Lack of Instant Success is NOT Failure

Last time, I used my new attempt at adwords as an example of how success actually works in the real world, ie slowly. (To date, it’s generated a total of 579 clicks, 577 of which were before I realized that I needed to adjust my settings to generate useful clicks. Which is to say, I’ve had 2 clicks.)

Have I failed? Well, certainly it didn’t go like a movie montage, where it’s an instant success, I go on to fame and fortune, and never have to work again (*sigh*). On the other hand, I didn’t lose anything (I lost $81, but that’s not going to break even me). There’s no teacher saying “Raina, you stupid child, can’t you get anything right? F- for you!”. There’s still a terabyte of Google Adwords Help I can read. I can try again.

  • My nephew, Dragon, has not yet stood up without falling down. Has his learning-to-walk campaign failed? Of course not! He’s still learning. Give him a break; he’s not yet two.

  • A teenager tries to park his car next to the curb, but starts turning too soon and can’t fit into the space. Has he failed? No… he pulls out and tries again.
  • The plumber comes to your house, replaces the leaky valve, and your hot water heater still leaks. Has he failed? No, he’s identified another problem that needs to be solved.

Issac Asimov got rejected several hundred times before he went on to become the most published sci-fi writer ever. Thomas Edison tried thousands of potential filaments before he hit on tungsten and invented the lightbulb. Look up Abe Lincoln’s political track record sometime.

I haven’t succeeded. I haven’t failed. There’s a status in-between the two, which we might call “Pending”. I’m pending. I’m trying. Despite what Yoda says, trying is a very important part of life.

You can’t judge in the middle

The thing is, it doesn’t even make sense to determine “success” or “failure” until you get to the end of the trial. When you judge in the middle, you determine that Asimov will never get published, Edison is on a fool’s mission, and Lincoln should give it up and start a store (oh wait, he already did that. It failed, too.)

Lack of instant success is not failure. But you can make it so, by judging someone or something to be a failure before they have a chance to try again. When you say “You failed!” to yourself, or your kids, or your classmates, you’ve declared an arbitrary end to the trial. You’ve decided, on the basis of the first iteration, not to bother experimenting any more.

By what right do you do that to someone else? By what possible logic would you do that to yourself?

What to say instead

“You failed” doesn’t help anyone. Can we replace it with my brother-in-law’s solution instead?

    What happened?
    Why did it happen?
    What are you going to do different next time?

Resources for Further Reading
This Ain’t Middle School
Pessimism Vs. Realism
Shipping Hurts
Why Courage