[pullquote align="left" type="simple"]“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck[/pullquote]In many of my posts I’ve talked about goals and success, but very little about failure. It is not necessarily on purpose, but more that focusing on success, and the ways to achieve it, is the more positive approach. Also, failure is simply not something I think about. I consider it of course, but do not dwell on it.
Back in October I did a triathlon. In a conversation a few days after the race I said I went over the time I wanted to complete it in by six minutes. The person returned with “Well, at least you finished it.” I honestly did not even understand what he meant. “Of course I finished it.” I said. Not finishing it (quitting?) is simply not a conceivable thing to me. I just don’t think like that.
Neither should you.
My approach to achieving a goal doesn’t, for the most part, allow for failure. More so, my approach involves a systematic approach that almost insures success. So even when I do fail, I do everything I can to turn it around. I do an assessment and review (in the military we call it an AAR, or after action review) to identify the decisions and/or actions that led to my failure, and create a “lessons learned”. and move on to fixing it. So through persistence you can continue and ultimately reach success. So in the end, there’s no failure… only lessons learned.
I must note, you have to be careful with persistence. Persistence without flexibility (adaptive responsiveness) is not always a guarantee for success… set your sights too high and you may be attempting to achieve the unachievable. Being able to change your plans plans to accommodate a changing landscape and unforeseen developments can also mean your success or failure.
So this post isn’t really about failure, but about the causes of failure and therefore, how to avoid it. It is feasible to assume if we simply avoid failure long enough and often enough we will ultimately be successful. Think about it like this…
The most successful tennis players are the ones who return the ball consistently. They win, not because they crush their opponents with great plays, but because they allow they allow their opponent to fail. Of course, if you couple this type of persistence and consistency with a power and purpose like that of Serena Williams, you get a champion who consistently crushes her opponents. Even better I say.
In “Think and Grow Rich”, Napoleon Hill outlines The 30 Reasons for Failure. Below are those reasons, Hill’s explanations, and my two cents of interpretation.
1. UNFAVORABLE HEREDITARY BACKGROUND.
There is but little, if anything, which can be done for people who are born with a deficiency in brain power. This philosophy offers but one method of bridging this weakness—through the aid of the Master Mind. Observe with profit, however, that this is the ONLY one of the thirty causes of failure which may not be easily corrected by any individual.
- This one is pretty cut and dried. However, just because a person’s IQ is below average does not mean he or she cannot be successful. They may have to be more attentive to all the other laws of success and have more self-discipline than someone with above average intelligence
2. LACK OF A WELL-DEFINED PURPOSE IN LIFE.
There is no hope of success for the person who does not have a central purpose, or definite goal at which to aim. Ninety-eight out of every hundred of those whom I have analyzed, had no such aim.
- Failure is certain if you’ve no clear objective. Use the SMART system to help you outline and define your way to achieving your goals.
3. LACK OF AMBITION TO AIM ABOVE MEDIOCRITY.
We offer no hope for the person who is so indifferent as not to want to get ahead in life, and who is not willing to pay the price.
- Ambition to be the best at what you are attempting to do is key. For the successful, it never enough to complete a task, it must be done better than anyone else. I call it “being ok with being ok”. Successful people cannot be satisfied with mediocre. Most are disgusted by anything but stellar outcomes. Successful people are also willing to make sacrifices to so they do produce mediocre results.
4. INSUFFICIENT EDUCATION. This is a handicap which may be overcome with comparative ease. Experience has proven that the best-educated people are often those who are known as “self-made,” or self-educated. It takes more than a college degree to make one a person of education. Any person who is educated is one who has learned to get whatever he wants in life without violating the rights of others. Education consists, not so much of knowledge, but of knowledge effectively and persistently APPLIED. Men are paid, not merely for what they know, but more particularly for what they do with that which they know.
