Friends & Friction: Failure is the bedrock of success

2014-04-03 10:00

“It’s not what you know,” many people say, “but who you know.”

That is a social climber’s mantra, but it often collapses quicker than a hut of cards. You might know a very good friend, but if you have a toothache you call a dentist.

Your social network may open doors for you but what you know will get you through those doors, and how you do what you know will make people print cheques with your name on them.

“I can’t do it because I don’t have a connection,” is what some people say when they are afraid to take the first step in the journey to their own

success. What happened to picking up the phone and calling people to sell them your idea? If you can’t sell, forget about starting a business; or even better, teach yourself to sell.

Too many would-be entrepreneurs get caught up in the net of “networking” and end up doing very little or no work at all. Contrary to popular belief, most successful people I know were misfits or even downright outcasts. The most unsuccessful were those who tried to buy acceptance at all costs.

“Work smart and not hard,” is what clock-watchers say as they switch off their computers at work but stay logged on to every social media site via their phones and tablets.

Sweet-talking yourself into doing nothing is one of the most effortless things you can ever do. The thing is, it is impossible to work “smart” if you are trying something new.

You become smarter with repetition and experience. Progress comes from trial and error, and success comes only when you have less errors in your trials. The bottom line is you have to go out and try something.

Alfred Nobel saw many successes and failures in his lifetime. Starting with his father, who had a string of business failures, little Alfie grew up in an impoverished family.

His father moved to Russia and became an explosives manufacturer. As his luck would have it, the Crimean War broke out ­between Russia on the one hand and the alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire on the other.

Nobel senior started folding money, devoured caviar and guzzled champagne once again. Two and a half years later, peace pierced holes in the business model and profits disappeared, and his company filed for bankruptcy.

Young Nobel also got into the explosives business and made a killing when he patented dynamite. As fate would have it, his younger brother died in an accident while preparing explosives in the factory. There were to be more errors along the way but Nobel was not deterred. Today, he has been immortalised through the Nobel prizes.

“Know what you want,” is another half-truth we are told at an early age. Few people know what they want from an early age because life is not a destination but an unpredictable journey.

Happiness is in the heart of the beholder. Would you say Alfred Nobel was happy with the money he made from being a merchant of death? If he was, why was the Nobel peace prize created in his name?

Humans are not preprogrammed robots. Self-contradiction is in our DNA. There is no rule book of certainty in a life well lived but hard work, unpredictable results full of pain and tears, and dreams fulfilled, but with blemishes here and there.

It is those pockets of private failures that make us strive to be better people and the yearning for perfection that makes good people great.

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