Failure, Re-examined

Depending on who you ask, I may sound like a huge success or a massive failure. Some people think that my serial pursuit of new achievements makes me a superstar, someone who is constantly growing and learning new things. Others see my collection of achieved and forgotten accomplishments as a lack of discipline or commitment.

To give you a taste of what I mean, here are a few of the contradictions about me:

  • I hold a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, but I do not work in a career that utilizes it (at least not in the traditional way)
  • I am the founder and CEO of a brand called The Sensible Mama, which became an internationally known retailer in the baby industry, but two years ago, I closed down almost all operations of the business
  • I am the owner of a diaper bag brand called LYMIA BRAND, which manufactures high end, luxury diaper bags and accessories for moms, but I’m currently not doing much to market it
  • I competed in Olympic weightlifting, all the way up to the collegiate national level, but don’t compete anymore
  • In fact, I am a former competitive gymnast, ballerina, equestrian horseback rider, and theater kid. And I don’t do any of those things anymore.

One might think that all of those things look like a giant list of failures. And why not? They all came to an end. I’m not a cognitive psychologist, or a CEO, or a bag designer, or a competitive athlete anymore. So, I guess in some ways, I did fail.

But I refuse to look at any of those things as a failure. In fact, what I see when I look at that list is a long list of incredible accomplishments that only a small number of people get to experience in their lifetime. To me, every one of the things on that list was a success. I have gained so much incredible knowledge and insights in my pursuit of that list! I know the depths of the human psyche. I know what it takes to start a business, to make it successful, and to keep employees paid and happy. I know the complicated process of textile design, and how to get goods manufactured overseas and imported stateside. I know how to ride a horse, to do the snatch and clean and jerk, how to block scenes for theater productions. That’s a lot of cool stuff to know! So sure, maybe I’m not doing those things anymore. But why consider those things to be a failure? They are, in fact, incredible assets.

Everything we do is meant to serve a purpose. Most things will eventually come to an end. I am tempted to envy people who have chosen one hobby, one profession, one sport, and stick to it their entire lives. But I remind myself that they have not succeeded more than I have. They have just stuck to something longer. They reached deeper, while I reached wider. We can’t call ourselves failures when things come to their natural end. Instead, we need to celebrate what they meant to us — what we learned, how we grew, and how we became better.

That is true success.

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