- Never stop learning. Learn new things everyday about your field. Constantly try to apply all that you’ve learned to any and all that you do. Avoiding failure may simply be in the next course you take or the next paragraph you read. It may be knowledge the next person you meet possesses. The awareness you do not it all and the humility of knowing you don’t know what you don’t know is the key to gaining the best education. I see this in the CrossFit community. There is a sense, especially those who know nothing more than CrossFit, you can learn all you need to know about human performance from within the our community. The reality is, CrossFit is a compilation of sports and to become an educated CrossFit instructor you must seek education beyond the CrossFit umbrella of educational opportunities. There is no such thing as an expert, only a student who continues to study his or her trade.
5. LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE. Discipline comes through self-control. This means that one must control all negative qualities. Before you can control conditions, you must first control yourself. Self-mastery is the hardest job you will ever tackle. If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self. You may see at one and the same time both your best friend and your greatest enemy, by stepping in front of a mirror.
- Our culture has stopped holding people accountable for their actions. It seems less and less parents give their children boundaries. The newest generation, Generation Y as they’ve been dubbed, has been raised with a sense of entitlement never seen before. The age of the internet has allowed a platform form people to say and do anything they please. Our government fuels the mindset with bailouts of both corporations and individuals who lack the self-discipline to control their finances. It’s a world of tolerance… no matter how intolerable the behavior. No person is actually held to their actions… especially if they can find an entity to blame for them. If you are OK with the being tolerant of any behavior, failure is already your bed-mate. Anyone with true self-discipline has little or no patience of those who do not. Controlling your emotions, actions, behaviors, and even your thoughts (especially your thoughts! They form your perception of the world and initiate actions) is paramount to avoiding failure.
6. ILL HEALTH. No person may enjoy outstanding success without good health. Many of the causes of ill health are subject to mastery and control. These, in the main are:
- It is funny a book written in 1937 would relate each of its listed causes of ill health to behavior. We think we’ve learned so much but it is arrogance and ignorance that leads to our beliefs we are better than the generations before us. In 1937 there were far fewer drugs to be prescribed. People didn’t turn to drugs to answers every little sniffle, cough, mood swing, and sleep issue they had. The average person, by practice, knew more of healthy lifestyles than most do today. Let’s face it, if you cannot control what you eat, it is very likely you cannot control important aspects of your life. It is certainly a link back to self-discipline, but it is more than that. Eating unhealthy, toxic foods cause inflammation throughout the body. If your brain is inundated with toxins, it cannot function at its capacity. I don’t know about you, but I know I need every IQ point I can get. Seriously, if you’re consuming junk food, fast food, and your diet lacks the nutrients your brain and body needs, you won’t perform well. Your creativity and drive will suffer. I’ve seen people, who otherwise eat healthy and stay fit, allow themselves to slip away (lack of self-discipline) from eating healthy. It happens on overseas deployments quite a bit. In all cases, people who use their busy schedules as excuses to eat junk and not make it to the gym experience a decline in both mental and physical performance. An over-achiever will work so hard on a new goal on project they actually become less productive.
7. UNFAVORABLE ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES DURING CHILDHOOD. “As the twig is bent, so shall the tree grow.” Most people who have criminal tendencies acquire them as the result of bad environment, and improper associates during childhood.
- How a person is raised and the environment the are raised certainly has factor in how we perform as adults. If a child is raised by sneaky, passive aggressive parents, he or she will most likely be sneaky and without morals; always trying to “get by” and/or “get over”. If a child is raised by criminals, he or she will most like think like a criminal. Just like if a child is raised with accountability, given boundaries, and more importantly, held accountable for his/her actions, they tend to have more respect for themselves and others. This one of Hill’s reasons for failure is not binding. Each person has an opportunity to shrug off their rearing and do better than or be better than their parents, teenage friends, or the toxic environment they were raised in. In other words, just because your father is or was a POS, it does not mean you have to be.
8. PROCRASTINATION. This is one of the most common causes of failure. “Old Man Procrastination” stands within the shadow of every human being, waiting his opportunity to spoil one’s chances of success. Most of us go through life as failures, because we are waiting for the “time to be right” to start doing something worthwhile. Do not wait. The time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.
- Waiting for the perfect chance and putting something off are two very different things. The first is strategic. The second is weakness. Whatever the reasons you delay, you must understand the delay will not make things work better for you. Often the trick is to just begin. Once you’ve gained a little momentum, the remainder of the task is easy to complete.
