Overheard in a boulangerie in the Dordogne last week: “If you are always ’appy, you are not truly ’appy. To be truly ’appy, you must first be sad.” Don’t the French put these things beautifully? And, of course, the Frenchman speaking – waxing philosophical to an English tourist while queuing for his baguettes – was spot-on.
Uninterrupted success is less satisfying than success intertwined with failure. That is not rocket science – even if, ironically, American rocket scientists have just reached the same conclusion as the Frenchman.
A study at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, drawing on data from satellite launches and space shuttles, concludes that success may be sweeter, but failure is the better teacher.
“There is a tendency for organisations to ignore failure or to try not to focus on it,” note the authors of thereport. Vital lessons for the future are overlooked in the rush to put a brave face on disappointment.
How many schoolchildren are feeling wretched this week because they have fared worse than their friends in their GCSEs? That B in maths, when they expected an A*, is like a dagger through the heart. They have been so brainwashed into thinking of education as an obstacle race where one must clear every fence or face elimination that they are unable to put their results into context.
Their parents dry their tears, and tell them getting a B is not a disaster, and bid them look on the bright side and work harder for their next exams. But it is their parents, nine times out of 10, who are the problem.
The adult world is as success-crazed as the world of GCSEs and school league tables. If you don’t own your own home, you have failed. If you have a low-paid job, you’re a loser. If you’re divorced, there is something wrong with you. If you cannot stick to your diet, but sneak down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a biscuit, you’re a waste of space. Diversity we can tolerate, up to a point. But not failure, not in any circumstances.
Such is the social stigma attached to failure that people who have failed, for whatever reason, go into denial. They pretend everything is hunky-dory when they have just lost their job, been ditched by their girlfriend, or smashed their Peugeot into a lamp-post. They would be better taking stock of their lives and working out how to bounce back from the setback.
Very few successful people are born with a silver spoon. They have either come up the hard way or had to overcome periods of chronic self-doubt, when the whole world seemed to be against them.
Winston Churchill was absolutely miserable at school. Ian Fleming was expelled from Eton after some hanky-panky with a maid. Carol Vorderman got a third-class degree at Cambridge. Stephen Fry spent time in jail for credit fraud.
J K Rowling received a mountain of rejection slips before finding a publisher for the Harry Potter novels. Alan Sugar was reduced to selling car aerials from the back of a van. One could go on and on.
Could any of them have achieved the success they did if their lives had been an effortless progression from triumph to triumph? No, it was the determination born in times of hardship that put steel in their soul.
Nowhere is the galvanising effect of failure more evident than in professional sport. The winner takes the spoils, but the loser is not crushed: he grits his teeth and vows to try harder next time. The never-say-die spirit courses through tired limbs. Career-threatening injuries are overcome by raw courage.
From jockey Bob Champion, beating cancer to win the 1981 Grand National, to the extraordinary renaissance of Manchester United after the Munich air disaster of 1958, the history of sport is littered with heroes and heroines who refused to feel sorry for themselves when they were down. Failure? They did not know the meaning of the word.
We should not romanticise losing. If failure were an infallible springboard for success, England would be red-hot favourites to win the next World Cup. Labour would win the next election by a landslide. The Duchess of York would become a reclusive billionaire.
But we do need to fight, tooth and nail, the perception that failure is a terminal disease, its sufferers doomed to mediocrity. So often, in every walk of life, from business to politics, it can be a wake-up call, heralding a new dawn.
2010-08-31 21:08 编辑：kuaileyingyu
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