“The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall, It’s simple and it’s plain, why should I complain?” – sang the famed pop group of yesteryears. Be it romance, a career move or owning a latest tablet, the stridency is to be at the victory podium. Come along this journey and discover how to perceive failure and importantly, script success. Surely failure can truly be a stepping stone to success and an unprepared exposure to success is just the perfect recipe for disaster! Four components that might surprise you pleasantly and permanently.
(a) Goal-setting for the Go-getter
(b) Stepping stones to success
(c) Remarkable Recoveries
(d) Wired to Win
1. Goal-setting for the Go-getter
Lily Tomlin said, “The problem with winning the rat race is that at the end of the race you are still a rat”! Stephen Covey, bestselling author in his greatly influential book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, recommended: “First things first”, where he underscored the need to prioritise. Prior to that habit, he promoted: “Begin with the end in mind”, where he accentuates the importance of knowing the blueprint of the result you intend to achieve and then plan backwards and order your life. In other words he seemed to say, – Last things first! There was an article about Woody Allen, famed Actor and Director in Hollywood, in Newsweek a few years ago. It read: “At 72, a superstitious Woody Allen is still working hard, but is terrified of the void, the ‘meaningless flicker’ of life. In real life he believes there are no happy endings. The trains all go to the same place. They all go to the dump. You have a meal, or you listen to a piece of music, and it’s pleasurable. But, it doesn’t accrue to anything. Life has no meaning”.
Well, don’t lose heart; there are more optimistic views on destiny available! But, many of us are like Prof. Viru Shahastrabuddhe in the famed Indian movie “3 Idiots”. If there is one line that would capture his life’s philosophy, it would read: “life is a race”. No wonder he sees everything as competition. As he cycles on the road, if someone overtakes him, he cycles faster. You know, he is ambidextrous as well and he could write an equation on the blackboard using both the hands at the same time –given that life is a race! But then he seemed to have lost out with his philosophy in the test of life as the plot unfolds! We work hard, but the big questions of life are sometimes disregarded. Solomon, acclaimed to be the wisest man of all time, seemingly very successful, but came around exclaiming that life is meaningless! His accomplishments are unparalleled and his entertainment was no holds barred. But then he is shocked that his life was nonetheless empty and he proclaimed 3000 years ago that life was meaningless.
There are goals that are gettable, but whether they fulfill our hunger for significance, security and self-worth is worth examining. Eventually, in Solomon’s life, when he breaks free from a “self” explanation and brings in an outside, a transcendental perspective, the dots seemed to connect. We need that outside help. Steve Turner reminded us
Looks aren’t everything
Luxury’s not everything.
Money’s not everything
Health is not everything.
Success is not everything
Happiness is not everything
Even everything is not everything.
There’s more to life than everything.
Listen to what Stephen Hawking, considered to be the greatest scientist of our times, said in a Discover magazine interview in 2005: “Since we are not angels who view the universe from outside, our theories are both part of the universe we are describing, and hence our theories are also self-referencing. And so, one might expect, that they, too, are either inconsistent, or incomplete”. So folks, to beat the finitude and depravity of the human mind, we will do well to seek outside help. We are not authors of our own lives and it will be very reductionist on our part to define what the purpose of life is! There is a bigger storyline and you and I have a significant role to play. As you gear up for goal-setting, remember the words of Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist, who also worked in India: “The terrible thing about life is not that our dreams go unfulfilled, but that they come true”.
2. Stepping Stones to Success
What is success? What is failure? The Oxford English Dictionary reads: Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Failure, the dictionary reads, is a lack of success, neglect or omission of expected or required action. While the definition is crisp, the aim or purpose separates the winner from the loser. So the goals we set for ourselves determine our success or failure. What usually happens is that we excel in one area of life and mess up in other aspects. The need of the hour is a holistic goal. Otherwise, we end up trivializing success or for that matter make a mockery of failure!
Steve Jobs, the creative genius, gave a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. He shared how after dropping out from Reeds college, life was not easy, (that is failure of a kind) but that gave him an option to choose subjects that interested him and was exposed to the best calligraphy course in the country. He said: If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Looks like, some failure is welcome, at least retrospectively! He continued about another seeming failure in his life: [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
What is failure? We need a large perspective. The heroes and heroines during the terrorist attack at Taj hotel in Mumbai were its employees. Putting their lives on the line, these men and women braved the attack, and although they knew where the exit points were in the hotel, they stayed back to try and rescue as many guests as possible. In the process 11 of them paid with their lives. No wonder Prof Rohit Deshpande has made that a case study on “customer-centric leadership” at Harvard Business School to study this unusual, but needed commitment. What is success, what is failure? Many who watched the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, came away with tears in their eyes. For one, the portrayal of violence was graphic. Secondly people felt bad that a good man had to die such a horrible death! No wonder Mahatma Gandhi said, “I find the Cross of Jesus very enigmatic”. But if you read the Bible you discover that the Cross was only a temporary setback for a greater victory to come.
