Friday, May 7, 2010

Great Success - Great Failure

My major professor on my doctoral program claimed that one could not have great successes without great failures. He claimed that you must reach far and risk failure to achieve great success. I think he was both right and wrong. To the extent the failure spurs you on to improvement and overcoming shortcomings it is a useful experience. My personal journey of successes and failures includes learning a lot from my failures. One example is my freshman English course where I did an abysmal job of writing. Fortunately this shortcoming was overcome with a remedial writing workshop. The individual attention in the workshop helped me to overcome my deficiencies and has served me well for over 55 years. I also vividly remember bombing my first Thermodynamics exam. However, through the encouragement of my professor I dug in and became an exemplary student in the subject and actually grew to enjoy the use and study of thermodynamics.

While failure can often spur one to greater achievement, great success can sometimes lead to destruction. In politics and sports there are a multitude of examples of extremely successful individuals succumbing to temptations and behavior leading to a failure of character and action.
Recently, my wife and I watched the movie Frost/Nixon that chronicled David Frost's interview of Nixon that exposed his failure of character and action. Here was a man who was twice elected vice-president and twice elected president of the United States (which has to be marked as a great success) but he ended up resigning the presidency in disgrace. Clearly he had great success and in fact during his presidency did accomplish some foreign policy firsts of note in relations with China. However, this did not carry over into his integrity in dealing with his opponents. Great success - greater failure.

As I muse over the matter of measuring success, I have to remind myself that each person has their own destiny. For each of us perhaps great success is living with integrity with the skills and abilities we have without comparing ourselves to others. I have discovered that success measured externally inevitably leads to dissatisfaction with your achievements. However, if I internally know that I have done by best, life is good and I am at peace.

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