The road to success can be treacherous. You’re likely to encounter lots of hairpin curves, potholes, and unexpected hazards. After all, if it weren’t so challenging- if it were a smooth, straight shot that could be navigated on cruise control- everyone would be successful.
Or would they? If it were that easy, the meaning of success would have to change, wouldn’t it? Whether success is related to business, personal relationships, temperament, or all of the above, keep in mind that it’s something that sets people apart. It requires extra effort and extra determination. Just as high is only high when it’s compared to low, and hot is only hot when it’s compared to cold, those who are truly successful- however you, or they, choose to measure success- must present a contrast to those who are not.
But unlike high-and-low and hot-and-cold, failure and success often have an intricate, symbiotic relationship. When obstacles halt our progress on the path to success, we may feel as if we’re failing. But in reality, those obstacles are prerequisites in the ongoing quest to achieve and maintain success. They may leave a mark, but as writer Chris Cleave observes, “A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
Those who reach the finish line and who circle back to share what they’ve learned often sound a similar refrain. The obstacles they overcame along the way- the ones that felt like failures- were actually important stepping stones to success. Failures and obstacles are essential in several ways. For one, they made future obstacles more manageable by demonstrating that virtually any obstacle can be overcome with patience and perseverance. And in overcoming and managing those obstacles, they learned how to see them as temporary setbacks- as challenges, not as failures. “Pain nourishes courage,” writes actress Mary Tyler Moore. “You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”
Notice the words courage and brave. Setbacks aren’t just frustrating. They can be frightening. What if I don’t have what it takes to be successful? What if I’m destined to fail? Self-doubt may be the toughest obstacle of all. It takes courage to always keep moving forward, to recognize setbacks for what they are- experiences that strengthen us, that teach us, that build character, and that provide the perspective we need to fully appreciate success.
Keep in mind, also, that success isn’t static. Life is a never-ending series of challenges. By continually moving forward, we gain more and more wisdom, and more and more tools, to help us deal with those challenges. We may be tempted to envy those who’ve had it easy, who were born into material success, but success served with a silver spoon doesn’t taste nearly as good as success earned by refusing to fail.
“Hard times are often blessings in disguise,” says writer Manisha Shrestha Bundela. “Let go and let life strengthen you. No matter how much it hurts, hold your head up and keep going. This is an important lesson to remember when you’re having a rough day, a bad month, or a crappy year. Truth be told, sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones your spirit needs most. Your past was never a mistake if you learned from it. So take all the crazy experiences and lessons and place them in a box labeled Thank You.”