Success – Only an Inch away from Failure

succes, failure

The energy that creates great ideas also creates errors. Most truly creative and successful people have hence also had setbacks, frequently huge ones where they lost almost everything they had.

The more people I get to know and the more biographies I read, the more convinced I am that we have to be prepared to fail miserably if we are going to achieve anything worth-while in this world.

The difference between success and failure is really minute. We have to trust our instincts and try, because if we don’t, there is no way we will ever succeed.

If we never fail it means that our goal wasn’t big enough. And if the goal isn’t big enough there is no risk involved. Trying out safe ideas are neither creative nor innovative and no biography will be written about you if that’s how you lead your life.

Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties, someone once said and that is so true since the only thing that’s certain in life is that there are no certainties. So it depends on what you want out of life. Or as George Bernard Shaw put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world – the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

Picture: Eigenberg Fotografie

135 thoughts on “Success – Only an Inch away from Failure

  1. One cannot have it all. If you do not want to give up on anything, you should know what you can give up for its sake

  2. You must continue to strive, hoping, that success is right around the corner.
    I also think failure is important for when you do receive success. The happiest people I know have failed, and it made them appreciate what they had later even more.

  3. It is really important to remember that great success comes with great risk. Otherwise, as you said, the goal wasn't big enough. It can be hard getting out of that comfort zone to pursue something but it will be well worth it in the end.

  4. Entrepreneurs and business owners do not "play it safe." They spot opportunities and take risks in order to succeed. Some risks pay off and others do not.

  5. Very true. Small or big- no success came to me easily at first attempt. I had to work hard after every failure to achieve success. In fact, I am still working to reach where I want to.
    Failures surely give heartaches and leads me to think that there is no point in working hard. In those moments, it's required to step back, relax and analyse where we can still improve things before we start again. I am sure everyone has experienced the same feeling like me.

  6. Catarina, I was telling a friend and colleague recently that I was a bit nervous about our recent success with a proposal.It seemed to come too soon. She pointed out that she had been trying for quite a long time on her own and had failed on numerous occasions. I thanked her for letting me surf off of her failure. How would you even know what success looked like if you didn't understand failure?

  7. This post makes me think about what's happening more and more in the USA Catarina. Adults want to find ways to make – the losing team feel better about losing, their children get rewarded for coming in last place for trying, and more. It's quite a phoenomena to watch. As I read your post I zeroed in on this, "If we never fail it means that our goal wasn’t big enough."

    We are no longer allowing our children to know failure. So if we don't know failure, it seems we will more and more set a low bar for achievement. It can make a person sad, or crazy!

    My recent post Staying focused, brain on technology, smell the roses, introvert in graphs #Blog Round-up from #introvert inspirer

    1. Interesting, Patricia. It's probably necessary in order to assure they make an effort even when they are not sure they will succeed. Scary as it can be if we don't try something that may fail we will never succeed and develop. That's life:-)

  8. Great post, Catarina. Everyone fails at some point, but it’s is how you chose to deal with that failure that is important. My thought has always been to use my failure as opportunities to learning and not let failure dictate what I do next. It helps us grow and try harder the next time. 🙂

  9. Failure and success is only a breath away from each other. I also believe that success and failure, sometimes does not have to do with the persons capabilities, unfortunately it is only timing. A few minutes, weeks, months can make a difference between succeeding and failing.
    I do think the higher we try to touch the sky, the harder we fall down. But it is that striving, for that one time that the universe is in order, and we finally succeed, makes all the previous falls mean nothing/

  10. Hi Catarina: Yes, the most important lesson we all need to learn is that we have to START a project in order to succeed, and we have to TRY and make it successful in order for it to happen. Cheers!

  11. Well said. I’m never sure if the thing most people are afraid of is failure or success. The two are so closely intertwined its sometimes hard to tell them apart.

    1. Mainly failure, in my opinion. Don't forget that in this article we are talking huge failures if things go wrong. Only a small amount of people can handle taking such risks. Fear of success I believe is mainly a Western phenomena i.e. if they succeed they will have to work more than they want to or something similar. Look at the regugees marching throught Europe at the moment they are definitely not afraid of success only failure. There would not be a single person left in UNHCR's refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan if people had not been afraid of failure.

  12. Interesting post as one can expect from you, Catarina.

    I like this point;
    Trying out safe ideas are neither creative nor innovative and no biography will be written about you if that’s how you lead your life.

    People play safe as it is a guarantee that they will reach their goal. Going outside of the box is risky and meeting the goal is not guaranteed in any shape or form.

    This has encouraged me.

