How many times do you need to fail to be really successful?

As per Mark Manson’s The subtle art of not giving a f ck (see my review here):
Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.

I agree somewhere with this in ~35%. I disagree because:
– Take a guy like Mozart. He played the piano better at age 6 than people who’ve learned for decades. Where are the thousands of tiny failures? But let’s say he is the exception to the rule.
– I speak 2 foreign languages (including English) quite well. I speak another 2 at a good intermediate level. In my country there are tens of thousands who still struggle to get an intermediate language exam (without it they’ll never receive their uni diploma). Did I have millions of more tiny failures? I don’t think so. I’m just good at languages.
– I never got a good vote on drawing or singing classes. If we had had dancing classes I would have been the guy on the verge of failing. I love arts. I love music. I love to dance. But I’m terrible (no, really tragic) in these ones.
– I’ve tried a couple of jobs in my life. They fall into 2 simple categories:
– I liked them from the first moment and tried hard to get better at them (including public speaking / holding lectures, guiding, tour leading, travel organizing, writing)
– I tried to force myself to enjoy them and improve. These attempts lasted from 1 hour to few hundred hours. I could have had millions of tiny failures and I wouldn’t have become a good hostel night receptionist or an insurance salesman. I could have done more night shifts and sold a couple insurances: but I wouldn’t have become a really good one. The guys who struggle with their English language exam after a decade of education will never speak half as many languages as I do.


Tiny failures in life are refreshing and should make you feel better. “Huhh, I fucked this up. But next time I won’t.” But this only happens if you work hard towards your goals (suffer clean) rather than being forced to follow an extraneous goal.

As per Tim Ferriss’ The 4 hour workweek (see my review here):
A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.

This one, I think, is simply stupid. Both ideas come down, in my eyes to raping your personality. Your personality drives you towards a goal. (For me it’s something on the line of understanding human beings, humanistics, languages, traveling, movies, books, long-lasting relationships, close friendships, etc.) And I could take “success” as something very different than my drive (e.g. becoming an insurance salesman) and I would start having the tiny failures and the uncomfortable conversations – believing these are the ones pushing me towards the destination.

I strongly disagree. There’s a playfulness, a joyful activity, flow (see my book review of Csíkszentmihályi’s classic here) that takes you to your destination through a colourful, glorious wormhole.

Here’s a good account of that:
“It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.” (Richard Feynman: Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman)

Tiny failures are needed in life, sure thing. Probably you’ll have to deal with lots of stuff that don’t fit your personality. Just today, I’ll have to change my pijama. Do some shopping. Maybe clean a bit. Drive to pick my wife up. Put her big luggage into the trunk. Edit this article. All of these tiny things are a tiny rapes of my ivory tower personality. Fair enough. I’m human, I’ll deal with my first world problems.
But when it comes to the important things in life, like your primary relationships, like your work and working towards your major goals, uncomfortable conversations and tiny failures should play little part of your life (Which girlfriend would you choose? The one with whom you have at least one uncomfortable conversation a day and you have tiny failures daily or the one with whom you feel the flow usually?)
And measuring your success by these metrics? It’s bullshit.


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