May 22, 2018, 7:43 pm IST
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Celebrating Failure

Celebrating Failure

Sushil Kumar, Jan 14, 2018

Did you know that in December 2017 a “Failure Conclave” was held in Dehradun. And that it was the second edition. Chances are very likely that most wouldn’t have known, because the media, in particular, and all of us in general, are programmed to worship only success. Incidentally “Success” is a 7-letter word, but so is “Failure”.

The next few months can be termed as a “Failure Season” with lakhs of admission aspirants aiming to make it to a multitude of courses, campuses and institutions to pursue their dreams. Isn’t it ironical that failures will be churned out in thousands as admissions are denied in top IIMs, IITs, Delhi University’s premium colleges…despite being in the 95-99 percentile segment. The same is true for those waiting to be placed in balance sheet-rich corporations dishing out 7-digit compensations. And as regards school admissions, less said the better.

By the way, this piece is not about admission or job placement failure. Generally by the law of probability, in every sphere of activity, the failure rate far surpasses the success rate, because of the skewed expectations modern society places on us.

Since these are times when exotic words surfacing in the social media are legitimized in traditional English dictionaries, how about introducing a new word in the lexicon: ‘Failurists’.

Come to think of it, why can’t ‘failurists’ take pride in their tribe--failurists are the majority in any society, across demographic, geographic or psychographic segments. In an age of majoritarian power structures, why not celebrate failures who are the current majority worldwide. Majoritarian muscle-flexing is the trend worldwide—so failurists take heart!

Imagine the numerous categories of failurists around us: Admission Failurists, Job Failurists, Sports Failurists, Career Failurists, Family Failurists, Business Failurists…  The list is endless.

Not to mention the most prominent of them all: Romantic Failurists-- on which thrives a billion dollar entertainment & publishing industry world-wide. And the switch from the success to the failure category is universal. Those who grew up on the Simi Garewal television show ‘Rendezvous’, and the millennial gen, both are advised to see a replay of old episodes to determine how many of those romantic super-successful celebs can still be seen pursuing a successful relationship. Most of them have joined the majority.  To quote a few lines from “In the End” by ‘Linkin Park’  :

…I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn't even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end

It doesn't even matter…

Failurists can be a big success in social media where they can use their anger and anonymity of not being successful to bash up other successful, but vulnerable, people. Hail Hashtags and Trolls!

So failurists, arise, awake and unite! How about petitioning for a World Failure Day. Anyone for Failure Fests? If tomes can be written about capitalists, leftists, rightists, communists, then why not on failurists? How about a Failurist Party of India which represents the ever-growing fraternity of underdogs?

Does that mean that failurists are doomed to their fate? Not at all. Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, are well-known stories of transformation from Failure to Success. Author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers. More than 10,000 times Edison failed before inventing a commercially viable electric bulb. It is reported that Oprah Winfrey was publicly fired from her first television job as an anchor for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories"; and that Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Shockingly, Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times.  

Going forward, definitely hundreds will graduate to be a success story, and thousands may not. Also millions will keep swelling the ranks. From Kota to Sriharikota, failures will continue to be in the news for the wrong reasons. So why not spread the cheer and celebrate, rather than denigrate, failures.

The failure fable is associated with suicide, depression, isolation and anxiety attacks. However the ultimate symbol of success sagas is the most affluent nation in the world. The US is projected as the Paradise for all. Last year it was reported in a research study that one in six Americans take some kind of psychiatric drugs — mostly antidepressants. And most people who take them are taking them long-term. So is this Paradise Lost? There seems to be a thin dividing line between these two worlds. So why condemn failures? Why should it be the dreaded F-word?

Be thankful to the failed majority, as they are keeping the planet afloat. Imagine the plight of planet earth which will be ripped apart, if all the 7 billion inhabitants were to become successful in the western way of a ‘successful life’.

Moreover, take refuge in stories of noble kings and blessed souls who despite being virtuous, led a life which can’t be exactly labelled as successful. Recall the story of the king who was banished to the forest with his newly-wed wife, who should have been the queen of the kingdom; and was later forced to wage a fiery battle to rescue his wife; and then almost fight with his own sons, whose identity he was unaware of. Could this strictly be called a successful life?  In failure, embodying equanimity, is perhaps a greater possibility than in a successful roller-coaster ride. The life of this illustrious ‘raja’ is a testimony to the fact that despite enormous failures all through his life, he faced it with equanimity & exuberance.

And looking at failure in perspective, recall the immortal words of wisdom from a holy book which says: “…You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities...”

And when you are branded a failure & crucified and ridiculed by people around you, remember another great Being whose final moments were so painful, but his dying words still remain immortal “... Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…”


Grumpy Trump’ty dreamt the Mexican wall

Didn't reckon the presence of a nastier pal

Both known for their weird hairstyle

One's fingers on the handle, other's on the nuke pile

One screamed, ‘the world will be destroyed with your mindless mania’ 

Other retorted, ‘take care of your nation than promoting Ivanka & Melania’

One was busy engaging in whimsical standoffs

The other getting heads of detractors blown off

All the President's men and all the despot's women  

Could not bring sanity to Don and Kim. 

Sushil Kumar, Management Specialist, Former Dean, Amrita School of Business.  

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