Earlier this week (I think it was yesterday), I read this post on LinkedIn by one Kevin Kruse (famous author, keynote speaker, and Founder & CEO, LEADx.org), around the theme “It’s rude, I know, we just met, but will you tell me about a time when you failed?”
I loved the post for its approach and the message, and at the end of it, Kevin asked readers if they would answer the same question in the comments section. I clicked ‘Like’ and started writing in the comments section … and then I stopped to think.
I stopped to think because I haven’t really, ever, sat down to think about life in terms of success and failure.
So I figured I should. What is success? And what is failure? And why is it important to people? And why haven’t I been thinking about it? Was I always like this? Or did I also at some point think of being a success, worry about failures? Did I think of Success and Failure when I began my career? In college? In school? How long ago did I stop thinking of such important matters?
In school I remember playing. And reading. And writing. And making and doing and talking. Oh yes, I remember talking a lot. In class. And therefore, kneeling in front of the classroom because talking in class wasn’t such a good thing when the teacher was teaching. And then, I remember talking across the classroom as I was serving my punishment (kneeling), and so I would be sent outside the classroom, to kneel there so that every one passing by would know I was punished. And there, in that lonely corridor, I would talk to teachers, and students and staff who happen to pass by. And so I would be sent to the principal’s office for final judgement. I think by the time I reached Grade 2, the whole school knew I was a talkative kid. In fact, my only misdemeanour in primary school was talking too much.
So did I fail or succeed? Depends on what it is that I was supposed to be succeeding or failing at I suppose. I succeeded in being a very talkative kid, making a lot of connections, learning a lot. I failed at being a silent, obedient kid.
I got through school and college well enough. Not at the top, not near the bottom, not in the middle, but well enough. And I didn’t worry about getting a score, or fret about what would happen if I didn’t get a good enough score. I didn’t sit for competitive exams, didn’t aim to be an engineer or pilot or doctor or anything actually. Through college and after, I took up jobs and learned. My only desire was to learn and my focus was on understanding and testing my understanding, so I read and did stuff and wrote stuff and then I discussed with others and then I read and wrote and did and discussed some more and so on. I remember the jobs I held from ages 18 through 24, there were 11 jobs in all, and the longest one lasted 11 months (most were 4-6 months). I remember friends and family being worried about me all the time and telling me that I needed staying power, that I shouldn’t quit jobs so soon, because I wouldn’t be able to build a career. Even back then, I didn’t stop to think about all that good advice because I was restless and obsessed with finding out who I am, what I could do, what I liked, what I didn’t like, what made me tick, what kind of people and situations got my goat and so on.
Did I fail or did I succeed? Depends on how you look at it. From where I stood, I neither succeeded nor failed in those years, because my aim was to find myself. And along the way, I learned many skills, some of which I honed to proficiency, some of which I understood to be weaknesses, some of which I understood to be strengths.
Then at age 24, I went back to college, this time for a post-graduate degree in communication and journalism, again working through college. I had found my niche – writing – but I still quit the first job after probation (3 months) because the newspaper undervalued the hours and quality I put in (that was a learning – not to sell myself short just because I liked doing something). The next job I took up I stayed in for 6 and a quarter years, earning new skills, achieving some accolades, awards, and doing my bit for the city’s journalism and the company’s business.
Did I succeed or failed? Depends on how you look at it. From where I stood, I neither succeeded nor failed in those years, because my aim was to dig really deep and find out more about myself and the way the world worked. You see my basic education (graduation) was business management and a Masters in History and I was trying to make my way through. I was a work in progress.
In subsequent years, I moved to Learning Technology, leaving my journalism track record behind and starting at the bottom rung again, spending 5 years creating learning products, then acquiring and managing clients, and then building an industry-focused approach to building markets. Did I succeed or failed? Depends on how you look at it. From where I stood, I neither succeeded nor failed in those years, because my aim was to start connecting my dots and find newer patterns (business management, communication, learning, people, strategy).
Then, I quit the corporate job-space and became an independent consultant, to put my knowledge to some constructive use. Did I succeed or failed? I have no clue and probably won’t till the people I work with find closure one way or the other. I would say till ‘the companies’ I work with, but I don’t work with companies, I work with people.
So that’s how the story reads, making me look sorted. Now here are the detailed bits which I tend to forget or not to mention.
In the First Age (6 years and 11 jobs), I was fearful and supremely confident by turns, and screwed up tasks, responsibilities, timelines, relationships left, right and centre. I threw tantrums, argued, fought, went to war, called names, made-up, apologised, achieved, missed the mark completely, let people and teams down, came good … all with a matchless passion, strong convictions, and backing I, Me, and Myself against all odds.
In the Second Age (12 years and 2 jobs), I was fearless, and therefore, screwed up tasks, responsibilities, timelines, relationships left, right and centre. I debated, discussed, negotiated, gave in, agreed to disagree, stood firm, parlayed, gave precedence to goals than my own, looked ahead, focused on the positives, competed only with myself, and learned to be patient, learned to apologise for my teams, learned to achieve with everybody else, learned that there is no failure or success, no right or wrong, because it all depends on which side of the view you are on … all the while rooted in my friends, colleagues, and the people I worked with.
In the Third and Current Age (10 years so far) … blah blah.
The simple fact is that the world around me gave me the space to fall, get up, fail, rise, throw tantrums, collaborate, etc. Parents, wife, children, bosses, investors, peers, juniors, freshers, clients, siblings, friends, competitors, readers, mentors, guides … everybody around me gave me the opportunity to become who I wanted to be, they corrected me, admonished me but supported my learning path.
Today, when I stop and give my back-trail a deep thought, I would say my life is a perpetual ‘work-in-progress’, all the balls are up in the air, and so, can’t really say I have succeeded or failed. And I guess that is mainly because Success and Failure are definitive concepts. They have a ring of finality to them.
For now, I am just the same kid I was in school, in awe of all that is around me. Asking, running, doing, writing and talking – always talking still – and thrilled with the gift that he’s got: How beautiful is life! Everything is in motion, occurring simultaneously, nothing is complete, not my work, not my learning, not my youth or middle age or childhood, I am father and child at the same time! Only at the end of my life, will it all be complete.
And that is a glorious realisation for it frees one from the burden of anticipation, and let’s us live life in this moment.