If you google “stories of failure” you will not find stories of people who were resilient, persistent, and goal-directed but still failed to achieve their aspirations. You will find stories of people who failed before they succeeded. Succeeding being defined as achievements that are external, if you will, in their nature – something you can see or know for a fact. Success is winning the PEN/Faulkner award, being elected to a political office, becoming a celebrity of some sort, being an entrepreneur and making lots of money, makings lots of money in general…. this sort of thing. No one wants to read about people who tried their hardest but failed to reach their aspirations due to lack of talent or unlucky timing.
If we did want to read about people who had not yet “succeeded” we could interview most anyone stuck in a cubicle farm who is biding their time in their “day job”, most anyone on the New York Subway, and certainly most anyone who works as wait staff in any restaurant. Some may succeed. Many will not. Ann Patchett, who did, in fact, win the PEN/Faulkner said of her experience waiting tables at T.G.I. Fridays, “Everybody believed that they were special, that they weren’t really a waiter, that they were the one who was getting out. … I had to come to terms with the fact that I was just like everybody else, a girl with a dream and a plate of hot fajitas. You get out not so much because you’re special but because you’ve got enough steel in your soul to crawl up.”
This is true. To be successful, to crawl up, resilience is required. But so is talent, even if the talent is acquired through persistence and practice, their must be a foundation of ability. Good timing is also required. Without talent, resilience, and good timing we may not succeed, at least not in an external sense.
We want to believe that “succeeding” is possible for all of us. If we define success as fulfilling our aspirations, then success for all of us is a delusion. If we define success as fulfilling the obligation we owe ourselves to try, to be persistent, and to be resilient, no matter the outcome, then success is within our reach.