Our Illusion Of Success: 3 Reasons Why ‘Failure Stories’ Are More Useful Than Success Stories

  • Motivation & Unity
  • 8 min read  |  On 4th April 2021

  • Motivation & Unity
  •   by Richly Wills

  • 8 min read  |  Last Updated: 4th April 2021

  • We can learn more from our failures, so why do we continue to seek out success stories?

    The illusion of success is something we all seem to fall for as we become so determined to survive and thrive in life, yet it also leads to a trap.

    It’s easy to get sucked into the popularity era. Everyone wants to be an influencer these days without really understanding the context of how influence really works. We want the bells and whistles without the work. We value those with more followers over those with competence and expertise. We want to become rich and famous over building noble careers. We somehow think all the singers and dancers are enough to keep the world economy going. We want to hear of the gloss and glitz, but not the struggle or rubble.

    Okay, well that may sound slightly exaggerated but maybe not so when you consider how society can condition us to see success as an external posturing, rather than inner gain.

    Our Illusion Of What Success Is

    There’s many ways to succeed in life yet when we utter the word ‘success’ our first thought would generally be of someone who has ‘made it’, ‘is known’, ‘has money or fame’, ‘or is at the top of their ladder’.

    Even if we don’t associate success with recognition we will still likely want to hear of someone who is successful, rather than someone who was not. ‘They know how it’s done’, we think, but we forget that everyone’s story and path is different and what worked for them might not work for us.

    The advice from the ‘successful’ can be pretty vague too. Bar the usual ‘perseverance’, ‘develop skills’, ‘have dedication and some luck’, we can read about the successes of others and feel pretty clueless after about what to do to replicate their success (we may even feel worse that we aren’t there yet ourselves).

    That’s if we consider the journey towards people’s successes at all. We often don’t appreciate the efforts and competence that went into a success, we just want to read about the good stuff, and share the reward through vicarious living. It’s far easier to imagine the dream than to build it ourselves.

    That’s the issue though. We shouldn’t be trying to become somebody else, or to ‘be somebody’, we should become our best self. We don’t wake up one day though and suddenly have it all (and we never will and shouldn’t even consider it – see ‘why we should avoid the ‘mountain top’ approach to life’). It does take the things we hear about in success stories, like dedication, but it also takes a lot of failures along the way.

    Show Me A ‘Failure’ Any Day Over A Success

    No one talks about the real low times of almost giving up, or when they had to graft hard into the night on weekends. They may simply say ‘be dedicated and work hard’ without sharing the emotions of that hard experience and how they did actually persevere.

    If they’ve now succeeded (on a societal scale) they may have even forgotten some of the struggles along the way. We are built to want to show our good side – to be seen as positive, agreeable and to emit the feeling or notion of success to others – so we don’t admit to the times where things were tough, when we were weak.

    We should do though as stories of failure are far more inspiring, helpful and relatable to us than any success story. Sure, a success story can provide us motivation to want to live that dream someone else made, but they often aren’t tangible or relevant to our current situation, and they could be nothing more than false hope is we don’t know how to apply the lessons to ourselves.

    This is where connecting with ‘failure stories’ are actually more motivating and tangible for us.

    If you feel like really giving up on something then it’s better to know you aren’t alone, what others did in that situation, and most importantly what they learnt from that experience. There’s many people around us who are on a journey themselves and who might not be known as a ‘success’ but they are trying and eagerly wanting to ‘make it’.

    People who fail tend to have a real burning desire to prove themselves or others wrong, and know all too well the feeling of not having things go as planned. It can either make them quit or put a fire under their belly.

    We can always learn more from each others failures by connecting (or even collaborating or mentoring) with those who haven’t ‘made it’ yet, as they will be more open to problem solve and be likely to offer greater insight into what didn’t work and what did.

