Success vs. Failure: Not as Simple as This Image Suggests

by Bill Brenner on April 9, 2014

LinkedIn and other social media sites are publishing a lot of articles and graphics lately about things successful people do and don’t do. There are many good points in all of them, and they at least give us things to strive for. This graphic in particular caught and held my attention:

What Successful People Do and What Unsuccessful People Do

For the most part, I agree with this one.

Before I started to bring my demons to heel, many of my traits fell into the yellow. I hoped for certain people to fail. I held too many grudges to count. I criticized everyone and everything, and I was terrified of change. Over the years, I’ve learned to do a lot of what’s in the green column. And I’m much happier and more successful for it.

But the advice in the image isn’t as simple as the creators would have us believe.

Back when my demons were in control, I read every day, kept detailed to-do lists and accepted responsibility for my failures. Some colleagues used to tell me I beat myself up too much when things didn’t go well. Those traits are in the “successful” column.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed a lot of success. But I still do some of the things in this graphic’s “unsuccessful” column.  I horde information and data. I fly by the seat of my pants much more than I used to — and I enjoy it. I find it hard not to pat myself on the back for jobs well done.

The lesson? The path to success or failure is much more complicated than an image can show us. And no matter how successful we are, there will always be room for improvement.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anonymous April 10, 2014 at 9:45 am

I think that this list is well intended but a lot of these seem more like symptoms than causes.

For example, if you’re keeping a “to-do” list you might be more successful, but this is likely because you are able to cut to the core of what needs to be done, and likely know how to prioritize these tasks to get your tasks done quickly and efficiently.

Just making a to-do list in and of itself isn’t going to make you successful, but it will give you practice at a lot of important skills.

Likewise they list “flying by the seat of their pants” as a trait of an unsuccessful person, and that can often be the case, however this is generally symptomatic of poor planning or time management. This does not mean that just because you “fly by the seat of their pants” you will be unsuccessful, as in some positions being able to have this degree of flexibility can be crucial. The problem arises when you are not properly prepared, and as such cannot be expected to properly respond to any challenges which require quick thinking.

As you say, success and failure is a very complicated topic, and if it was so easy to break it down into formulaic traits of “If you do X you will succeed” then we would see less failure.

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