10 Common Causes of Failure

Back in my college days, I read Og Mandino’s book University of Success, which served as such an inspiration that I would refer to it from time to time throughout my professional career. The book is a series of “lessons”, but the one that most inspired me was Lesson 5.

We have found the enemy and they are us.”
– Walt Kelly, creator of comic strip Pogo

The University of Success, by Og Mandino.

Lesson 5. How to conquer the ten most common causes of failure.

“Very often we are our own worst enemy as we build stumbling blocks on the path that leads to success and happiness,” said Louis Binstock the famed rabbi of Temple Shalom in Chicago, in his book, ‘The Road to successful Living.’

“We need direction,” he writes. “Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.”

There are, in terms of our everyday reactions, ten common causes of failure. Conquer them, even a few of them, and you will have removed the most stubborn obstacles from the path of true success.

There are seeds of self-destruction in all of us that will bear only unhappiness if allowed to grow,” Dorothea Brande wrote in her book “Wake up and Live.”

We have all become conversant with such phrases as The Will to Live and the Will to Power. These phrases represent the drives of man toward fulfillment and growth. It is only the presence of a will to continue living that can account for the tenacity with which a man or a woman in extreme circumstances clings to the mere right to breathe and exist. The Will to Live in some men and women is very, very strong.

The idea that there exists another Will, a counterbalancing will, the Will to Fail, the Will to Death, is not so readily understood or accepted by Psychologists.

If nature prepares us for each new phase of life by closing off old desires and opening new vistas, it does not seem too difficult to think that we are, always, being slowly, gently reconciled to our eventual relinquishment of all we hold dear as living creatures.

When we are young we first experience and then later turn to realize the process of growth in ourselves. The individual emerges from childhood into adolescence, from adolescence into maturity; and at each of these crises, we find that the activities and interests of the old period are being replaced by those of the new. This we understand, but the idea of another will, a counterbalancing will, the Will to Fail, the Will to Death, is not so readily accepted.

When this Will to Fail appears in youth or full maturity it is as symptomatic of something wrong – deeply, internally wrong -with one’s life. Almost always, we are well within its power before we do more than suspect, rarely and vaguely, that all is not as it should be with us.

We are so accustomed to speak of failure, frustration, timidity, as negative things, it is like being invited to fight windmills when we are urged to fight the symptoms of failure.

When the family grows, scatters, and we are left alone, the substitute activity at which we have been so busy is taken remorselessly always from us, and we are sick and terrified at the idea of turning back to take up long-abandoned plans.

We can slip through life without discovering all that there was in us to do, without using the most minute fraction of our abilities, either native or acquired. We acquiesce in the Will to Fail.

What became of the real-life we meant to lead? Instead, we have been busy with work that provides us with no more than our bread and butter. “Do not act as if you had a thousand years to live,” Marcus Aurelius warns.

Whether we dream or dance, we may spend our precious hours as though the store of them were inexhaustible. If we are not doing what we are best equipped to do, or doing well what we have undertaken as our personal contribution to the world’s work, there will be a core of unhappiness in our lives which will be more and more difficult to ignore as the years pass.

The fritterers and players and the drudging workers are bent mainly on deceiving themselves. The intention, often unconscious, to fill life so full of secondary activities or substitute activities, that there will be no time in which to perform the best work of which one is capable.

The intention, in short, is to fail!

1. So we blame others because it is too painful, too frightening to blame ourselves.

What needs to be asked is, ”What in me is responsible for this?” or “What is there within me that caused me to think (or not) that thought, to feel (or no) that emotion, to do (or not) that deed? What is usually asked is the opposite to this. It is almost universally instinctive to blame someone else rather than look to look within. Mankind’s great bewildered cry as always been, “Who did this to me?” The battle we ought to be fighting is within ourselves.

On the other hand there is the opposite tendency, the tendency to blame oneself. “Why do I always put my foot in it.” Instead, we would be better to wrestle with the problem behind the failure and resolve it. Continually blaming oneself plants within us deep feelings of inferiority and insecurity which spring up like weeds.

Our great concern should be not whether we have failed, but whether we are content with our failure.

2. Self-blame is one of the prime causes of self-pity. Excessive self-blame opens the door to guilt feelings and closes the door to self-development.

3. Having no goals.

A person must know where he/she wants to go. Having no goal is bad, but low goals are worse. There are those whose only goal in life is fun. They waste their God-given talents. Some aim simultaneously at a number of targets, scattering their talent. Others wait for “something to turn up.” In waiting for something to turn up, life slips by.

4. Choosing the wrong goals.

There are those who are accounted great successes, who have feel a devastating sense of failure. They had set their sights upon the wrong goal and found their efforts did not bring happiness. Like practicing law to please a parent when one really wanted to be a farmer. Many allow the choice to be made by family or circumstance and regret it later.

5. The short cut.

An electric current will follow the line of least resistance, but a bulb glows precisely because there IS resistance. Hard work is only rarely pleasurable, but conquest – of matter, mind, or soul – is pleasurable. No conquest can be achieved without hard work.

Often the shortcut is responsible for the choice of unsuitable goals. A good many of higher-bracket businessmen might have been just as rich, just as powerful, but more respected and infinitely happier if they had taken the slower and longer road of absolute ethical integrity and moral decency.

6. Taking the long road.

The longest way round is not always the shortest way to your goal. Too often if you wait or travel too long, you never reach your goal.

7. Neglecting the little things

There are hundreds of stories stressing the importance of little things. A door left unopened, a document unsigned, a few live coals left upon a hearth. The truth is, that no man, no job, is little. “Well done, thou good servant; because thou wast faithful in a little, you will have authority over much.”

8. Quitting too soon.

Men don’t fail, they give up trying. Often it is not the wrong start but the wrong stop that makes the difference.

9. The burden of the past.

All our lives we have to live with our memories, and as we grow older we depend on them more and more, until one day they may be all we have. The things that went in are the things that will come out, whether we put them there or we are forced to receive them. “It is easier to lie on a couch, digging into the past than it is to sit on a chair facing the present.” It is even harder to get up and walk toward the future.

David Livingstone, the great explorer said, ”I will go anywhere so long as it is forward.” Life is about growth.

10. The illusion of success.

Many of us are deceived by “success.” It is not success if it fails to satisfy us. We may have accepted praise or money, identified it with happiness, and assumed that success was ours. Further accomplishment seems unnecessary.

Napoleon said, “The most dangerous moment comes with victory.” Talleyrand commented, “A man can do everything with a sword but sit on it.” When we have lost the habit of constant striving, success can do us more harm than good.

The goals that others approve in us may have little to do with our true happiness.

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