  13. Catarine – you are right on. I have a saying tacked up that “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried”. I’ve always believed that, But what happens after you’ve failed is also important – some who failed never try again while others pick themselves up and try again.

  14. The George Bernard Shaw quote is a favorite of mine. I imagine that there are not many, if any, successful people who have not failed at some point

  15. Catarina, I love this. I’m working on a big project right now and it is super scary. There is a huge risk for failure. But, there is also the very real possibility of success. I tell myself all the time that if I’m not risking failure, I’m doing something wrong. I’m going to come back to this post when I’m needing a little encouragement to risk failure to find success.

    1. Glad this was timely for your, Erica. Don't forget that there's a difference between someone with an entrepreneurial mind. i.e. willing to take huge risks and people merely carrying out entrepreneurial activity. The latter anyone can do but taking huge risks is a huge risk and you need an entrepreneurial mind to do so. I have failed enormously in life but I get back on my feet again. Same with my father. Entrepreneurial minds we actually inherit. Am not going to say go for the big project because that's a decision only you can take.

  16. Oh yes…just a hair's difference between success and failure and both require risk. Safe is cozy, many folks still achieve success while wrapped in that blanket and that shouldn't be minimized either. After all, success is wildly different for everyone. But the big guns, the true innovators, are definitely the big risk takers and as you mention, they've all stumbled on the way up.

    1. Yes, Henry Ford is a great example. He lost everything he had at least once before succeeding, Jacqueline. Can't remember the exact number of times he lost everything but it was more than once. And today he's known as a huge success. Proves how close success is to failure. If we give up after failing we will fail.

  17. Absolutely – there is only a small difference between success and failure. My own experience in this area comes from a round the world rock tour that I tried to rescue with some success. My mistake was getting involved when it was too late to rescue it.

  18. Great post Caterina.

    Most give up at the first sign of resistence or failure, but achievers tie themselves to the mast and course correct their way towards their vision. That's why so few achieve the remarkable.

    What a waste – all those others with so much talent, so many good ideas, condeming themselves to follow the "safe" rat runs that worked in the past. Sadly for them, that safety is a mirage as the world changes continuously and makes those rat runs obselescent.

  19. Failure only really stings if we flatter ourselves about our own importance. Neither our greatest success nor worst failure graces more than one or two breakfast conversations of others, and then only briefly. Much, if not most of life is random, and we waste incredible energy fearcasting. Life's a lottery; you've got to play, otherwise it's no fun.

  20. You learn from failure, but it isn't fun, especially if it's not self-inflicted. By that I mean that you may be doing a great job in an organization, but the CEO doesn't like you (or has a friend he wants to insert into your position) and you're fired. That's considered a failure — why didn't I see it coming? What could I have done to prevent it? If you experience failure, it's OK to take a little time to grieve. But then you've got to move on.
    My recent post Is This a New Trend – the Public Firing of Employees?

  21. Have you ever noticed when you are driving to someplace that you are not sure of that we tend to get impatient and will stop where we are and turn around only to find out that if we had gone a little further we would have been there. Where I am going with this that in many cases people give up just before they succeed.

    If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. – Jim Rohn
    My recent post How We Can Learn the Power of a Name from Ashton Kutcher

  22. What a great frame for creativity: Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties. I love that. I look at failing as just being a detour and then getting back on track to continue on the journey. I used to HATE losing sales. In particular to competitors. But many times it was worth it because an even more beneficial client was on the way. There's usually a reason for failure that we just can't recognize at the time. Thanks Catarina.
    My recent post What Is Productive Procrastination?

  23. "prepare to fail miserably…" so true! I always tell my children to be comfortable with the risk of failure because it will propel you to keep trying when others give up. There are so many great examples of people who have lived up to this in recent history (look at Oprah's network that is now thriving after it was deemed a failure). Great article, as a parent of teenagers, I stress that making your mark today is much harder since there is so much innovation, I'll be sharing this with them!
    My recent post Authority of Passion

  24. Success is NEVER permanent, FAILURE is never final, so always don’t stop effort until your victory makes a HISTORY.
    Hitesh G. PATIRA

  25. Catarina – If I stopped every time I made a mistake, I would be a thousand steps back to where I am now. I have used the mistakes I have made as a way to refine my path to success. I also find it extremely helpful when I get advice by veteran bloggers. The tidbits that I have learned from others has really helped me side step some mistakes.
    My recent post User-Friendly Invoice Software

  26. Beautifully written Catarina. I myself have failed but I have always used it as a learning experience. If a person lets failure dictate their future they will never move forward. As hard as failure is, it is a good thing. It keeps us grounded to what we can accomplish and how to overcome obstacles. 🙂

  27. Hi Catarina, Can you imagine what would have happened, had the person who came up with 7UP, had stopped at the number 6? :-)) Some of the most prominent individuals we have read about, experienced many failures along the way. The persisted until they reach and/or achieved that particular dream. Of course, we must be realistic as we pursue said dreams. We can not go beyond our capabilities, or God given talents.

