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Effort vs. Results and a New Perspective on 'Failure'

I ended my introduction to the 'Past Results' page by reaffirming my conviction that it's the effort you put in that really counts in the end. The results are merely useful for ensuring that your effort is well directed. A useful metaphor I came up with when thinking about this is to compare your effort with that of a boat and your results with that of the boat's rudder. If it's your effort that will keep you afloat and sustain you, then we can at least credit your results with providing the necessary feedback you need to steer a progressively truer course.

In these 'modern times' of ours there seems to be an excessive and unhealthy obsession with results, outcomes, appearances, status, honours and with “being first”. This obsessive mind-set is a failed perspective in my view and one which makes it all too easy for us to lose sight of what’s really important. It fails to perceive the relativity and subjectivity inherent in all things, and it’s typical of the anthropocentric outcome bias clouding the cultural zeitgeist today.

The fact is you can’t have a first place without a last, nor a last without a first. For that matter, first place owes its very existence to last and vice versa. The two are mutually dependent entities with the existence of one being predicated upon the existence of the other. In fact, anything that exists can only do so in the presence of its opposite, and the deeper you explore these 'yin and yang' concepts, the more you find the differences between the opposite extremes to be nothing but an optical illusion created by the inescapable subjective bias of the ego - the infinite and the infinitesimal; life and death; large and small; tall and short; black and white; north and south; hot and cold; happy and sad; pass and fail - all two sides of one coin. If we can just manage to break through our one-sided dual perspectives then we finally grasp the meaning of Blake’s “world in a grain of sand" or Kipling's advice concerning 'triumph and disaster', namely "to treat those two imposters the same". It’s only the limiting and dualistic handicap of human bias that leads us to favour one particular extreme over another.

But do not think that in attempting to break down what I perceive to be false distinctions between even success and failure I am devaluing or belittling the aspiration to aim high in all endeavours. That is not my intention at all. I just think we can make a sincere best effort in all our undertakings without burdening ourselves with the unnecessary delusions, and subsequent pressures, that come with taking these undertakings too seriously within the grand scheme of things. As the philosopher and self-proclaimed spiritual entertainer, Alan Watts, was often fond of saying, “I’m not serious, but I am sincere.”

As for myself, my ability to step back and laugh at the silliness of my own goals and ambitions has never been an obstacle to my sincere pursuit of those very same goals and ambitions. It only requires that we become capable of holding two opposing points of view (or diametrically opposed attitudes) both at once: the first to approach all our endeavours with deadly seriousness, and the second to laugh at the folly of the first - a sort of functioning, cognitive dissonance.

No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately.”

Michel de Montaigne

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let me leave further investigations into eastern philosophical thought and meta-logic aside for a moment and return to another pair of opposites, namely 'success' and 'failure'.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but failure is a large part of success, and not just in the existential co-dependency sense I attempted to elucidate above. As with the rocket which makes its way to the moon by means of a series of tiny errors and deviations in course trajectory offset by tiny readjustments, success then becomes almost a thing for you to fail your way towards. The great American inventor, Thomas Edison, summed it up best and most amusingly in my view with the following remark:

“Failed? I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.”

Not many of us are capable of summoning quite the same reserves of perseverance and resolve as Mr. Edison, whose genius was to be found as much in his 'perspiration' as his 'inspiration'. Nevertheless, I think his words serve to demonstrate the fact that you can pass failure many times on the road to success. Furthermore, on reflection, you may well find that you learnt more from your failings, disappointments and adversities in life than you ever did from your successes. When viewed in this way, there's no reason why you can't turn your failures into a highly effective fertiliser for growth which will steer you progressively closer to your goals.

"Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue."

Francis Bacon

"Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course."

William Shakespeare (Henry VI)

"Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body."


So put the emphasis on your effort and do not dwell too long and hard on unalterable past results aside from the utility they serve in helping you make tactical and well-directed adjustments. If you stick to your task, results will inevitably follow your efforts in any case, so there’s really no need to preoccupy yourself with anxiety over final outcomes. If you pass, then great! If you fall short, then pick yourself up, dust yourself down, learn from it and resolve to do better next time - to really focus, apply yourself and become the hard-working disciplinarian you need to be to correct past mistakes and achieve your best. After all, you only need pick yourself up one more time than you’ve been knocked down. Or worded in the manner of a Japanese proverb I once came across:

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

In conclusion, I hope I’ve made a convincing and compelling argument for the positive and uplifting message which is to be found even in the midst of our “so-called” failings; perhaps even a case for failure to be considered merely a matter of perspective. And for those of you ever finding yourselves in need of a pick-me-up in the aftermath of such failures as you may subjectively perceive them to be - whether academic, personal, career-related, sporting or some other - perhaps you’ll remember to pay a visit to this quietly tucked away section of my website where you will find some positive affirmations. In addition, I have provided you with the following link where you will find some of my favourite motivational quotations.

I leave you with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek words of Samuel Beckett:

"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better!”

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