Over the past year, I’ve had questions from time to time about my weight loss from people wanting to know – what else – how I did it. I never addressed it on the blog, because (a) that’s not really the focus of this blog, and (b) the answer is really boring. (I used MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake, and cut out refined/processed carbs and sugar. That’s it. I told you it was boring.) But then, recently, I was talking to my husband, who is now working on losing weight and overhauling his diet to deal with his GERD symptoms, and I realized that there was a post about this that I wanted to write, after all. Indirectly, it’s about a “how” … not necessarily of losing weight, but rather a “how” of doing anything that is difficult and maybe a little scary. It’s a pretty simple “how” but, somehow, one that didn’t dawn on me until this past year and which seems, from talking to my husband, to be overlooked by others as well.

Before I go on, let me digress for a second. I emphasized that this is a “how” – only one. Maybe not even the most important one. (I think the most important one is deciding to commit to doing something difficult and scary, and deciding that it is so necessary to your personal fulfillment that not doing it is no longer an option.) There is no one, sole way of accomplishing any goal, and no magic secret that takes you all the way. Success, in my experience, is made up of little decisions – some so seemingly insignificant that you don’t even notice them – and the only thing they have in common is that, in some way, they propel you forward. Or sideways. Sometimes, the success you end up finding is not the success you thought you were searching for. I can’t tell you how you get there; I have no idea. But I do know that you won’t get there if you anticipate failure.

“Well, duh! Who starts any goal by anticipating failure, anyway?” you scoff. And I’ll tell you: most of us. I did it, for years. Let’s take my book, for example. I have been trying, in one form or another, to write that very same book for about a decade. I still have drafts on my oldest computer – of the first chapter, of the second or third attempt at an outline, of various character synopses – salvaged from hard drives of other computers long gone. For nine years, I failed to write that book. Some years, I wasn’t even actively trying to write, but the sense of failure stayed with me. And then, it happened. Last year, I did it – I wrote it. It took about 8 months, and it was painful, yes, but suddenly not an insurmountable challenge. I did it while being the busiest I’ve ever been. So, what changed? Only one thing.

I committed to doing it … and committed to not thinking about failing.

I didn’t give myself any “outs”. You know what I’m talking about. “I’m writing this for me, so it doesn’t matter if nobody reads it.” (Let me pause again here. If you’re a writer who writes solely for yourself, that’s awesome. I’m not denying that as a legitimate goal. I’m just not that kind of writer. I write because, fundamentally, I want people to read my words. If I wrote purely for my own amusement, I would probably never write. Because I can talk to myself any time I please.) The nature of “outs” is different – for everybody, for every activity. My husband, who is rocking his new diet & fitness regime, was talking about how it would be okay if he fell off the wagon for a day, here and there. For me, writing my book, it had always been: “even if I don’t finish, it’s okay.” And, really, the implicit message behind all of our “outs” is the same: it’s okay when I fail. The thing is, whether we realize it or not, our minds and hearts listen to the words coming out of our mouths. We don’t intend to anticipate failure. We don’t want to fail. But when s**t gets hard, our brains and our hearts remember the message we’ve been sending all along. It’s okay to fail.

This is not a post about tough love. Failure happens. Sometimes we have a hand in it, sometimes we don’t. I don’t want anyone to beat themselves up over it. It is okay if you fail. Sometimes, it’s the best thing that can happen, because you learn an invaluable lesson. Sometimes, it just plain sucks, and the only thing to do is move on. But if you want to succeed, don’t commit to a goal with the idea of failure firmly planted in your heart and mind. It might seem like a safety net but, trust me, that’s a lie. Strive, certain of success. Striving, certain of failure, is like trying to run a race with your shoelaces tied together. Your odds of getting to the finish line are better if you don’t do that.

[Let me pause – again, yikes – for just a teensy bit of tough love. Visualizing success, without doing any actual (usually hard) work, is nothing more than daydreaming, no matter what The Secret told your mom. Visualizing success, without doing the work, is like dreaming about winning the lottery without ever buying a ticket. The best advice I’ve read recently came from Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me: “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.” Feel entitled to success, and don’t tie your shoelaces together.]

“But,” you say, “I’m just being realistic. Success is hard, and assuming I’ll achieve it without any setbacks is setting up an impossible standard.” You have a point. And … I have a counterpoint. See, it’s a matter of perspective. Setbacks are almost inevitable, yes, but your attitude can make a huge difference in whether they turn out to be mere bumps in the road, or the end of the road. Let’s go back to my book example. If my attitude, starting out, is “it’s okay if I don’t finish”, guess what will happen the first time I run into writer’s block? (This usually happens every 10 pages or so.) I will do what I have done numerous times in the past; I’ll give up. The failure would seem inevitable – like it had been meant to be, all along. But if my perspective is “I will finish this book, and it’s going to be a good one, by golly!” then you know what happens? I get the same writer’s block, just as often. And I still think about quitting. Just as often. But I don’t – because I have somewhere to go, and this is just something that’s standing in my way. It’s not fate; it’s just an inconvenience. A bridge guarded by a troll demanding a toll of success before I can move forward.