    There are those who feel that seeking assistance, is a form of failure. We should never allow pride to stand in the way of greatness. Follow that dream with all your might. You don't want to go through life asking yourself, "What if." Good read.. Blessings.

  28. I feel that the way to achieve anything in this wold is to keep you hand open to opportunities. Try new things, try old things but be open. That means open to new idea, let creativity fall into your hands be ready for it, see creativity around you and be open to it. I discovered you through Linkedin.
    My recent post MIRROR, MIRROR

  29. It isn't a coincidence that most innovations happen with outliers or that most long standing successful organizations have taken risks. Safe has never been associated with success in my mind, but safe can be a pretty comfortable place to hang out and I guess that's why most people stay there. I have tendency to dwell there myself until the confines get too much and I have to take a leap. I think what we need to remember is that even when we fail we learn and how can it really be failure if you gain knowledge from it? 🙂
    My recent post Saturday Morning Chit Chat, Taboos and other Psychological Blocks or 9 Tips for Breaking Them.

  30. I've been reading a book about Buddhism (What would Buddha do?) and learned this is a similar concept in Buddhism is about – if you can accept that nothing ever lasts then we can accept failure and not be afraid

  31. Great post about success and failure, Catarina – I just found your blog but I will follow it in(to) the future 🙂

  32. Hi Catarina,

    I always enjoy your articles – great writing and insight. As mentioned previously, the saying here is that the only sure things are death and taxes. But is seems one more certainty can be added; if you don't swing, you'll never hit the ball – or, if you don't ever try, you can't ever succeed. Certainly there will be mistakes and failures, but for all of the people that buy lottery tickets and don't win, there is always at least one that does win…
    My recent post Trade Show Banner Stands December Sale!

  33. Success – it is the intellectual capability to see a chance, starting on the spot to take that chance and having the more technical capability to turn a baseline into a successful process. While you see a chance in first moments,may be during initial start up of your realisation concept, you might be alone without negative minded observers. But taking your own chance by default means impacting other individuals areas of interest, more or less. And then you face resistance. And 90% of all people stop here and go back to their routine they are used to. They are afraid of that risks. Mostly explainable. One must be a strong character to fight for a new area for your new success, which alwys is pushing away what was there before. And there are thousands of chances that you can fail, despite of all fighting. And only those few, who start fighting again and again and again to secure their own "success place" against all odds – they finally gain that final success. But only after they went through all that mandatory losses and defeats before – they learned that there are those dangerous mines, how to work around and how to make kind of win-win deals with opponents. Look at Steve Jobs and Apple – only after he joined the company for a second time after they fired him first, he achieved his great triumph with I Phone, IPad etc. Even if it hurts – failure is the mandatory father of any success. It is the guide line to success you must follow throughout your life. But each time you must have the guts to stand up again. And so you come to that 10% who stood up every time and rule the world.

  34. Catarina, yes it's true. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Play it safe and 'status quo" is where it goes.
    Being innovative is both a blessing and a curse. For to be innovative requires one to also be creative with the ability to see things with vision that others don't see. To be visionary is to illuminate areas that are dark. It is hard for others to see in the dark. Those that cannot see, may chastise, ridicule, resist or block new ideas for wherever they come from. That is how we retain the status quo.
    Success depends greatly on others willingness to accept a vision as much as it is the visionaries responsibility to share it with others. Visions are a gift that need to be shared. When visionaries fail, the vision and the creativity behind it need to be adjusted in light of the mistakes that were made in the pursuit of gathering its acceptance. From that comes setbacks, adjustments, realignments and yet another creative vision that perhaps will finally see the light of day.
    Better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried. Better to have learned from failure to try again. That brings timing, progress, innovation and change and ultimately success.

  35. Great points. I feel that we can accomplish anything. Failure is some part of it but it is not always there. I have lived through some successful business ventures where I never failed and ones that i did. The risk was always there but i was prepared more when i was successful. Great article.

