Many people feel that success happens in an instant. They assume that great inventions, artistic creations, profitable business ideas, sports victories and brilliant philosophical concepts are sudden.
This makes sense. The failure and hard work that lead to success can easily be overshadowed by the triumphant win.
I love watching football but occasionally I watch basketball. I find it fascinating how different of a process there is for determining a champion in basketball versus football.
Football games are played once. There isn’t a best-of-seven series to determine a champion. There is one game. This means that it is very easy to fall into the “event” mindset.
But in basketball the Finals series determine the champion. This means that there are multiple games, rather than one single super game.
Since the series is spread out over several days it is funny to listen to the sports media between these games. Team A wins the first game and suddenly they all claim Team B is horrible and won’t win a game. Then Team B wins a game and suddenly they “figured it out” and surely will win the next 3. But then they lose the next game and the media perspective shifts as well.
How can there be so many shifts in perspective? It is because we are all told throughout our lives that the outcome is what is important, not necessarily the process.
In The Road to Reinvention, author and successful businessman Josh Linkner talks about this perspective.
He says, “Unfortunately, most of us have a delusional view of how ideas are formed and come to life. We believe that a lightning bolt of creative genius strikes a select few, who then launch perfectly developed ideas. That’s not the case. When you study innovative breakthroughs in just about any area, you find that some of the biggest advances are the result of someone toying with the seed of an idea, then developing it through a series of stumbles, missteps, and failed experiments that eventually bear fruit.”
It is incredibly easy to misunderstand success in this way. There is benefit to shifting our perspective on success to align more with the full process of succeeding rather than the single outcome or event.
A great example given by Linkner is in the development of the common household product, WD-40. “WD-40, the leading cure for all things squeaky, earned its name through a series of failed trials. The name actually stands for: ‘Water Displacement, Fortieth Experiment.’ It could have just as easily been named WD-31. What the makers of WD-40 know, and what we all need to embrace, is that mistakes are not fatal; they’re part of the process of discovery.”
But if we were given a look into WD-40 in any of the early attempts we would see failure after failure. It would be easy to make the case that this was failure on the part of those working on this project.
In fact, we would say that this project failed over and over again and the logical thing is to stop failing. In other words the logical thing would be to quit and do something more beneficial.
How many things in our own lives do we approach like this? How many times do we take a failure or series of failures and let that weigh us down? But we don’t really know the outcome of our lives.
I heard someone once say that life only makes sense when we look at it in reverse. This is powerful but I’ve already found this to be very true. When I look at my life it seems like all the right pieces were in place to take me where I currently am. But those failures and stumbles, those obstacles and adversity, the struggles and mistakes don’t feel “right” at the time. They are usually painful and the lesson only comes after we get past them.
So whatever it is that you are doing, make sure you look at the overall process. Make sure you are making progress and improving. You may jump around from thing to thing but make sure you are at least controlling enough to keep moving forward. And realize that, just like WD-40, you may just be on your 39th experiment, and haven’t reached the success event that will make it all make sense. But that certainly doesn’t mean you are not a success.