How our Definition of Success can breed Failure

Before you look at this headline and say, uhem, ‘nonsense!’, hear me out.

I was super-successful in my 20’s. Held up as a poster-child for success I could barely keep up with the restaurants, retail stores, vending machines, the expensive cars and flashy lifestyle. I had everything I ever thought I wanted and more. Why was I so successful so young? Because I was the child of a single mother where money was always a challenge and I promised myself I would never be poor. In fact I was terrified of being poor and this gave me the drive to be ‘successful’.


Then things hit the skids. At the age of 30 I was bankrupt and virtually overnight living in a friend’s spare room. It was a harsh lesson to learn, but it forced me to rethink my relationship with success and money. Followed by a divorce a decade later, I was forced into a deeper turmoil and self-analysis. I realised I’d been a boy my entire life. To coin a common phrase I was at this point, by definition, a proper failure.


Here’s what I learnt. If you’re anxious about not achieving something, you achieve nothing. Let me explain. In my drive for success I was actually running away from the darkness (fear, anxiety, poverty), instead of running toward the light (creativity, excitement and joy). I was actually manifesting my internal emotional state! I wouldn’t have had a bankruptcy if I wasn’t so fearful about being poor.


That’s when the fun really started. I realised I didn’t like the word failure. In fact, I reject it. I believe semantics are strongly linked to psychology and how you perceive yourself. I switched the word ‘failure’ to iteration, revelation and expansion. Iteration, being the repetition of a process or utterance; revelation, an enlightenment  which brings about wisdom through healed pain; and expansion, a sense of growing into a better space. The process of not succeeding is an ongoing one, but the trick is to shift yourself into knowling this is a forever game, and so you can only learn.

Re-defining Masculinity


For my bankruptcy to be followed fairly swiftly by a divorce was harrowing. It is such a shameful process to admit a relationship is not working. Society creates a stigma around it, so when you get to the point that you actually pull the plug, the sense of ‘failure’ is enormous. This was the catalyst for a two year period of grief and greater self awareness. I had been a boy for 40 years of my life, and that didn’t dawn on me until my mother took my ex-wife’s side instead of mine.


I come from a Middle Eastern culture, similar to Greek, Italian or Jewish cultures, for example, where the mom over-mothers the boy. The boy grows up with calm entitlement because he’s a boy. These hard  times shattered the perspective I had of myself and how I was actually growing into a man. It set me on a course of discovering parts of myself and finding a definition, without a role-model, of what the modern man looks like.


 Women are more powerful than ever before. Stereotypes of masculinity are changing where the immature man is no longer being rewarded. Take a look at Donald Trump, for example, a classic example of being stuck in ‘mommy-boy’ mode. The discussion I had to have with myself is what am I imparting or sharing with other men. We’re expected to have all the answers but there are discussions around masculinity which are not happening, and it calls for adaption in these changing times. The world is moving away from the trusted ideas of power, economics and money. Everything has to be reinvented. All this turmoil needs to be positively integrated.

The Economics of Post-traumatic Growth


This process is what is called post-traumatic growth, the re-growth that comes from acknowledging, facing and truly overcoming challenges. It’s an energising space to be in. There’s a positive disintegration, where the aspects of yourself you no longer require for your new journey are released. It will reveal new things about yourself and allow you to expand into the authentic being you were meant to be. You simply cannot disintegrate into the thing you didn’t positively achieve.


To move forward I do know that curiosity is key. Consume your mind and your time with something outside of your usual framework. Reframing your life in a way that releases repeated thoughts without effect and replaces them with new activity will serve as an anxiety outlet.  In fact the best way to deal with the anxiety around definition of failure is to consciously move from a beginner mindset (victim, saviour, angry person) to a mature mindset (creater, coach, challenger). 


The shift in this mindset will herald you into the era of entrepreneurship, quite simply the age of:


  1. Solving problems
  2. With no loss of enthusiasm
  3. Knowing our reward is greater than the problem.


Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. But it’s integral for us all to adopt a more entrepreneurial spirit to make these shifts in our definition of success and failure and to understand that life is a continuum of growth.

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