Sorry, I may have gone a little overboard with the metaphors.

Back to the point at hand. It’s okay to recognize that, 99% of the time, success is hard. It’s especially good to remember that when you’re in the middle of dealing with one of its hardships. Experiencing hardship is not a sign of failure. It is not failure. Failure is how you react to the hardship. It’s one thing to say, “Adina, you will probably experience a lot of writer’s block, and that’s okay.” I mean, it’s not the most useful mantra to adopt when trying to write a book, but it’s inoffensive enough. It’s completely different from saying, “it’s okay if I don’t finish this book.” The truth is that most of us don’t anticipate hardship; we anticipate failure. My husband didn’t say, “it’s okay if I’m tempted to eat some chips & salsa now and then.” He said, “it’s okay if I fall off the wagon.” I’m telling you what I told him: don’t do that. You owe it to yourself to not do that. Assess your success or failure after you’ve reached the finish line, not before you’ve left the starting blocks.

For one thing, you may be surprised by what “success” and “failure” mean to you once the finish line is behind you. My book has sold a whopping, like, 20 copies. Had I told myself, 9 months ago, “it’s okay if my book only sells 20 copies” … well, there would be no book for me to talk about now. Whenever my conviction wavered during those long months of writing – and it did! Oh boy, did it ever – I was certain that I would feel like a failure if the book didn’t sell a lot of copies. So, by necessity, I told myself that it would. And you know what? I don’t feel like a failure now. Sure, I’m disappointed (a little or a lot, depending on the day), but that’s different. I’m proud of the book I wrote. I’m happy it has the chance to be read. And I’m freaking excited about writing the next one. Which will sell a million copies, naturally.

Changing your perspective is a funny thing. It might start in one area of your life, but it has a tendency to spread. All my life, I’ve been the kind of person who was overly cautious – realistic, I liked to say. Aim high-ish, but keep expectations in check. And, above all, don’t expect success – that’s presumptuous. I did okay for myself with that mindset. Yet, throughout most of my adult life, I felt haunted by the spectre of failure. I thought it was the fear of failure that was holding me back, but it was actually the opposite. I had grown used to keeping failure close at hand, like an illusory safety net. When I started to focus not on what I might not be able to do, but on what I wanted to do, I suddenly felt freer and, oddly, more courageous – in all areas of my life. Reaching for the moon is either gonna get you a chunk of lunar rock in your back pocket, or make you realize that, like, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is awesome. Or that you’re really good at astrophysics. Either way, you will have done something difficult and scary and, most likely, pretty amazing.

31 Comments on A How of Success and Failure

  1. Well said Adina. You are one of the most driven people I know (through your blog).
    Kudos to you for finishing your book! May we know the title, or what it’s about, please?
    Lastly, congratulations on you and your husbands health successes. You do look great.

    • Thanks, Jeri 🙂

      Here is a direct link to the book, which is available on Amazon (for Kindles, or other mobile devices, including iPhones, etc.): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019VCCFIW?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

      There is a brief description on the Amazon page, but it’s basically a contemporary fantasy novel centered around two characters, but told through a series of inter-connected short stories. Each chapter is more or less a standalone short story, and they all revolved to some extent around one or both of the two main characters.

      • Just jumping, when I looked at your book the first time I thought it was just for the kindle and was bummed out because it looked really interesting from the discription. I’m so excited it works for tablets as well, I’m going to buy it next time I hit a wifi spot! And congradulations on finishing it – its fun to read about the work behind it as well. 🙂

        • Awesome! It definitely works on an iPhone (I imagine all Apple products) because I downloaded a copy myself using the Kindle app. According to the Amazon page, it seemingly works on a PC too, although I haven’t tested that. If you do get it, I’d love to hear what you think once you read it!

  2. Wise words. Striking a chord with me at the moment as I reflect on where I am and try to figure out my next steps…
    Also reminds me of my old rugby team captain who once said something along the lines of “don’t think about not dropping the ball”. Your brain doesn’t process the “not” and will just focus on dropping the ball. Focus instead on catching it.

  3. Powerful post! Changes in perspective are subtle yet profound. The circumstances don’t change, but our response does, and that makes all the difference. I’ll be mulling this one over as i approach my own projects.

    • Thank you, Ann. It is definitely subtle, which is why it actually took me a long time, after my perspective changed, to realize what was happening. But also profound, as you said.

  4. Well-said and -written. Has been my life philosophy, and at 71, with two successful careers on my back, there is so much more I want to do. You have reminded me that it will be possible! Thank you, and also love your fashion creativity.