9. LACK OF PERSISTENCE.
Most of us are good “starters” but poor “finishers” of everything we begin. Moreover, people are prone to give up at the first signs of defeat. There is no substitute for PERSISTENCE. The person who makes PERSISTENCE his watch-word, discovers that “Old Man Failure” finally becomes tired, and makes his departure. Failure cannot cope with PERSISTENCE.
- Follow through. You may get discouraged by less than expected return or results, but if you keep trying you’ll get your success. You may have to adjust your original plan to better overcome unforeseen obstacles, but being flexible is key to being successful too. Anyone who rides a sinking boat to the bottom deserves their watery fate.
10. NEGATIVE PERSONALITY.
There is no hope of success for the person who repels people through a negative personality. Success comes through the application of POWER, and power is attained through the cooperative efforts of other people. A negative personality will not induce cooperation.
- It is easier to focus on the bad things in a situation, especially is the situation is not what we want or expect it to be. In this world you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Negative people are always part of the problem. They impede forward motions with their way of thinking. If you think you cannot do something or something cannot be done, you will be correct. So being negative is self-fulfilling. At least you will always be correct. But if success is important to you, you must be positive and focus and on what you can do. You have to make it a habit to catch yourself anytime you are being negative and correct it. Find the upside and move on.
11. UNCONTROLLED SEXUAL URGE.
Sex energy is the most powerful of all the stimuli which move people into ACTION. Because it is the most powerful of the emotions, it must be controlled, through transmutation, and converted into other channels.
- How many careers and goals have succumbed to failure because of marital indiscretions? The former head of the Intelligence Agency, David Petreaus, is the most recent popular example of this. Allowing yourself to be distracted at every turn by the opposite sex will impede your success. Excessive socializing, which also tends to be coupled with consuming alcohol, for the reason of chasing the opposite sex has undoubtedly lead to the failures of many well meaning folk.
12. UNCONTROLLED DESIRE FOR “SOMETHING FOR NOTHING.”
The gambling instinct drives millions of people to failure. Evidence of this may be found in a study of the Wall Street crash of ‘29, during which millions of people tried to make money by gambling on stock margins.
- We are all lured by this one. It is one of the foundations for the most popular marketing campaigns. They are the “20% More Free” and the “buy 3 and get 1 Free” campaigns. They are tempting. It is in our nature to take the easy route. Be aware and don’t fall victim… nothing worth having is given to us… there is no such thing as something for nothing.
13. LACK OF A WELL DEFINED POWER OF DECISION.
Men who succeed reach decisions promptly, and change them, if at all, very slowly. Men who fail, reach decisions, if at all, very slowly, and change them frequently, and quickly. Indecision and procrastination are twin brothers. Where one is found, the other may usually be found also. Kill off this pair before they completely “hog-tie” you to the treadmill of FAILURE.
- Make informed decisions. Create plans that are not too rigid they cannot be changed. No matter, do something. Inaction can be worse than incorrect action. We used to say “Hesitation will get ya killed”… in other words, don’t just shutter like a started deer, GET MOVING! Hurry up!
14. ONE OR MORE OF THE 6 BASIC FEARS.
Poverty, Criticism, Ill health, Jealousy, Old age, Death. These must be mastered before you can market your services effectively.
- The fears listed above get their own chapter in “Think and Grow Rich”. They undoubtedly inhibit success and cause failure. Not allowing your fears to suppress your creativity and drive must be a priority. Fear finds its origin in the sub-conscious mind and can therefore manifest itself without your detection. If you are unaware of a fear’s influence over your decisions and behavior, it is difficult to manage appropriately.
15. WRONG SELECTION OF A MATE IN MARRIAGE.
This a most common cause of failure. The relationship of marriage brings people intimately into contact. Unless this relationship is harmonious, failure is likely to follow. Moreover, it will be a form of failure that is marked by misery and unhappiness, destroying all signs of AMBITION.
