I read an article on the weekend about a ten-year-old boy saying he felt like a failure. This broke my heart. I’ve been that ten-year-old boy. I’ve come across so many people in the past few weeks who feel that wherever they are in their life, they have failed, mostly because they are not at some perceived milestone, normally a bank balance or a relationship status.
I’ve had many heart to hearts with people in this space over the years, and I know it’s hard for them to share their sense of failure with me, because they see me as a successful man. In many ways, I am, and I won’t play small, or have false modesty about that. But rest assured, I’ve failed at many, many things in my life;
- I’ve failed in relationships.
- I’ve failed to forgive people who need to be forgiven.
- I’ve failed in business.
- I’ve failed to save my sister.
- I’ve failed to stop people getting hurt.
- I’ve failed to speak up for people who needed someone to speak up for them.
- I’ve failed to be the best friend I could be.
- I’ve failed to help others when I could have.
- I’ve failed to be as honest as I should have been.
- I’ve failed to always be the man I try so hard to be.
- I’ve failed to take the best care of myself.
- I’ve failed to be kinder on myself.
- I’ve failed to have the courage I’ve needed for myself and others.
Regardless of how many times I fail, I always get up, shake off the shame, turn up again and get ready to try my damnedest to get it right. Sometimes I do, often I don’t. But I absolutely guarantee that I’m going to keep getting up until the day I die. Because I simply see no other way to live my life.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in fifty one years of failure, is the real meaning of success. We focus so much on what we’ve failed at, not what we’ve succeeded at, and we often measure success in such misguided ways. For me, my measures of success are;
- Getting up when I just don’t think I can.
- Helping others in need at times when I feel broken and desperately in need of help myself.
- Giving the person in front of me my complete and absolute love and attention.
- Doing the right thing, even when I’m tempted not to.
- Being honest with someone I love, even if it might mean losing them.
- Always being kind and gentle, even when I’m in pain.
- Standing up for what I believe to be right, regardless of the consequences.
- Living my life as my own man – no matter what.
- Being able to cry tears of pain and sadness over the deepest of hurts from the past without reliving the shame that used to come with those tears.
- Treating myself with respect and having the strength of character to stand up to those who don’t treat me the same.
- Telling someone just how much they mean to me, right here, right now, with no expectation of them doing the same.
- Acting with unconditional love, even when it breaks my heart.
- Helping others to be the best version of themselves.
- Being my absolute best in all that I do, turning up at one hundred percent, inspiring those around me to be their best and digging deep to keep doing this day after day, especially when I don’t feel I can.
Now for anyone struggling to pay their rent, feeling lost, afraid, worthless, alone or ashamed, I know you could easily say “well that’s all very nice, but what the hell would you know, you’re rich and successful”. Let me assure you, I’ve been all of the things I mentioned here, broke, lost, afraid, feeling worthless, alone and ashamed, many times. The lessons I’ve learned and the realisations I’ve made are the result of those things, and I’m eternally grateful for every perceived “bad” situation. In fact some of the worst ones I give extra special thanks for every day because of what they led me to.
So I don’t have a silver bullet to solve all of your problems or to make you feel better about yourself. If you’re looking for that you miss the point entirely. I’m not going to give you a pile of money because you think that will solve all of your problems (it most certainly won’t), or offer some empty cliché. I’m going to share what keeps me going –
- I’ve made failure my friend – it’s honest with me, more honest than anyone else on the planet. I don’t like it, it has caused me so much pain, but it has made me so much better as a man.
- I know what true success means to me – and if I live a life that honours this, with absolute integrity, every failure is a blessing that helps me to be incredibly successful, in ways that matter the most to me.
- Every single day, my burning desire is to be better today than I was yesterday, in whatever way that means to me. The greatest failure for me would be failing to do this.
For those in pain, who are tired, who feel broken, I understand, but I’m not sorry for you. If you want pity, you have truly failed. As harsh as that may sound, it’s not until you redefine your self worth and your self-respect, that you can truly make failure your friend. And then your life will change forever.
It’s not until you realise what success isn’t that you will find the greatest value of you being on the planet, and generally it isn’t for any of the reasons we think.
And until your passion is to become the absolute, most incredible version of yourself, regardless of your limiting beliefs about success, you will be sidetracked by issues (and people), determined to hold you back, to keep you playing small, to feed your sense of being less than.
Will it get easier? Probably not. But it will most certainly get real. A dull grey life will become richer, more rewarding, with every emotion imaginable having a place at the table when we finally grab these life lessons and instead of wrestling with them, embrace them in the most loving way possible. And that to me is a life lived in a rich way, whether you are ten years old or on your deathbed at ninety.
So yes, I’ve failed at pretty much everything in my life. And I’m pretty certain I’ve got plenty of failure left in me. At the same time I’ve had incredible success in ways that matter to me. But my last breath will be spent living a life that is meaningful to me, no one else, just me, where I define what that means and where my meaning of success is so much more powerful than any bank account balance can ever be.
With great love and great respect,