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Success Vs. Failure – Is there really a difference?

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The short answer to this question is, it depends on your mindset. How and what you personally think about success and failure.

The dictionary’s definition of success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Definitely, a more pleasant and positive definition compared to how the dictionary defines failure.     

According to the dictionary, failure is defined as a lack of success. Essentially meaning that whatever you were aiming for or your purpose has well, failed. 

And we wonder why folks struggle with a fear of failure when faced with definitions like these. 

So, going back to my short answer. It really depends on your mindset and how you choose to view the “failures” you experience while working towards success. 

I have a favorite quote that I think each time I’m struggling with a failure. Or needing to reframe a failure to something that will help encourage me to continue to move forward. And it’s probably the most renowned quote by Thomas Edison.

I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

Just in case you’re not familiar with the quote. Thomas Edison was referring to the 10,000 times he failed at inventing the light bulb.     

This quote shows the power of reframing. To have failed at something 10,000 times and to never quit is powerful. So often, a failure leads folks to stop whatever they’re trying to accomplish even though that failure may have just moved them one step closer to success.   

Then there are also limiting beliefs. A belief is something that you consider to be a fact or is true. Beliefs tend to run in the background of your subconscious and influence how you navigate the world. 

Let’s first take a look at limiting beliefs. It’s challenging to reframe a failure if there’s a limiting belief standing in the way.   

A Look at Limiting Beliefs

Limiting beliefs can be described as a hypothesis that you’re operating under. Because most folks tend to want to be right (it gives us a sense of control in our daily life), they’ll either look for or create evidence to support their hypothesis. And will present it to themselves or others as “proof” that their limiting belief is accurate.   

Here are three common limiting beliefs that will interfere with reframing a failure. 

The Negative “I am…”

Insert limiting belief statement here. These are actually a matter of self-esteem and self-worth statements for most people. 

Suppose you are using self-critical and self-limiting beliefs to describe yourself. Then odds are you are probably sabotaging yourself at the very least on a subconscious level. If you are aware of these self-critical and self-limiting beliefs, then you’re sabotaging yourself on a conscious level. 

All this does is weaken your sense of self-worth. And hold you back from taking advantage of possible experiences, opportunities, or relationships. 

Overcoming The Negative “I am…”

What if you were to take that first step and negotiate with that little voice that whispers at you? What if instead, you acknowledged its presence and, instead of trying to ignore it, told it that you’re going to give it a try anyhow. The more you repeatedly try different things and move out of your comfort zone, the quitter that little voice will become.  

Fear of Success or Greatness

It seems kind of odd that we can have a limiting belief around greatness or success. It stems from the fear of “what if I am great or successful?” Do I have the ability to sustain my own success or this recent success? When this limiting belief happens, we tend to default towards mediocrity because it feels safer. 

This limiting belief is self-sabotaging and destroys our confidence in ourselves and our chances for personal success. 

Then there is also the fear of additional responsibility. Choosing to be successful is a big responsibility. And most of us try and avoid this in our lives. 

Overcoming Fear of Success OR Greatness

Suppose your fear of greatness or success stems from being afraid that you’re not smart enough to sustain a new business. Then hire people smarter than you. That is exactly what a successful person would do. They hire people smarter than themselves to help keep them great or successful. 

Have you ever heard of the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you need to find a different room”? Sometimes, being the smartest person in the room isn’t always a good thing. So, come up with a plan. “To be great or successful, these are the following professionals I need in my life…” And then go forth and create your success story.              

Fear of Failure

What if I try this thing and it doesn’t work out? For some reason, failure is viewed as something that should be avoided at all costs. 

Most people who are successful reframe failure as a learning opportunity. And a way to discover what did not work as they move closer to discovering what will work in perhaps a different way. 

Often, the risk of failure can be mitigated by strategizing, planning appropriately, and knowing at what point you need to reevaluate your original plan. Failure tends to be over-glorified. People fail all of the time. The only ones who never fail are the ones that never try. And quite frankly, never trying is scarier than trying and failing. At least then you get to learn something and can try again. 

So now that you know the three most common limiting beliefs around failure, we can look at reframing a failure. 

Reframing a failure

Is the ability to take a failure and reframe it in a healthy way as a teachable moment or learning opportunity towards success. Failures are life’s greatest teachers and life lessons. This is where you get your feedback on growing and improving moving forward. This is now an opportunity to take past failures and decide how and what you intend to do differently to give yourself the best chance for success moving forward. You can always use and apply it the next time to increase your chances of success.       

In order to successfully reframe a failure, you need to keep all of this in mind and one other crucial thing. When you describe a failure to yourself, what is the language you are using? 

Are you using behavior statements such as “I have failed, and this is what I have learned…,” or “I am failing, and I’m learning…,” and even, “I might fail, and hopefully I will learn…” Or are you using identity statements such as “I am a failure.” I want to make an important point; there are big differences between behavioral statements and identity statements.

Identity statements are deep-rooted and familiar, and even when they are no longer serving us, they are more difficult to change than behavior statements. But it’s not to say that they are impossible to change but do take some hard work. They tend to require more work and conscious awareness. So be mindful when you are reframing a failure as a step closer to success. Or an opportunity to learn something new as you get one step closer to accomplishing your aim or purpose and not to use negative identity statements.      

Failure is not an outcome but is our response to how we think and feel about the outcome. Failure is when we fall and choose to stay fallen and give up because it feels easier. 

It reminds me of a passage in Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech which is oftentimes referred to as “The Man in the Arena,” and goes like this.

”… who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  He’s referring to those folks that have never risked the possibility of failure in order to possibly be successful.  

Theodore Roosevelt

So, the next time that you have the opportunity to risk the possibility of failure in order to possibly be successful, will you?  And if you were to fail are you going to choose to stay fallen?  Or are you going to choose to get up and wipe the dust from your palms, figure out what you learned from this experience and use it as you continue to strive one step forward towards success?  Because the only difference between failure and success is what you think about it.   

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