On occasion we reflect on our lives and wonder who we are, how we can define the kind of person we have been, what we have contributed, what we amount to. Not a bad exercise – and all the better for the doing of it. The thing is, we will probably get the sums all wrong no matter how many times we go back and do it over, but we sure stand to learn a lot from the exercise.
One thing we should learn is that we are not really the sum of our successes. They may be the building blocks of our legacy, but the truth is that we never really know how much of us is actually in them.
We should be cautious about assuming that we have personally built each of them on the back of its predecessors. Those who believe they did will never really know to what degree they may be mistaking luck for skill. The sums they tote up about themselves are indeed likely to be greater than the parts they imagine them to be made of. If you keep making fundamental errors in the math like these, then you are heading for a real fall.
No, we are much more likely to be the sum of our failures. It is usually those that drive us, should we be so inclined, to reflection. They force us to confront ourselves, and to examine our personal relationship to the outcomes that have fallen short.
How many of you do that with your successes? Even if you try, do you find that the dynamics surrounding a positive result supply you with sufficient traction to come to grips with what happened, and how much you really had to do with it?
But failure compels you to examine your role in events in such a way that they are transformed into actionable experience. It is experience informed by failure – not addled by success – on which your succeeding successes are built.
And it teaches you something else: how to do the math, how to identify the parts of the problem, and how they really fit together.
That is where wisdom comes from. And that is how your total can genuinely become greater than the sum of its parts. So do the math.
Today’s tip: Speaking of drawing wisdom from failure through reflection, please see this interesting piece by Eric Vieth, reporting on research which suggests that depression, within ordinary parameters, should be viewed not as a disorder, but as a functional adaptation.
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