- If the five people closest to you have the most influence on you, then it would be sensible to assume your husband or wife, the person closest to you, would have the most influential sway on your success. Choose wisely and do not take in stray pets or take possession of “fixer uppers”. A mate does not have to have the same goals as you (though it helps), but they must be very supportive of yours. How many people do you know that “settled” and have been held back by a husband or wife that simply will not or can not help the other move forward. That person is unhappy and will be.
The person who takes no chances, generally has to take whatever is left when others are through choosing. Over-caution is as bad as under-caution. Both are extremes to be guarded against. Life itself is filled with the element of chance.
- Sometimes you just have to jump. Go for it. But it is not to say you just hang it all out and hope for the best. Risk taking should be calculated and the cost vs. benefit of all actions are to be taken into account. We have a very risk averse culture. Fears of losing and the ramifications of the lose more often squash our need to “go out on a limb”. Yet we can all easily witness the successful people in our lives have all taken risks to get where they are at. Simply put, sometimes you have to risk everything if you are to get one thing you really want.
17. WRONG SELECTION OF ASSOCIATES IN BUSINESS.
This is one of the most common causes of failure in business. In marketing personal services, one should use great care to select an employer who will be an inspiration, and who is, himself, intelligent and successful. We emulate those with whom we associate most closely. Pick an employer who is worth emulating.
- Again, the 5 people we around the most have the most influence. If you are attempting to succeed at a goal, those who make up your team will make or break your success. A business partner is one you may even spend more time with than a spouse. When you choose a job, you are choosing a boss. Make sure he or she supports your goals too.
18. SUPERSTITION AND PREJUDICE.
Superstition is a form of fear. It is also a sign of ignorance. Men who succeed keep open minds and are afraid of nothing.
- Only play ball in your dirty underwear? Avoid stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk? That is the type of silliness you should forget about and focus your attention on what is truly important. Irrational fears can cripple a person. Superstitions are almost always irrational.
19. WRONG SELECTION OF A VOCATION.
No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like. The most essential step in the marketing of personal services is that of selecting an occupation into which you can throw yourself wholeheartedly.
- Do something you are passionate about and your chances of success increase exponentially. Read “The Passion Test” by Janet & Chris Attwood for a great read on how to find your true calling.
19. LACK OF CONCENTRATION OF EFFORT.
The “jack-of-all-trades” is seldom is good at any. Concentrate all of your efforts on one definite chief aim.
- These days we call it multi-tasking, but it is actually failure to focus. It’s a nice way of saying we are scattered and not able to put forth the proper effort to the things that matter. If not that, then it is ADD or ADHD and we get our MDs to write a script for it. No matter what you label it, if you want to do well at something, it has to be the one thing you focus on.
20. THE HABIT OF INDISCRIMINATE SPENDING. The spend-thrift cannot succeed, mainly because he stands eternally in FEAR OF POVERTY. Form the habit of systematic saving by putting aside a definite percentage of your income. Money in the bank gives one a very safe foundation of COURAGE when bargaining for the sale of personal services. Without money, one must take what one is offered, and be glad to get it.
- Shopping… I’ve yet to meet anyone who is successful that “loves to shop”. Walking around a mall all day just to buy things you do not need is wasteful of money and time… the two most important assets a business person can possess. A successful person invests, not spends.
21. LACK OF ENTHUSIASM. Without enthusiasm one cannot be convincing. Moreover, enthusiasm is contagious, and the person who has it, under control, is generally welcome in any group of people.
- Crossfitters are great examples of enthusiasm… gone wild. Ha. If most of us applied the same enthusiasm to business and financial strata, we would likely all be wealthy.
22. INTOLERANCE. The person with a “closed” mind on any subject seldom gets ahead. Intolerance means that one has stopped acquiring knowledge. The most damaging forms of intolerance are those connected with religious, racial, and political differences of opinion.
- You must be willing to accept your ideas and beliefs are not the only ones that are worthy. One of the larger parts of wisdom is being able to entertain, without bias, opinions, ideas, and views that are not your own. Take up the mindset that you could learn something from every person you encounter and you will. Use others’ experiences to your advantage.
