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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Success and/or Failure

Recently I was in a conference room where there was a plaque on the wall that said, "What would you do if you were guaranteed that you could not fail?" That's one of those ubiquitous quotes, like the serenity prayer, mantras that organizations use to express their wishful corporate philosophies, to stimulate (or possibly just simulate) positive thinking and achievement.

I was searching for the origin of the quote, and found another version:"...if you were guaranteed that you would succeed." Whatever, it's like asking is the devil or god in the details? (Actually, it's god, the devil quote is a derivation, but widely and more frequently used.)

Which got me to thinking, why must we frame everything we do in terms of success and failure? (Maybe Nike has it right: "Just do it.") I sometimes feel beset in a world seeking growth and improvement, feet held to the fire through processes and procedures, metrics and measurements, profit and loss, time and money. Good and evil, god and the devil. Right and wrong, rights and wronged. As if living was just a matter of applying an algorithm.

I would rather ask "What would you do if success or failure didn't matter, one way or the other?" I think that's the real question. Does a guarantee of a "successful outcome" matter? If not, those are likely the things you might really want to do.

I should go do some goal-less meditation now, but I need to get ready to "go to work," the extra-curricular thing I do to put my way through the lifelong-learning courses I have signed up for. Once I went to school to build a foundation for a career. Now I have a career that feels like something I do to put myself through school.

A word from the older but wiser to my younger readers: find and maintain work that isn't separate from what you love to do. And think about what you would do if you had all the time in the world. (Well, you do,'s probably money that holds you back, time and money being too often conflated. And there's the rub.)


sybil law said...

This is an excellent post!

I sometimes feel like the MOST unmotivated person in the world, in terms of what the world deems success. I try very hard to be content, and grateful, and for the most part; I am. Other times I feel guilty for not being more motivated for a career. I am not sure, STILL, what I love to do, and how I can translate it into being a career.
Holy cow- 2 drinks and I'm babbling!

baroness radon said...

Mahalo plenty!

Babbling at 2 do you think I wrote the thing?

Or maybe that was the previous post.

Have another drink to wash away all traces of guilt.