Fear of Failure, Lure of Success

Why is it that so many people are driven by the fear of failure, rather than the lure of success? Is it because there is a stigma attached to failure to the point that we want to avoid failure at all costs? Is it because success seems elusive to so many of us? And what is success anyway?

Success for me isn’t momentary or transient, it’s an ongoing paradigm. It’s a state of grace. If I take a sporting analogy, it’s winning a competition that lasts 9 months (against 19 other teams), rather than winning a single (albeit important) game. Here is my take on my some of my successes and a few of my failures (and why, with hindsight, the failures don’t matter).

Younger Me: In high school I wanted so much to play for the 1st XI at soccer and cricket, but no matter how hard I trained, I was never quite skilful enough. At the same time I discovered that I could run (fast) and that I also had excellent stamina; however, running wasn’t cool in school, so I kept on trying out for the soccer and cricket teams and eventually, in my final year, became a fringe player, getting a game when others were injured or sick.

Wiser Me: I never played cricket again after high school, but I did play soccer (and for a few years 3 times each weekend) until a few years ago. The wiser me reflects that I won far more trophies in the last 5 years of my soccer “career” than I did in the previous 30!!! The biggest success, in hindsight though, was the camaraderie and friendships I forged with the hundreds of guys I played with. On the running front, I have completed five marathons and about 20 half marathons and these days I employ my fitness and stamina on a daily basis playing tennis, badminton and squash while also riding my bike as often as I can. Brain and body fitness go hand in hand in my book.

Younger Me: When I left high school University wasn’t really an option as my academic achievements weren’t consistent enough – great at Maths and Geography, crap at science and languages!! I fantasised that if I’d lived in the USA I would have gained an athletics scholarship to a top Uni, but it was a fantasy! Somehow I won a national writing competition in my final year at high school, but in hindsight, I think the rest of my final year suffered because of the 3 months I focused on that competition.

Wiser Me: As far as I can tell my lack of a University degree hasn’t damaged my career, but I think that is more of a reflection of the time I left high school (the early ’70s) than any monumental effort on my part. I did manage my career strategically but also got a break early when I lucked onto a job as a computer operator in 1971 and from there I gained access to programming, business analysis and latterly software testing. The key decisions were to focus on the finance industry in the mid ’80s, specialise in software testing in the mid ’90s and move business sectors every two years from early 2000. If I hadn’t taken a strategic approach to my career I would have drifted along, like many of my early contemporaries, and achieved far less.

Younger Me: I was desperate to become a manager in my late 20s and early 30s, but opportunities alluded me. I’ve never been good at taking direction and this led me to take up freelancing in my late 20s in an effort to have more autonomy.

Wiser Me: In hindsight, it was just as well I was into my 40s when I first managed a team, because I needed the maturity and life skills to be (what I now consider) an effective manager and (ultimately) leader. I was talking to my daughter the other day and she got her first management position in her early 20s and she’s now unhappy with many of her decisions in those early management opportunities.

Younger Me: Until my mid 30s I was ego-driven and self-centred. I wanted to prove that a young working class lad from the wrong side of the tracks could be successful if he worked hard and stayed focused on the dollar.

Wiser Me: Today I look back and note that my happiest working days are when I am working with great people who care about each other more than than they care about wealth and social standing. Once I learned to trust others, give guidance (as opposed to direction) and accept what I can directly control (ultimately, very little), I became a far better employee and a far better human being.

I am realistic about my talent, but unless I apply effort my talent is wasted. I know that I have never shirked responsibility for my actions and have worked tirelessly to achieve business outcomes, but unless I apply thought to those efforts, I’m wasting my energy.

Here are the top 10 reasons why I have achieved success…

  1. I seek out those that are smarter than me, seek to work with them and then study them
  2. I listen more than I speak
  3. I analyse data, look for patterns and work out easier ways to do things
  4. I try not to complicate stuff, simplicity is always my aim
  5. I take my time when detail is required and move quickly when it’s not
  6. I summarise information and offer insights rather than throw a myriad of detail out there
  7. I treat people as individuals
  8. I get specific when it’s appropriate
  9. I work as if I’m coming second in a race I want to win
  10. I don’t confuse popularity with success

Earlier in this post I said that my failures don’t matter. Why would I say this? Because for me failure is not an end, it’s a beginning. What I mean by this is that unless someone physically stops me from pursuing an outcome or goal I will keep trying until I succeed, I’m resilient and determined and these attributes have stood me in good stead all my working life. It is my belief that my lifelong involvement in sport has heavily influenced my ability to succeed in business as it has taught me the value of consistency and resilience.

How do you quantify your successes?

Dateline: Monday January 16 2017, Bagshot (UK)

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