    Redefining What Successes And Failures Really Are

    In our illusion about what success is we tend to look up to ‘the stars’ to a grand goal, rather than see the successes we are having daily. We think it is about hitting a home run in front of millions, or running a business to new levels, not about being more rounded or friendly, less agitated or controlled, working on just one sentence or page that day.

    They could be successes to someone. Making a bed in the morning could be a success to someone. (that’s not to say someone would read a book about you finally making your bed, but then again if it became popular then people would read anything these days).

    But this is the point. We hear of the usual stories of climbing a ladder to ‘monetary’ success that we often seek that as our gauge. We forget about the other successes we have during our day, even if minor or seemingly insignificant, but we shouldn’t, we should acknowledge and reward them.

    It takes each step to run that marathon, but falling over or getting cramp along the way doesn’t mean you have failed and won’t continue. You just had mini ‘failures’ and which should act as motivation to continue and persevere even more. If the race was easy then you don’t feel the reward as much, so when you do have setbacks and failures then actually be grateful for them.

    All failures are in the past. They have been done now, even if you made a mistake a minute ago, it’s now done. Time to thank your past self for the lesson learnt and get your present self to seek more successes. You will be far more likely to finish a complex puzzle when you learn what not to do as opposed to what to do, so embrace the failures, as they help you learn. Giving up doesn’t, that’s the only real failure there is – yet even if you gave up you can still return and try again.

    A Hidden Factor Explains Why We Give Up On The Road To Success

    There is something many success stories don’t talk about. It really isn’t just about keeping going, not for everything. You see, people’s successes are also not really as linear as we hope them to be. The ‘one step at a time’ mantra is true in allowing us to see that we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves when it appears that we aren’t making progress, but we should also recognise that each step might have to be run a little different to the last one.

    It’s relatively simply to just put one step after another if each step is the same, but what if we have some steps that involve different creative thinking over following the same logical repetition?

    Let’s say that your goal involves you to make some calls and ask questions to people in certain positions of knowledge. The task of making the call is logical enough and could be a step in the marathon (a mini-success), but what about trying to persuade one of those people to back a product you are offering? That relies on building different skills and on other people’s actions, so it’s not a step so clear to you at first. What you have to do is think more creatively if the first attempt didn’t work out.

    What could you do differently? Then try again. It’s iteration. Like Edison with the light bulb. It’s not just perseverance, as Edison had to go back to the drawing board many times and work out what to do differently to get him to the next piece in the jigsaw, to make the light glow. He had to persevere, yes, but he also had to look at the hurdle in a different way, test, test again. He relied on his ingenuity a lot to get there.

    That was arguably his harder task in many people’s eyes despite the quote ‘1% inspiration, 99% perspiration’ giving the opposite impression (which is obvious when you consider ‘why our logical society keeps our creative ingenuity trapped’). It’s usually these steps where people give up as they appear more like giant leaps with a black hole in the middle if we don’t make the jump. It’s the ‘unknown’ rather than the ‘known but hard’ that sees most people give up in the end. Yet you only know through keeping going and seeking to try something else in your quest for success.

    What We Can Try To Keep Us On Track

    Action Card: The 3 Point System

    Here’s a little trick to keep you motivated on harder goals. It’s not just kids where reward point games work.

    Simply take note of when you tried a task that led towards your goal, or when you noticed a success or failure in your day.

    When you start the task you automatically get 1 point. If you give up and don’t continue for that day then that 1 point goes to 0. If you failed at something but then tried again on that day/week and made it happen then give yourself 2 points for that task. If you completed a task that didn’t just require logical process thinking but creative ingenuity to make the task complete then give yourself 2 points also. If you gave up on the creative task but came back around to it with a new fresh look and solution then give yourself 3 points.

    Set however many points you want to aim for in the day at the start of the day but stick to it. You can make it a day/week/month aim. You will find that you don’t give up as much and you push further to come up with more original solutions towards your goals unique problems (ones which no success story can prepare you for).

    Good luck!


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