on his test paper. A full score means he is a prodigy: No further questions please.

Another reason is that we are afraid to ask someone to take some time to think about his success. We feel that it would roughly translate into something like “Sorry pal, you dont deserve this. You were very lucky” which project us as a jealous person.

In the end, it is upon us to ensure that we don’t overestimate our capabilities or underestimate the role of chance since it is a failure to introspect after a success which often causes our next defeat

Does ‘failure’ really exist?

What exactly is ‘failure’? Most dictionaries define failure as the lack of success. We define success. It is a goal which we wish to achieve. It could be getting a centum in the math exam or following a strict diet. So, when we do not achieve these self-defined goals, we say that we have failed in our task.

Let us take the examples of two students ‘A’ and ‘B’. Both are appearing for the same exam with different aims and different levels of preparation.

Lets say that ‘B’ is aiming to pass. He  has studied 40 percent of the syllabus and has practiced all possible types of questions related to that portion to make sure that he doesn’t face a new problem related to that 40 percent of the syllabus in the exam. In the end he scores 40, the number required to pass. ‘A’ believes that he has studied everything and is aiming for a perfect score. ‘A’ has practiced like ‘B’ covering almost the entire syllabus but he is not as comfortable with one chapter which leads to the loss of 3 marks. So although ‘A’ might take solace from being the topper, he has failed in his goal which was to score 100, while B has succeeded in achieving his goal of passing.

Clearly, ‘B’ has made sure that he would not fail while ‘A’ had jeopardized his chances of getting a perfect score by not preparing as hard on one chapter as he did for the others.

Before setting out to achieve our goals we often believe that we have met the prerequisite conditions to achieve it but may later end up failing. This is because those prerequisite conditions are set by us. Have we really included the solutions to all possible difficulties in it like the student ‘B’? If we haven’t done so we mostly end up ‘ failing’.( I say ‘mostly’ because you never know when lady luck can hit you )

So if we have met all those prerequisite conditions where is the question of failure?  If we make every single adjustment and be prepared for all the difficulties which may arise during our quest to achieve that goal, we will never fail. But if we have not met those prerequisite conditions, then is it fair to expect to succeed? Shouldn’t the student ‘A’ be expecting to score 97 instead of 100?

What I’m trying to say is that ‘Failure’ is a type of perception. It arises when there is a mismatch  between our definition of success and our level of preparation. For when we have not prepared ourselves entirely, we may not succeed as we haven’t achieved the goal set by us, but we do achieve something which is proportional to our level of preparation. If the student ‘A’ had aims of scoring 97, he would have succeeded as his definition of success and his level of preparation would have matched.

So when a person believes that he has ‘failed’, it actually means that he has succeeded with some other definition of success and not the one he wished for.

(P.S- This is a very complex philosophical post where I have tried my best to express my belief. You may not understand this post or disagree with me. In any case, please do leave a comment. )