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Random Forays: Failure is an impostor to learn from

Failure and setbacks are tackled by people in vastly differing ways. Some succumb to depression, others fight back with fortitude.

punjab Updated: Nov 25, 2017 21:56 IST
Vivek Atray
Vivek Atray
Hindustan Times
Failure,Shmuel Ellis,Harvard Business Review
After people fail at a task, it doesn’t matter whether they focus on successes or failures. They will learn so long as they do an after-event review.(Shutterstock Photo)

“The mind is our greatest friend; the mind is our greatest enemy!” The saint who said these words could not have summed up the predicament of our lives in a more telling manner.

Most of us defeat our own selves inside the depths of our thinking minds. We delve into possibilities that may never occur. We worry about scenarios that are far-fetched and represent our worst fears. We spend sleepless nights and restless days pondering over imponderables that are unlikely to ever actually face us.

Two young men were on the verge of stepping into new chapters of their lives. Both had broken through an impossible maze of competition to emerge as executives in one of the most sought-after firms of the world. One of them, Himesh, was the brighter of the two, and had topped almost every examination that he had appeared for since his school days. The other, Nipun, was the doughtier of the two though. He had overcome several obstacles already in his young life and achieved his ambition of working for the world’s best. New York was their new home, and their lives were on a roll.

One year later, things proved to be different. Although they had both joined on the same date with almost similar credentials, Nipun was racing ahead of Himesh in the quest for early success in the stressful world of investment banking. Himesh was extremely good at his work but lacked qualities like emotional intelligence and people skills that Nipun possessed in ample measure. As a result, Himesh failed to clear his annual progression interview whereas Nipun surged ahead. Himesh was unable to handle the fact that he had ‘failed’, especially in comparison to Himesh.

As a result, Himesh had to take anti-depressant pills and became a psychological wreck. Many young people fall prey to the negative impact of their own thoughts in this manner, whereas those with a sunnier outlook are able to ride the wave and emerge stronger from such lows of life.

Start-up entrepreneurs are told these days, and rightly so, that a few failures along the road should be expected and that they should learn from each one of them. A report in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2007 by Robert I Sutton highlights the findings of Shmuel Ellis and colleagues, who discovered the following:

One: After people succeed at a task, they learn the most when they think about what went wrong.

Two: After people fail at a task, it doesn’t matter whether they focus on successes or failures. They will learn so long as they do an after-event review.

These after-event reviews need to be carried out by each of us when we go wrong, but without indulging in self pity or negativism.

Failure and setbacks are tackled by people in vastly differing ways. Some succumb to depression, others fight back with fortitude. And although no two persons have the same life situations to handle, it is the gritty toughie who is able to steel himself or herself, beat the odds and bounce back!

Arunima, the Indian volleyball player who lost both her legs in a train tragedy, found her Olympic dreams shattered. But she also found enough fire and resolve within her inner being to become a mountaineer and even scale Mount Everest.

It is her story and those of similar life champions which make us think about our comparatively minuscule problems and failures. They are so tiny in comparison that we have no right to be destroyed or even fazed by them.

“A smooth life is not a successful life,” said Paramahansa Yogananda, author of ‘Autobiography of You’, a marvellously elevating and uplifting global bestseller.

When we let ourselves down by denigrating our own worth in our minds, we lose the battle of life.

An internet quote by Zig Ziglar puts things in perspective - ‘Failure is an event, not a person! Yesterday ended last night!’

Ultimately, even-mindedness is all that matters. And Kipling’s words never fail to inspire - ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster; and treat those two impostors just the same…’

The secret is to really know that they are both transient impostors.

(The author can be contacted at vivek.atray@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 21:54 IST