On Success and Failure

Recently I've been reading "How Children Fail" by John Holt and it has been a whole experience! I've been elated, angry, frustrated, hopeful, despondent, jolly, and a few more ways while reading that book!

But the part that has stuck with me the most is his comment about success and failure.

He points out that success/failure are adult concepts that children don't have. In spite of this being obvious, he argues that those concepts of success/failure are a net negative for the happiness of humans, that is, they drain out whatever possible enjoyment might exists in an activity by having of focus solely on the results of the activity instead than on the activity itself.

An example of this is a child learning to walk or ride a bike. When she first tries, she usually falls. But the child is not thinking "oh no, I failed" and being sad about it. The attitude is more of "oh well, let's try this again", and she does so until learns how to walk! But I think the even more revealing part occures once the child learns the activity. The little boy that learned how to ride a bike is not thinking "yay, I've succeeded!" NO! More often than not he'd be just enjoying riding the bike itself. That is, he is enjoying the activity itself instead of "success". He has obviously succeeded, but that is not the point.

This became very real to me a couple of weeks ago. My company ran a 3 day hackathon a couple of weeks ago. In it I decided to do something new for me and as far as possible for my day to day work, and thus I decided to make a video game!

After assembling a team, somehow we put together a space shooter game in 3 days, all with original music/graphics and all! It was SUPER FUN to code, it was SUPER FUN to play and working with my team and also very fulfilling!

But then, there where some rewards... I was sure that our game was bound to earn some recognition, and I could feel the glow and joy of making the game being replaced by the greed of getting recognition, maybe some $ and, who know, maybe even a raise?

When our game didn't won any awards I was devastated and pretty annoyed. We had worked so hard! It was a cool game! It even had the company logo in it!

And it that moment I remembered the curse of success/failure and keenly noticed how none of the enjoyment that I had mattered...

And I said to myself, "well, screw it! I enjoyed making that game! I enjoyed getting to work with people I usually don't work with! I enjoyed learning that game engine! So, it was worth it, no matter the result!"

I'm not some particularly enlightened being, immune to greed or whatever, but being aware of this success/failure stupidity allowed me to remember that game as the cool thing I did and enjoyed the hack out of, instead of the game that didn't won any awards.

I think that a lot of us miss the joy of accomplishment, of competency and a job well done because we are so focused on the result instead of on the activity itself!

You made a painting and it didn't made it to the louvre? SO WHAT? The majority of us are in sticky figures and mine need to be burned afterwards because of the nightmares the produce!

Put a song on spotify but it doesn't have the traction you expected? Come on, I can play the note of C on the piano... out of tune!!

Wrote a post and nobody read it? so what? It was fun and cathartic to write it!

Success and Failure can be the carrot and stick that are making our lives miserable and harder than what they need to be! As for me, I'll find a way to enjoy whatever I'm doing (except doing the dishes! I hate that!) in spite of the results!


Written with Smol Pub

Send me a message at benj AT sdf.org :-)