There are a few stories about success that I was thinking about, yesterday. The first goes:

This man …at age 21, failed in business …at age 22, was defeated in a run for the legislature …at age 24, failed again in business …at age 26, experienced the death of his sweetheart …at age 27, had a nervous breakdown …at age 34, lost a race for Congress …at age 36, lost another race for Congress …at age 45, lost a race for the Senate …at age 47, failed in an effort to become Vice President …at age 49, lost another race for the Senate …and at age 52, was elected President of the United States.

This is quoted as the story of a man who failed repeatedly until elected President – ‘Success’. It is the story of Abraham Lincoln (and when I listened yesterday he was over 60 when President, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh?)

Another jaded pair of examples, to which I have referred before, is that of college drop outs Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who left Ivy League colleges and became exceptionally famous for their IT developments. All became ‘successes’ despite their initial ‘failures’.

And I find myself wondering why they use these BAD examples to illustrate how you and I can overcome OUR ‘failures’?

Bad examples?

Yes, bad examples because in all three cases – these people were supposedly failing despite the fact they were already successful. Gates and Jobs were in Ivy League colleges the likes of which the average person could only dream about, which meant they were intelligent, had high quality high school records and diplomas and were already in the top 0.0005% of the student body. And if Lincoln was such a failure, how could he afford to run for office so often – didn’t he have to be a successful businessman, negotiator, relationship builder and even salesman to obtain the funding and still live the lifestyle expected of a candidate for such office?

It’s as if only absolute ‘top of the tree’ success is acceptable in the world of personal development. And I wonder if that creates an unachievable expectation in those who need it to discover their own success? Does it create an unconscious expectation that ‘if I do that I will be amazingly successful/rich/fit (etc.)’ only to be checked by the reality that to be at the true top (in the examples given) – there’s not a lot of room.

To me, the personal development field should be one that allows people to seek to be only as successful as they need to be, with their circumstances, talents and expectations based in reality – although with some support for the fact that they can adapt and improve on that reality. Not that they shouldn’t seek to be the best, but that they should only strive to be their best, not feel obliged to seek out and conquer ‘their’ world. The PD field should allow people the excuse to fail – but at the failure levels demonstrated by Lincoln, et al.

I say that because when I hear that I should be successful in business and it’s my fault if I’m not, I find it annoying because after 30 years in the police I haven’t the experience or knowledge that might be needed. I can get it, I can find support, and can work hard – but the reality is that I am waaaay behind some others who have experience, training and networks. There is a reality to my situation that, while not immovable, still exists and affects how I work.

So here’s the message I am trying, clumsily, to communicate.

I am NOT a ‘failure’ because I haven’t earned 100,000 in my first year of business. I am a success because I have a loving and lovely family. I earn enough to live on. I represent my profession at high level. I have a couple of books on Amazon, even if self-published. I have a car that I enjoy driving and I have a mindset that at least compels me to keep trying. Any ‘success’ YOU define is not necessarily what I’m seeking.

No, I’m not a billionaire or President. But I am wholly content that my failures are just as good as theirs.