Is Failure Necessary for Success?

Originally published by The San Francisco Chronicle on September 21, 2015


By Deepak Chopra, MD

In a society that places a high value on competition and winning, everyone wants to succeed. It becomes difficult to discuss failure, which somehow translates into personal weakness, lack, or vulnerability. I’d like to reframe the whole relationship between success and failure so that both become part of a single process: your personal evolution.


As you evolve and grow, certain conditions appear on the path, and as they do, some people feel a sense of failure while other people don’t. Yet in both cases, the same situation has occurred:


  • An obstacle or resistance is blocking the way forward.
  • A fear of inadequacy has undermined one’s confidence.
  • An outcome expected to be positive turns negative instead.
  • Support from people you counted on isn’t there anymore.
  • A manageable task starts to become overwhelming and unmanageable.
  • The work environment and/or key relationships become hostile.

Evolution never requires failure. Such situations are part of everyone’s life. What actually matters is your interpretation of what’s going on, and then your response based on this interpretation. Any situation, no matter how frustrating or challenging, can be interpreted as evolutionary. I don’t mean that you apply positive thinking to mask your fear and insecurity.


The Third Metric – Redefining Success

Description: Our definition of success as composed mainly of money and power is no longer sustainable; it is time for a third metric.– one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder, and to give back. Money and power by themselves are a two legged stool — you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. And more and more people, very successful people, are toppling over.

Success the way we’ve defined it is no longer sustainable. It’s no longer sustainable for human beings or for societies. To live the lives we want, and not just the ones we settle for, the ones society defines as successful, we need to include the Third Metric.