  36. Failure is not actually failing unless you allow it to consume you with negative thoughts and disappointment. If you use the mistake as a learning aid then you haven’t really failed. Let’s face it looking back through mankind’s time on Earth there have been some mistakes made and yet here we are. We are here because we have learnt from those mistakes, some as a collective society and others as individuals. As we grow from childhood to adult hood the mistakes we made along the way are building blocks that have made us how we are. Keep growing

  37. One day I find myself asking why do failures always come in my way until I realize that there will be no success without failure. Very good insight! Thanks for sharing.

  38. Caterina – You are a woman close to my heart! What a different world, if we raised our children to be wise risk-takers, as in , "teach them the life skills they need to survive and then say to them, "Go out and take some risks today!"

  39. Catarina,
    Yes I know what it's like ot lose everything, to feel like my heart has been cut out of my chest by those I trusted. Once after a partucularly hurtful experience a friend gave me a picture and quote that I've kept on my desk ever since. It reads "The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude." Upon receiving it, I sat up from my slumped position, picked up my phone and went back to work. Truthfully I can only pity those poor souls who are lulled into a sense of security never knowing deep loss or huge success. Mere existence is not for me.

  40. An inspiring post. I'm reminded of Thomas Alva Edison who had many great inventions but is most noted for the light bulb. He said "I have not failed, I have only found 99 ways that do not work"! Now that's some serious perseverence and goal setting!

  41. Megan, where did you find all these stories?

    By the way, when you have an entrepreneurial mind you will fail now and then. There is no avoiding it. Don't confuse having an entrepreneurial mind with carrying out entrepreneurial activity since that's two different things. People without entrepreneurial minds don't take risks or if they do it's just small risks. But entrepreneurial minds take huge risks which accounts for the difference. You don't have to be a businessman/woman in order to have an entrepreneurial mind. Churchill and Ghandi are famous examples of people with entrepreneurial minds.

  42. Catarina – what a great post! Have you noticed that many are getting very profound lately ? :). I definitely agree that those that persevere and reach for the stars, will probably fail sometimes, but by staying motivated and keeping their eye on the prize – they will eventually succeed. I am motivated, reaching, and waiting………………………. 🙂

  43. Sometimes failure in itself can feel defeating but you're right. Most successful people have failed at least once before succeeding. Motivating post. Thanks!

  44. Hi Catarina,

    I had this type of discussion a few years ago and it was surprising the number of people who concentrated on not failing and having a fear of failure. A couple of them said that was what drove them to succeed and they were also the ones to take risks.

    I also think you actually get a gut instinct if you take risks whether the idea is right to action or not and that takes experience.

    1. Interesting point about the people who had fear of failure were the ones that took risks. Maybe they simply don't have entrepreneurial minds? I do believe that we all try not to fail and have a fear of failure. However, with an entrepreneurial mind we tend to take bigger risks. Does that make sense to you? Or did the people you are referring to have entrepreneurial minds?

  45. We have a saying in the US that the only certainties are death and taxes. If you are not willing to take a fair amount of risk you will not get a fair amount of return.


  46. I agree that sometimes we tend to give up when we're on the brink of success. But it is equally important to to know when you're on the wrong path. Stop and cut your losses. Don't keep reaching for the golden ring when it will always be beyond your grasp. Try another carousel and you will probably find success.

  47. Yes Emdadul, if you have an entrepreneurial mind that's how life works. And entrepreneurial minds are not only running businesses but people such as Ghandi and Churchill are also famous examples of people with entrepreneurial minds.

  48. We have two kind of thinking processes in existent, one that go's by the book or works under supervision seeking a tap on the shoulder for compliance of each task , or a pay check at the end of the week , this stereo types confirm the majority of the blue color around the Globe ; the one consistent statement from such type of individuals would be " I have performed my assignment under my bosses supervision ,instruction and recommendations , or in accordance with a standard operating procedures( SOP). now such type of people always sty in the same misgovernment and do not seek advancement and reluctant to change to avoid to be exposed . Thus they do not take risk and never make mistakes .
    on the other Hand people who are looking beyond the Horizon and capable to be responsible for there action , "accountable persons" they are always in the Management positions as they know how to guide people who are reluctant to take risk."blue color individuals".
    Now coming back to the opening statement { Success – Only an Inch away from Failure} .I agree one hundred percent as success is a result of creating a New and challenging environment that is governed by thousands of controllable and not controllable variables, it is highly likely that some of the uncontrollable variables could cause complication specially if they are creating complex of " Financial "interest of Other high ranking individuals;that would do any thing to create obstacles to destroy initiatives taken by some "accountable Persons seeking success ". but the key element for the success is to satisfy the opponents to the idea and make all parties who are involved in the uncontrollable variables " HAPPY". that may take few trials and errors to achieve . confirming what was said above " { Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.} "Napoleon Hill "

  49. Catarina ,got to see your articles thro Linkedin ,topics are very real life ones .Failures doesn’t deter me from achieving success.How do u quantify success eluding a person for years ?