Failure can truly be a stepping stone to success; on the other hand, a poor attitude to success is a perfect recipe for disaster. This elementary school poem can help give a perfect start again from a failure:
He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done
“Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I have soiled this one.
He took my sheet all soiled and blotted and gave me a new one
all unspotted and into my tired heart he cried:
“Do better now my child”.
3. Remarkable Recoveries
Listen to this: You are never a loser until you quit trying. One of the most interesting stories of the modern IT industry is how many of its pioneers were college dropouts. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, for example, both left Harvard in mid-term, and Steve Ballmer dropped out of Stanford. The list continues with Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle and Michael Dell, founder of the computer firm that bears his name. And although Google’s co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, did graduate, they both dropped out of their PhD programmes.
Steve Jobs is another classic case in point. While it is not a virtue to drop out of college, it certainly is laudable that you learn to excel in your field and not be overwhelmed by failure. Helen Keller, famed global citizen of the 19th & 20th centuries, became visually and hearing impaired at only 19 months of age. Yet, she championed the cause of differently-abled people with an impact that is worldwide. She once said: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us”. What a recovery from her!
Follow these poignant real-life stories. Some of the best music in the world was composed by Beethoven. What was his challenge? He was hearing impaired! Over time, his hearing loss became acute: there is a well-attested story that, at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned round to see the thundering applause of the audience, because he could not hear them! Some of the best poetry written on nature is from John Milton. What was his challenge? He was visually impaired and his best poetry came after he lost his vision! Let me bring this to a close with a story of someone I had a privilege to meet: About 11 years ago, Gladys Staines lost her husband and two sons to a violent mob in Odisha. Her message of forgiveness was a shock statement that was highlighted by the media far and wide. She, the seeming victim, lived from a different vantage point though. Gladys and her daughter Esther sang a song at the funeral of their loved ones which read:
Because He lives I can face tomorrow,
because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know, He holds the future
And life is worth the living just
because He lives.
Are there struggles and challenges that you face? An irony in my own life is: I did not do well at college academically; but that also in an extraordinary way turned out to be the time in my life when I sought answers to the fundamental questions of life. The most important issue – is not whether you pass your semester examination or the appraisal at workplace; but have you passed the test of life?
4. Wired to Win
Let me leave with you a few principles that would undergird a winner . . .
No. 1. WORK. A commitment to put in your best effort for a cause will put you on a path to succeed. Secondly, INNOVATION. We need a new and fresh approach on all matters of life. Thirdly, RISE. We need to learn to rise above the state of affairs. Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 habits begins with this one – “Be Proactive” – it is about taking responsibility for your life. Proactive people realize that they are “response-able”. They stop blaming genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to learn to ‘cope’ with life and its disappointments to an extent that we do not sometime ‘hope’ for a better world! And so we choose not to make a choice! Remember, the way to go would be to wrest initiative and move forward. Jim Collins, bestselling author on Leadership and Management, said: “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a function of conscious choice, and discipline”. Fourthly, ESTIMATE. Take an honest review of your work and life. Do not trust yourself beyond the bargain, you will let yourself down. The Bible says that we all have an internal moral problem. Fifthly, DESIGN. Dr. Ravi Zacharias has written a booklet called, There is a plan. Whether you are aware of the plan or not is quite another matter, but there is a plan. I have a painting done for me by a friend which hangs in my office. It is a potter’s hand making a pot. What is unusual about this painting though is that there is a face beside the pot – suggesting there is a mind behind the pottery. There is a scriptwriter to your life’s story!
As responsible individuals and communities, we need to work on the 5 words for the big questions of life! That’s what makes us WIRED to win – Work, Innovation, Rise, Estimate & Design. The movie, “The Pursuit of happyness” is a great motivational movie based on the real life story of one Chris Gardner. Against all odds, this man worked extremely hard to pursue his goal. As the story unfolds, he makes it into his dream industry. Wow! But the scope of the plot ends there. But for a larger perspective, we need to seek answers to more questions.
Is happiness all that there is to life or is there more? Is happiness permanent and what if it is not? So on and so forth. You see, there is homework for all of us to do! So what then is success? And what is failure? The Bible identifies “SIN” as the greatest ‘failure’; which is an internal moral, spiritual problem common to all human beings since our first ancestors rebelled against God. A lot of experiences which we might popularly call as failure are only secondary and symptoms of this deeper malady – Sin. The greatest victory then is discovering and receiving the “SAVIOUR”. The very name Jesus means, He will save people from their sins. In short, the problem is Sin and the solution is a Saviour. When the foundational issues are addressed, the peripheral are put in place. Are you future ready? Because in the words of C. S. Lewis, when the author walks on stage, the play is over!
There is no one who is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10) This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life (John 3:16).