The generally accepted concept of success and failure is incorrect. People consider success and failure to be opposites. To understand why this is incorrect, consider the concept of failure: for many, failure is when we do not succeed at an assigned task, goal, project, or objective. The reality is that if you look more closely at failure, people often have a number of failures and then still have the success for which they were searching in the first place.

There are many good examples of this, but one is particularly powerful: Abraham Lincoln is considered to be a success, right? Well, here’s a portion of his track record:

1831: failed in business
1832: defeated for legislature
1833: failed in business again
1836: suffered a nervous breakdown
1838: defeated for speaker
1840: defeated for elector
1843: lost his bid for Congress
1855: lost his run for Senate
1856: defeated for Vice President
1858: lost another run for Senate
1860: was elected President . . . finally

What can we interpret from an example like Abraham Lincoln’s? One common perspective is that he persevered through his failures until he ultimately succeeded. This suggests that the failures were the opposite of the success he wanted. It also suggests that his string of failures was a struggle that he needed to endure. Let’s look at the situation more closely. Without all of his failure (also note the period of time) Mr. Lincoln would likely not have had the experience and perspective to become such a great and successful leader. Did Mr. Lincoln see each “setback” as a failure or as another successful attempt at striving for his personal and professional vision? Did he see his life as a struggle through failure or as an ongoing reflection of his mission and vision?

Consider that Mr. Lincoln learned from each failure. He learned more about what he needed to do to drive his personal and professional vision forward. He also learned from his successes. Both success and failure are learning events in life. From this standpoint, both success and failure are needed to drive your vision forward. In essence, success and failure are really more similar than they are different. This is where common thinking needs to change. Success and failure are not at opposite ends of a spectrum but at the same end. From this you can see that failure is not the opposite to success but a component of success. You need failure to learn and to be able to redefine your focus toward success.

Okay, failure is just a component of success, so what is the opposite of success? Consider that success and failure both require action. You must be pushing forward, striving or acting to be succeeding (or, as discussed, failing). Therefore the opposite of success is inaction. Isn’t this absolutely true? The greatest threat we have to succeeding isn’t failing—it is inaction.

In our efforts to succeed we need to embrace failure as part of the process, and we need to remove inaction.

To embrace failure requires a new way of thinking. You need to stop worrying about failure and accept it, learn from it, and continue to push forward on your vision. Your vision will change and adapt as you gain more information, but you should not stop pushing forward. Looking at failure in this way is something that is challenging at first, but ultimately, it is empowering.

To remove inaction from your environment, you first need to understand it. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Most inaction comes from hesitation, lack of confidence, and, yes, procrastination. Inaction does not really come from fatigue or laziness. All people have varying energies and will be able to at least work toward their goals, although perhaps at different speeds. Also, people are not lazy. They may not be motivated or you may not understand their motivations, but people are not lazy. This also applies to you.

How do we remove our hesitation, lack of confidence, and procrastination? Hesitation is just that. You need to cultivate a culture of being bold and decisive. This is learned behavior. It is also very helpful to understand how you make decisions and then to learn how to make better decisions more quickly and more consistently.

Confidence comes from self-esteem and knowledge. As your self-esteem and your knowledge of the environment around you grow, so will your ability to act.

Procrastination is prevalent for many people. The first thing that you need to understand is that it is not the problem. Procrastination is only the coping mechanism for some other issue. It is best for you to try to understand what is driving your procrastination. Is it fear of failure, fear of success, or fear of losing someone or something? Perhaps it is not even fear—it may be a true lack of interest in the work required to achieve your goals. Once you have a better idea of what is driving your procrastination, you can then look at removing the cause. You can also take a more action-oriented position to the tasks that you need to do. Sometimes, all that you need to do to break your procrastination is to do something, anything, even if it is a small task or a task not even related to the work that you are doing. This tends to get you back on track. Finally, understand how you need to approach your tasks. Do you need to look at them as time-oriented or task-oriented? In other words, will you get more accomplished if you say that you will work on this task, followed by another task, followed by another and then be done? Or, will you get more done if you say you will work on these tasks for three hours and then be done?

As a final thought on success, failure, and inaction, people do not look down on those who fail. When people succeed, everyone celebrates their success and completely forgets their failures. Most importantly, the failures that you do notice the most are your own failures. This is where the largest change in common thinking has to happen.

Here’s to celebrating your successes . . . and your failures!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Ignite your success by developing a mind-set and strategies for peak performance. Paul founded Mindscape as a company dedicated to researching and sharing information on human performance and success. He is passionate about people and what makes us “tick.” To have Paul Frazer speak to your organization or for more information on Paul Frazer or Mindscape, his speaking programs, his book, Stop, Drop & Re-Balance: A Self Renewal Manual, his newsletter, “Food For Thought,” or just to contact Paul, please visit his Web site at, send an e-mail to, or call (613) 264–3791.