Webster’s dictionary defines failure as “an act or instance of proving unsuccessful.” It suggests shame and despair. However, the very act of effort, putting in the time with the intent of achievement is noteworthy. It is admirable and courageous, not disgraceful as some might suggest. Therefore, the societal norm of failure to achieve should be viewed admirably instead of contemptibly for, without attempt there is no opportunity for growth and development. William K. Zinsser’s (1997), “The Right to Fail,” exemplified why failure is in all actuality, success.
Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two young adults are likely to try on a multitude of academic hats. One minute a young adult may resolve that the pursuance of a career in medicine is the right course of action for themself. While the next minute that same young adult may realize that his or her true calling is to pursue a teaching career. Is this failure? According to Zinsser (1997), “…dropping out is often a way of dropping in.” One might pose the argument definitively that giving up on medical school to pursue a degree in education is akin to financial ruin since physicians are more likely to command a six figure salary than educators who are more likely to command a much more moderate salary. However, in reference to “The Right to Fail,” Zinsser (1997), asserted the notion that the underpaid “appear more fulfilled than the average vice-president with a swimming pool,” thus suggesting that career fulfillment equals success and not failure.
Society places a high value on material success and wealth. Media entities asseverate that the pinnacle of happiness is dependent upon the acquisition of labels. Wearing the trendiest clothes, driving the most expensive car, and mingling at the most exclusive clubs are halmarks of success in our society. Zinsser (1997), reinforced this proclamation, when he mentioned, “Our advertisements and TV commercials are a hymn to material success…” However, is material accumulation and wealth a sign of success? This bodes the question of how success is defined. Success is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. This notion was reinforced by Zinsser (1997), who professed “Happiness goes to the man who has the sweet smell of achievement.”
Trailblazers are individuals who do not necessarily follow a traditional path toward fulfillment. They are those brave souls who dare to follow their instincts toward the attainment of goals. Their paths might have been daunting, even discouraging at times, but ultimately led them to success. “…their system was better than the one that they beat,” wrote Zinsser (1987). Naturally not everyone has the aptitude or dilligence to drive off the beaten path. It takes a certain confidence and courage of conviction to quit school or change careers. Zinsser (1987), clearly did not encourage everyone to abruptly make a change regarding their educational or career choices. “I’m not urging everyone to go out and fail just for the sheer therapy of it.”
Throughout life, choices lead individuals up and down, forward and backward, and inside and outside. Adversity undoubtedly plays a pivotal role. Success or failure, however, occurs in the way such adversitites are processed. Success comes from growth and understanding. It prevails from having the ability to take a step back, evaluate a situation, and move forward with a stronger understanding of what constitutes achievement. Failure only exists when despair triumphs. It only truly manifests itself when one fails to exhaust all avenues in persuance of a goal. Failure also wins when societal pressures outweigh inner courage. Zinsser (1987), summed it up when he commented, “Success and failure are again becoming individual visions.” It is not for society to deem a choice or outcome a failure or a success. It is up to the individual to decide whether an outcome was a success or a failure. So the question to ask at a crossroads is what will ultimately prevail: success or failure?