Best Of: Trying Not to Fail is Not the Same as Striving for Success

Road sign with Succes in one direction and failure in the otherThis post is excerpted from my collection: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development. There’s a definite difference between focusing on not failing versus striving for success.

When we focus on not failing, fear rents most of the space in our mind, and we see monsters in need of slaying everywhere we turn. We lose track of the original vision that propelled our actions, and the sheer act of working becomes at best a passionless exercise and at worst, drudgery.

Lousy Leaders Thrive on Your Misery:

Sadly, many leaders provide fuel for the “don’t fail” machine through their actions.  Show me a project team or functional group that exhibit all of the energy and passion of a collection of late-night television zombies, and I’ll guarantee there’s one or more tyrannical, micro-managing leaders at the source of the dysfunction.

The Scarlet “F

The “don’t fail” disease isn’t limited to the corporate world.  I know small business owners and solopreneurs who have stepped into this gooey emotional muck during the past few years of economic unpleasantness. Instead of lessons-learned and fuel for problem solving and innovation, setbacks are worn for all to see as Scarlet F’s, where F stands for failure.  Of course, what they forget is that no one can really see the Scarlet F’s unless they go out of their way to project them through their attitudes.

You Own Your Attitude:

Striving not to fail is like walking up to take your turn at bat when the only thought running through your mind is, “don’t strike out.”  The last two words, “strike out” are all that you remember as you flail wildly at everything thrown your way.

If you’re caught up in an environment where an evil leader holds court, remember that you still own your attitude.  While it’s not easy to escape the fog of uncertainty and doubt created by these characters, it’s unlikely that their attempts at mind control can survive in a pitched battle against your own good attitude.

If you are your own boss and you feel weighted down and exposed by the scarlet F’s you believe you are carrying around with you, it’s critical to rediscover the feelings of excitement, hope and opportunity that likely propelled you off on your own in the first place.

Rediscover or Reset Your Sense of Purpose:

Somewhere buried beneath the baggage and stress of the past few years, you had a sense of purpose that fueled your efforts.  Whether it was providing for others or an intense desire to change the world, it’s important to scrape off the muck and recall that sense of greater mission.

Of course, we change over time, and what fueled us at one phase of life may not be so relevant at another stage.  I know many people who have recharged their lives and their work as professionals by resetting their sense of purpose from a focus on success to an emphasis on making a difference for someone or some group.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to focus on failure.  It’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot healthier and it darned well is a lot more inspiring to rationalize our efforts and actions and combat our demons in the context of our bigger purpose.

Those who focus on success see victory around every corner.  They view obstacles and setbacks as minor challenges to be overcome on a longer journey towards something worthwhile.

No one can take away your sense of purpose, unless you let them.  Focus your gaze clearly on the bigger picture and longer term, take a deep breath and then take the first step forward.  You’ll quickly remember that steps taken with a purpose in mind are effortless.

Now, keep moving.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:24+00:00 December 31st, 2012|Career, Leadership|2 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. mark allen roberts December 31, 2012 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Great post Art,

    It is our natural tendency to look for problems to be fixed.

    We all need to be reminded to focus on the problem and not the person. ( even when that person is us)

    If you look into people who we all consider “successful” ; Jordan, Edison, Jobs, Oprah, Babe Ruth…all failed but did not allow themselves to be defined by the failure. They all kept pressing on.


    • Art Petty December 31, 2012 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Mark! Always value your wisdom here. Press on! Art

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