Over the last month or so I have failed continouously, a little bit every day. No doubt, I have done so every day of my life from my early attempts at legible speech and coherent motion as a small child to what could be considered a ‘normal’ day in 2014. This seems to be one of my inherent faults. I will continue to fail, every single day of my life. This means I will have to be careful not to write every day off as a failure, simply because I failed.
Ultimately, the flaw is in the semantics. I was simply taught it wrong (or I learned it wrong…): The conjunction that joins the words “success” and “failure” is not an “either, or”, it is an “and”. They coexist. They might even live in some sort of symbiotic dependence. Although this might seem like a petty detail, it is not. Don’t we all strive to be successful? Depending on our understanding of “success”, we have two very different goals. One, where “success” implies the absence of failure, is virtually impossible to attain and tends to be temporary. The meaning that I’d prefer still needs some defining. Maybe “successful” could mean that our successes are more frequent or meaningful than our failures. I’d like that very much. It would make a much better life goal.
Now, despite my trailing off into my beloved semantics, there are of course other flaws in my strive for success than just the meaning of words. When joined a new school to complete the last two years of my education before university, my dad used to mock the ‘school spirit’ that senior members of the ‘Sixth Form Management Team’ tried to inflict upon us, desinterested and distracted sixteen-year olds, during endless assemblies. My dad (who received a weekly Sixth Form newsletter) and I who had grown accustomed to the German school system (where the school and its employees seemed similarly desinterested as the students themselves, and such attempts would have been both unthinkable and reidiculous), where baffled by these attempts, however ineffective they might have been.
The reason why we, my dear reader, have strayed yet again to the land of anecdotes is this: What my dad enjoyed mocking most was the schools motto (there was also a mission statement of several pages and what I believe to have been the school’s internal equivalent of the ten commandments). And, yes, I will finally return to my actual topic of success and failure now.
“Every Student The Best They Can Be”
That was it. Pretentious and belitteling at the same time, but in the context of my school the intended meaning becomes clear quite quickly. It was a large school in a rural setting that taught students from age 12 to 19, some of which would go on to read mathematics at Cambridge and others who would become hair dressers or traffic wardens or stay-at-home mums (or dads). I don’t mean to judge any of these life choices, I’m just trying to illustrate my schools broad academic spectrum.
But when you are sitting in an assembly that is boring you to death and you have the time to ponder over the multiple meanings of this motto, you have the time to realise that this is similarly impossible as being “successful” in the conservative way is. I will never be the best version of myself and if I continuously tried to I would fail over and over again. There will always be more things I could to and things I could do better and all of that. But in the end, cursing the things I am not or did not do will make me neither more successful (in all the possible ways) nor happier.
I can warmly recommend doing a happiness project just for the sake of having these tiny realisations, as you put your ticks and crosses on your resolutions chart night after night and celebrate the successes and, depending on your mood at the time, either shrug off or contemplate your failures.