OMG I’m Such A Failure!

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Hello. My name is Jonathan, and I’m a failure.

Yes that’s right. I’m a failure. Over, and over, and over, and over again. But here’s the thing. I’m still here. Why is that? Doesn’t failure mean “game over”? Doesn’t it mean we give up? We’re done? The truth is that I’ve never met anyone who succeeded, who wasn’t also a failure. Because it’s through failure that we learn. But this is a funny and very sharp double-edged sword.

Modern society and social reality is very particular around success and failure. On one hand, we celebrate those who accomplish significantly more/better/faster than others. Whether it’s an athletic performance, a business accomplishment, or a never-before-recorded creative achievement – success is held up as desirable and something we should all be aspiring towards.

But on the other hand, what happens when someone becomes too successful? When they cross that invisible line where they have “more than their fair share” for example? We as a society have decided that they need to be “taken down a peg”, “brought down to earth”, etc. And it gets quite ugly and dark from there with genuine hatred and truly evil things often being wished upon those who “succeed too much.”

This all brings us to an interesting and conflicted point with our own personal journeys. We’re supposed to strive for success, just not too much. But nobody is going to define for us what exactly is “too much” or “not enough”. It’s an entirely personal decision until you cross the line, at which point it becomes society’s decision and you’re simply stuck with it. This is where something I’ve observed for a very long time, comes into play.

It seems to me that most people, without understanding it or even realizing it, don’t actually want massive success. It’s not hard to understand why if you think about it a bit. If they actually reach that sort of level, their friends will stop being able to relate to them, their family will just want to use them for personal gain, business relationships will just be out to exploit them, nobody will ever be honest with them ever again, social media will hate on them, etc. But it’s not so simple as “OK then just don’t really work hard at anything so that you never succeed and problem solved!” Because we are in fact pushed ridiculously hard from every direction, to accomplish more, have more, do more, be more.

So then what’s the solution? Well the one I’ve observed over and over again in others (and I’ll admit, even in myself years ago), is to climb towards the heights of success but just before you reach the true pinnacle, fail spectacularly. Like really flame-out in a blaze of glory.

Why on earth would anyone want this? Well I think it’s pretty simple really. It’s because while society will despise those who actually reach those too-lofty heights, it will have tremendous sympathy for someone who almost gets there but then has everything fall apart through no fault of their own! So if you want the maximum amount of adoration PLUS the maximum amount of sympathy from the general population, you need to almost succeed and then fail tragically. That way you get the build-up of working so hard towards success, you never cross the line into “too much” territory, and you get the sympathetic, loving support of everyone telling you things like “Oh damn bro, that sucks! It’s so unfair you were doing SOOOOO great! Hang in there buddy we’re here for you!” It’s the whole “have your cake and eat it, too” thing.

Of course this all happens at a subconscious level. People aren’t consciously, intentionally failing before they succeed. But this is exactly how self-sabotage manifests. We don’t even know it’s happening, and certainly don’t have any insights into the why of it all while it’s going on. It’s subtle, and sneaky, and creeps up on us. But we all have some degree of it for whatever reason (some more or less than others, obviously!) and the best thing we can do is to shine a light on it and see it for what it is.

Jealousy and envy are unfortunately just a part of the human condition. So the reality is that if someone has something that most don’t, then there’s going to be quite a lot of jealousy and envy aimed at the “have” by the “have nots”. This means that if you truly, at your core, desire levels of success that those around you don’t have, you’re going to have to make peace with the fact that there will be people who hate you for it. Or at least who just don’t understand you and might lose the ability to relate to you. And you gotta just be able to live with that no matter who they might be. You’re going to grow, which means outgrowing some things and even people. Maybe even those closest to you now.

The best way to combat this in my experience is to (if possible) surround yourself with people who have already achieved much more than most. They don’t need to have achieved the specific thing/level you want to, but by just being “high achievers” themselves, they’re most likely going to relate to your journey and be supportive the whole way through – including after you cross the “too much” level.

It’s not always easy to pull this off though, since getting close to such people before you’ve achieved anything can seem difficult. But my observation has always been that high achievers recognize that drive in others, and support it and will usually gravitate towards bringing the “fledgling high achiever” into their midst pretty naturally. I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited into a number of “inner circles” in my life even when I was pretty early in my development in various disciplines, just because of how hard I was working towards the success I sought. So put yourself out there, and let your efforts speak for you.

But most of all, never stop being a failure. Because it’s from those failures that we learn the most important lessons, the things we truly need to know in order to succeed.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

— Calvin Coolidge

Until next time, good trading!

Jonathan van Clute
Community Manager, Trading Research Group

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