Over the years I have come to realize that our fear of failure has more control over our actions then our drive to succeed. Most of us will go out of our way to not fail. Many will put more effort in avoiding what they perceive as failure then they put into trying to become successful. Our fears are a great motivator. I know that I will go to almost any lengths to avoid what I see as failure, which is also my greatest fear.
My idea of failure has changed over the years. First it was giving in, not surviving, letting my family destroy me, letting them win or being what they expected of me – their idea of a failure. I succeeded in not being a failure; I lived and believed in myself. Then it became a fear of loosing my job, being unable to provide for myself, still connected to my earlier idea of failure. Now my idea of failure is being homeless or not being able to provide for my children or keeping them safe. Again tying into my childhood, but not an unreasonable definition of failure. I am lucky in that I have not found myself in that type of situation, and hope I never do. I don’t know what I am capable of doing to avoid that situation; I do know I would do almost anything to not let that happen. Something like Katrina and its results of being homeless and without a way to provide for my children or keep them safe would be my greatest fear.
My Mother’s idea of failure was to be unable to keep a man, or to be with out a man in her life. My mother remained married to a man who was a drunk, drug user, rapist, and wife beater who tried to kill her, and me, many times over many years. One day I asked her why. She said, “If the marriage failed she was a failure”. She defined failure as being unable to keep a husband. It did not mater that we went without a lot of things, were poor, living in a trailer without water or electricity or that her husband beat her and life was bad as long as she had a man in her life she was good. It was strange to see someone accept all the pain and suffering for herself and child just to keep her husband because to loose him was to fail. And yet for me she was a failure because she did not protect nor provide for her child, whatever man that was in her life was always more important.
I know people who feel they are a failure if they don’t have the big paying job with a great title and the corner office and are willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to get there. Others think they have to be married and have kids before they are 30 or they have somehow failed. I don’t find these to be realistic definitions of success or failure, but then they are not mine. I know more people who define failure as not being there for their children, being unable to pay rent or put food on the table, or letting someone beat or control them. To me this is a realistic definition of failure.
As everyone has his or her own idea of success we also have our own concept of failure. This defines us as much as our concept of success. We are doing ok as long as this does not happen. Where is your line drawn for failure? What in your mind is the one thing that would make you a failure? Is it rational or realistic? I ask this because some people believe that everything is fine as long as this does not happen or they have not crossed a line but the reality is that they are in need of help, are on a downward spiral and should not be waiting until the worse happens before dealing with it.
People like my Mother who though what ever the man in her life was doing was ok as long as he stayed with her, even if he did not care for her, respect her or even want her alive anymore, or tried to kill her child. I see it in others all the time. This idea that as long as some pre-defined occurrence does not happen life is good no mater what is actually happening. It is like the drug addict who say’s as long as I am only popping pills and not using a needle I am in control, or the overweight person who is ok as long as they don’t reach 300 lbs, or the gambler who has not lost the house yet. . All Hell could be breaking loose in their lives but as long as “This” does not happen everything is OK.
Now most of us are not that bad, but we do need to understand what motivates us. Is it the desire to succeed or the fear of failing? I think that both can be a positive force in our lives if we have realistic drives or fears. What we see as success is not always what we see as failure. The idea of success is to make sure something happens, to not fail is to make sure something does not happen. The other questions we really need to be asking are, “If we do not succeed with our idea of success does that make us a failure?” “Or is it that if we can prevent what we perceive as failure from happening we are successful?” “Is success the same thing as not failing?” “Can we succeed in one area and fail in another?” “Are our definition of success the same as failure?” “Are our definitions of success or failure ours or what we have been taught to believe by others?” Most important, “Is our definition of success or failure realistic?”