Success and failure are also in the eye of the beholder. There are those who see me as a failure, because twelve years ago I stepped away from a high-paying career ladder with Procter and Gamble to focus on using the power of business to combat our climate crisis. Others see me as a success for precisely the same reason.
In the shower this morning I started to judge myself as a failure because, after twelve years, I see few outcomes from all my effort. And then I caught myself (I’d been reading up on Daoism yesterday, research for the book I’m writing on how to transform business into our most powerful tool to address our climate crisis) and remembered that, just a week ago, I’d judged myself a huge success, because I had inspired and moved many people at a conference in Tuscany. People saw that I have created the foundations for a fundamentally new way of doing business that has a chance of combatting climate change without creating even more problems.
An essence of Dao, and Zen, is the awareness that nature is, without any judgement. That every time I judge myself, or anyone else, I can only do so by comparing what I see to my own unique internal yardstick.
Both elements happen inside me, but neither are me.
- What I see depends on which lens I choose to use, of the infinitely many lenses I could use. Many of these lenses will show a part of what actually is, with some kind of distortion, but none of them can possibly show all that actually is without any distortion.
- How I then judge the distorted fraction of what is depends on which of my many self-constructed yardsticks I choose to use. Do I use just one, or do I use many? Do I see the yardstick as an absolute frame of reference, never to be questioned, or not?
There is no absolute success, nor absolute failure, in any part of life, and certainly not as a startup founder. Success and failure lie purely in the lenses and frames of reference I am able to use. In those others are able to use. And in whether or not I give their lenses and frames of reference any validity.
I’m getting better at using whatever happens as information about whether
- what I’m doing is more or less helpful to achieving my goals;
- or my goals are illusions created by the distortions of my lenses and frames of reference;
and not as triggers for feeling hope or despair because I interpret myself as a success or a failure.
Coming out of the shower feeling relaxed, seeing both success and failure are inseparably part of what I am doing, left me calm and with energy to work on Sunday. Maybe this can help you too, if you are judging yourself a failure.
Perhaps you are a startup founder, stressed by what is not working for you; or, like a friend of mine, you have just been fired from your startup. You are neither a success nor a failure. You are you, maybe a hippo, maybe a cat, and maybe something completely new that has never been seen before on the planet. Then there is no frame of reference, neither for beauty nor success!