    • Thank you, Elisa. Your comment is, seriously, so inspiring – I love hearing about people who are passionate about what they do, no matter their age or past experiences or others’ expectations. It is never too early or too late to embark on a new adventure.

  5. So I’ve been reading your blog for about 6 months-ish and love it. This post was phenomenal! Thank you for the very well-timed (for me anyway) advice and inspiration. Also, your book is in my Amazon cart just waiting to be purchased when I finish my designation for work. It will be one of the rewards for all my hard work. Yay!

    • Thank you so much – both for following the blog, and for checking out the book. I hope you enjoy it (and a well deserved break), and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  6. Wonderful advice on something many of us struggle with. Kudos to you for overcoming, and thanks for the thoughtful post!

  7. So sorry, didn’t actually write in the first comment (technologically challenged I guess).

    I loved your post and went back this afternoon to re-read. I’ve always found that tackling the things I’ve feared (or avoided) the most, always turn out to be the most rewarding. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thank you. I’m reminded, again, that I’m in charge of achieving my goals. I needed a little talking-to because I’ve been making excuses. A year ago I focused on what I wanted and made it a priority. After some success I got complacent. Then, I “forgot” how important the goal really is to me and started to slide backward. That explains my “blah” outlook of late, too.

    Thank you VERY much.

    • You are very welcome, and thank you (and everyone who commented) for sharing your stories with me here. I hope this year brings you renewed passion and inspiration.

  9. I love your blog (I’m a longtime non-commenting reader). Your outfits are gorgeous, your thrifting skills are impressive, but most of all your writing voice is a pleasure to read. Whether you are making witty comments about shopping, or sharing something deeper about your life, I’m always happy when I see one of your posts pop in my blog reader. I hope you don’t quit the blog anytime soon, it’s a pleasure to read.

    • Thank you so much – your comment truly touched my heart. I hope you will keep reading and enjoying the blog … there is, quite literally, nothing a writer loves to hear more than that 🙂

  10. Just curious about the choice to self publish vs. finding an agent/publisher/etc. I downloaded the sample and am quite liking it so far so I’ll probably buy the book, but I wouldn’t normally seek out or buy a self-published book unless I “knew” the author. Not a knock, just genuinely curious and don’t know much about the publishing world.

    • I’m glad you’re liking the sample 🙂

      That is a good question, so I’ll do my best to answer it as well as I can – I also don’t know much about the publishing world apart from what I’ve read online. Basically, it came down to ease and convenience for me. Self publishing on Amazon (and I’ve been lazy, and not used any other platforms) is relatively very easy and quick. From what I hear, getting published is not. You need to get an agent, and then hope that they can successfully pitch your manuscript. The process can take time and I just didn’t want to wait and take a chance that someone would want to put money into it. The downside of self publishing is, of course, precisely what you mentioned – less exposure, less chance of immediate sales. I basically have to rely on my own self promotion (which I hate) and word of mouth. I’m really hoping the latter will help to get more people interested. And, you never know … if it’s any good (and liked), it might still get the attention of someone in the publishing world – apparently, that can happen to some self published authors. For now, I’m happy that it’s out there for people to (hopefully) read, and I’m focusing on the next book I want to write 🙂

      • Thanks for the detailed reply! I will definitely leave a review when I finish.

        I have one friend (also a lawyer!) who recently published her first novel through Penguin, and from what I understand it’s quite a process and took her a few years and one proposal that failed at very last minute. From what she said, a lot of selling a book these days has to do with the author having an interesting personal “story” and ability to market themselves – both of which I think you have! Popular fiction is always such of a mystery to me sometimes because there are so many popular novels with such clunky writing, which is so painful to me!

  11. Really interesting post and great advice and perspective about this! I’ve never thought too much about what differentiates the times I succeed with a long-term goal versus when I don’t. I don’t have a great track record with personal goals like, say, weight loss or keeping up my running routine, though I’d like to think I’m very good with accomplishing my professional and academic goals.

    Now that I reflect on the way I approach goal-setting, I can relate to what you’re saying about not anticipating failure when I set out to accomplish many of the scary or challenging professional/academic goals that I’ve succeeded at in the past. I never thought of it the way you framed it, but when I worked on those goals, I always had extreme tunnel vision. I never really let myself think about the possibility of not succeeding. I always subconsciously assumed it was a sure thing that I’d get there in the end, even if it took a little longer than I originally planned. It isn’t something that I bring to my personal or creative goals at all, though.

    Great post, and congratulations again on finishing your book!

  12. Yes, I finally managed to put your Amazon ebook on my non-Kindle, European e-reader 😀

    Since I love reading your blog, not only because of your outfit pictures but mostly because of your writing style, I am very much looking forward to reading your book (and the upcoming nr 2 and 3, haha 😉 ).