Posts on social media timelines seem to all carry the same message: succeed, win, and gain power, influence, and new business. Failing might be a good option as well though.
The craving for success
A look at an average LinkedIn or Facebook timeline might be both embarrassing and demotivating. Headers like ‘How to make 2019 your best year yet’, personal testimonials like ‘How I became successful with …’ and motivational calls from connections are everywhere, conveying the message that everything in business and personal life is about success. And if you’re not successful, you should at least try to be. Who want to be a loser in 2019?
Craving success is a natural and common desire, at least among people in the Western world. We see the success of our colleagues and competitors, being able to sell their businesses for millions of dollars or living their lives to the max. We want that too, rather than toiling way for many hours a week to make enough live on. And when we see peers winning a global client, it motivates us to work even harder to keep up the pace. Even if people do not speak out loudly, we might fear that not winning means we are losers. All these posts with success stories on social media, and upbeat stories on family and business parties contribute a great amount to that feeling. If you can’t share a story of recent personal and commercial success, you are a nitwit – somebody who does not make a valuable contribution to business or society
Losing jobs and clients
While there are many people out there who cannot relate only to success stories, and many successes happen only on a small scale, society seems to evolve to a mindset where success is the only factor that counts. Only headline stories of massive grow; television-worthy accounts of successful transactions and heart-breaking tales of evolving from poor and needy to rich and greedy seem to matter nowadays. Yet failure might have a much better outcome than many successful people want us to believe.
Failure happens in everybody’s lives, but in many cases we prefer to ignore it rather than talk about it. While failure can bring us hard times, and might even lead to personal troubles or insolvency of the businesses it might be a source of inspiration and an invaluable source of lessons. Let me explain this with some examples of my own translation business.
When I started as a freelance translator almost ten years ago I was eager to work for the best known brands of the world. So I actively sought ways to work for the major technology brands to show off my skills to the world. I registered at the big translation agencies of that time and took test translations to position myself best for these companies. In many cases I was too eager and made mistakes or simply lacked the skills to work for the Googles and Apples of ten year ago. Sometimes I failed hard, but nevertheless it learned me a couple of essential and undispensable lessons. In order to succeed and work for the very best companies I had to develop the necessary skills that were needed to bring these companies further. That was an important lessons: as a freelance translator it is my job to help these companies thrive in the social and business landscape of the country of my native language, it is not up to them to make me thrive in that landscape. All my efforts learned me as well that I despite my knowledge of the Dutch language could improve my Dutch language skills even more to deliver outstanding translations. So instead of winning jobs at first I did not win them at all, but it seemed I only moved further away of these companies.
For many translators translating books is their ultimate goal and often a long-time dream. For me this is not different. In the years past I translated many books, but still too less to focus on book translations entirely. In the process of winning book translations and translating literature I lost some jobs in a couple of cases because publishing houses did expect other outcomes. They did not contend the quality of my book translations, but wanted stylistic differences or a register that I do not possess. These were disappointing moments: I wanted to focus more on book translations and was in the position to win massive projects, but in the end these offers were turned down. At times I was afraid I would never again translate a book in my professional life.
Making the best of fails
Whatever hard situation we might be in in 2019 and beyond, it might be helpful to know that failing (or at least not winning) is part of everybody’s life. Although Facebook and LinkedIn timelines might suggest else you are for sure not the only one who is failing instead of winning. Motivational posts are valuable in that they help us to go through hard times and learn ways to win in our professional and personal lifes. However, there is no winning without failing. Failing might be hard, but it also can bring invaluable insights and lessons that need to be learned to be succesful in the future. In the above situations I got an opportunity to improve my translation skills, which I now can use for tech giants and publishing houses, but which are beneficial for all sorts of other (small) clients as well. And in some cases it was only good for me not to receive directly what I wanted: if I had succeeded from day 1, I would for sure never had a chance to learn new things, and to be satisfied with even the smallest progress. In the end people need to have successful experiences and winning moments to stay motivated and to learn, but the path to success is more unruly and unmanageable than self-called success gurus claim. If there is one lesson that is important to remember in 2019 it is that failng at the short term might be more rewarding at the long term. Failing might be an art then, which more fruitful outcomes than winning can ever bring.