23. INTEMPERANCE. The most damaging forms of intemperance are connected with eating, strong drink, and sexual activities. Overindulgence in any of these is fatal to success.
- Over indulgence in anything can can detrimental to progress. Some things are more damaging than others. Alcohol is no doubt on of these. It leads to laziness and sometimes violence. It is difficult to be successful if you are known as a person who drinks too much then becomes belligerent, much less gets violent. A sloppy personal life spills the same mess onto your business. No one wants to associate with a person who cannot control themselves and respect others.
25. INABILITY TO COOPERATE WITH OTHERS. More people lose their positions and their big opportunities in life, because of this fault, than for all other reasons combined. It is a fault which no well-informed business man, or leader will tolerate.
- If you are unable to get along with others, you won’t be allowed on the playground. It’s no different in business. Even your competitors must be treated with respect. If you conduct business without code or ethic, your reputation will for being dishonest will turn away new customers and run away existing ones. Your competitors will seek to eliminate you from the marketplace. It is better to compete in a market with honor and ethics of a gentleman.
26. POSSESSION OF POWER THAT WAS NOT ACQUIRED THROUGH SELF EFFORT. (Sons and daughters of wealthy men, and others who inherit money which they did not earn). Power in the hands of one who did not acquire it gradually, is often fatal to success. QUICK RICHES are more dangerous than poverty.
- It’s cliche, the children given everything by irresponsible parents squander it. Not long ago, the family meant something. Children behaved with honor so as to not disgrace their family name. Now, that sort of expectation isn’t laid on children. The “spoiled brat” is never taught to appreciate what they’ve been given. Soon enough, through their own irresponsible actions, the gifts are all gone, the parents have passed, and the brat is alone and without. Appreciate all you have, especially what you have not earned. Treat these things are sacred and they will pay exponentially.
27. INTENTIONAL DISHONESTY. There is no substitute for honesty. One may be temporarily dishonest by force of circumstances over which one has no control, without permanent damage. But, there is NO HOPE for the person who is dishonest by choice. Sooner or later, his deeds will catch up with him, and he will pay by loss of reputation, and perhaps even loss of liberty.
- A liar gets no where in life. If you do it, own it. If you’re in trouble for it, shoulder it. If all you have to your name is honor, you are still a wealthy person.
28. EGOTISM AND VANITY. These qualities serve as red lights which warn others to keep away. THEY ARE FATAL TO SUCCESS.
- There can be a thin line between these and confidence. You cannot be successful without a due amount of self-confidence, but lose your humility and you will become vane. It usually takes others of high confidence to discern the difference. Weak-minded, scared people will accuse the confident of being vane and narcissistic in fits of jealousy and envy. Do not allow these folks to be anything but step stones on your path to success.
29. GUESSING INSTEAD OF THINKING. Most people are too indifferent or lazy to acquire FACTS with which to THINK ACCURATELY. They prefer to act on “opinions” created by guesswork or snap-judgments.
- You have to do your homework. Research and education are two things the successful will not go without. They constantly seek the latest information pertaining and influencing their goals. They utilize the information to form knowledge and make the best decisions. Decisions without information is guessing. Guesswork is not a part of the foundation the successful person builds on.
30. LACK OF CAPITAL. This is a common cause of failure among those who start out in business for the first time, without sufficient reserve of capital to absorb the shock of their mistakes, and to carry them over until they have established a REPUTATION.
- Obviously this one is purely about financial success. The contrast between projections, expenditures, revenues and start up capital is something successful person carefully invests time and sweat equity into figuring, as accurately as possible (refer to #29), how much money he or she needs to have in reserve to cover expenses from the time of the ventures inception to the day its revenues exceed its costs.
I hope this outline of Hill’s reasons for failing helps you in some way be better at whatever it is you are trying to improve. I’m a big fan of Hill’s works. He possessed a keen insight on human behavior, human nature, and they traits needed to succeed. He studied some of our nations most influential men. Men who built companies that shaped not only American industry and business, but in some cases our way of life. Pick up any one of Hill’s writings and you will not be sorry.