  50. This is very true and I welcome this article because, many people just think that failure is not an option. When the time is not right to do something, then the probability of success is also very low or absent. Thanks for your article Catarina

  51. Catarina,
    As I said , I agree with you wholeheartedly that, we should not let failures deter us from pursuing our dreams.

    Having said that, however, I also believe that we should learn to keep an open mind and should know when the time is right to change the course, especially in business-related situations.

    As someone said: One definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting a different result.

    So, I believe, it is important to be able to assess the situation dispassionately and realistically, and to decide whether to carry on, or to allocate your time and resources to a more viable alternative.

    What do you think?


  52. Catarina,
    Very true.
    It is important not to let failures discourage you from pursuing your dreams. As sages have stressed time and again : The key to success is persistence at the face of adversity. Churchill preached and practiced : quote;Never give up!quote;

    Mark Fischer and Marc Allen (1997) very well describe the relationship between success and failure as : “ In reality, there is no such thing as failure: It’s just part of our education on the way to our inevitable success.”

    Let’s hear more from you on this very inspirational topic.


  53. Great Article! How can we grow, improve and learn more about ourselves, if we never venture out of our comfort zones and are always afraid to fail? Here are some interesting quotes:

    Go back a little to leap further.
    John Clarke

    It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
    Theodore Roosevelt

    Half of the failures in life come from pulling one's horse when he is leaping.
    Thomas Hood

    Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
    William Shakespeare

    Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.
    Napoleon Hill

    Failure is blindness to the strategic element in events; success is readiness for instant action when the opportune moment arrives.
    Newell D. Hillis

    Wherever we look upon this earth, the opportunities take shape within the problems.
    Nelson A. Rockefeller

    What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
    Vincent van Gogh

  54. Some excellent points in this post, Catarina… And of course, creativity blossoms in tough times, as people move away from comfort zones, whether through circumstance (force) or desire (spotting a new opportunity).

    The fact is that in such times, new leaders emerge in almost all markets – often because the previous leaders are constrained by their previous success and unable to adapt.

    Now's the time to really "think outside the box" (to use an apt, although much-overused, expression) and get those creative juices working.

    1. Catarina, There could be a lot of ways something could fail, but it only takes one way that works. Yes lots of people have good ideas, but never see them through. They could be an inch away.

  55. More on this discussion, I think of couple of quotes that I learned:
    1. "You'll never know the worth of the anchor until you've felt the force of the storm" anonymous!
    2. "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time" (Andre Gide).
    Taking chances allows us to reach new heights, but it also allows us to appreciate what is worthwhile in our lives.
    As always Catarina, you started a nice discussion.

    1. Stefany I love your quotes! Let's hope the US & EU regulate the banks so that we don't get too many storms caused by them. If they are not regulated some US experts believe there may be another recession caused by Wall Street already this autumn.

  56. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world – the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

    I believe the path to abundance, awesome health and happiness lies in our co-creating with one another, and with nature. Co-creating increase the size of 'the pie", whereas competing, particularly with natural systems, leads to disaster.

    Example: When it comes to growing food, the most nutritious food, the greatest nutrional yield comes from organic farming. Industrialized agriculture has been a miserable failure, the chemical "fertilizers", pesticides, herbicides, GMO's; filling the natural soil biology, the boilogy which, when fostered, cycles plant nutrients, and suppresses plant dis-eases and pests.

    Let's brainstorm on how we can live in greater harmony with one another, and with nature, conserving our natural resources, working to restore the health of the soil, so the soil can once again yield abundant nutritious food for all of us.

  57. I've also been thinking lately about the idea that most people give up right before they would have succeeded. I think there is some truth in that, though it's hard to see after several failures.

    In terms of Catarina's question about how you teach courage, I've been wondering about that, too. (In fact my blog post this morning asks for ideas about moving past fear.) I think a supportive community is one key, as well as practices that help keep you grounded.

    1. Agree with you Eileen that in most 'cases people give up just before they succeed. In many cases I think that is because they are not really passionate about what they are doing. Because if you are you don't give up.

      Teaching courage, sometimes I believe it's possible, but when it comes to most people I don't think it is. If it was we would have far more truly successful people, actually.

  58. As Henry Ford proves, G.B. Shaw was most likely right. But now the US most likely needs to regulate, at least the banking sector, to get more creativity. Otherwise the gap between success and failure will widen enormously.

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