Conversations in Management: Churchill

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  

                Winston Churchill

Churchill_3Enthusiastic failure seems an unlikely recipe for success—particularly when it comes from the guy who almost single-handedly saved the world from the Nazis. Sure, Churchill had plenty of setbacks, but when he died fifty years ago this month, he was accorded the kind of funeral reserved for royalty. Heck, even the cranes that lined the Thames dipped their tops as his funeral launch sailed by. At the end of the day, his wife allowed that, “It wasn’t a funeral, it was a triumph!” Given all that, Churchill’s success was something more than a series of failures. But what? What does it mean to be successful?

For a lot of folks, success means having—not necessarily making—a lot of money. That’s behind the lottery’s allure. For the price of a ticket and with little effort, you could become fabulously wealthy. Lucky winners almost invariably follow the same path. They quit their jobs, buy a fancy car and move into more house than they need. Is this what success looks like? Well, maybe at first, but since most lottery winners are broke after five years it’s a terribly transitory kind of success.

Perhaps actually earning your wealth is a better way of becoming successful. This provides all the benefits of being a lottery winner with the expectation that your money will last a while. Of course, you still have to work, but it seems the richer one becomes, the less one actually has to do. For the truly wealthy it’s simply a matter of watching other people work—preferably on an iPad while relaxing on the beach. Sounds good, but hardly a week goes by that you don’t see an article explaining that money can’t buy happiness. These articles are rarely written by wealthy people. More often they’re written by freelancers getting paid by the word. You can reliably count on them to conclude they’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. True enough, but what if the alternatives were poor and miserable or rich and miserable? Better yet, what if your options were poor and happy or rich and happy? I know which options I’d pick and I have a pretty good idea of how poor people would vote too.  Still, is any of this really what it means to be successful?

Many people would argue that it’s not. They see success as more deeply personal. They equate it with fame! For these folks, riches are only a corollary (though an important one) to celebrity status. Schools function as the Petri dish for such beliefs. While largely indifferent to their studies, students spend considerable time anticipating futures as star athletes, award winning performers or even models. Famous people, in an attempt to discourage competition, claim that after about fifteen minutes of fame the thrill wears off. But nobody’s fooled. Kids reckon they’d rather be walking on the red carpet than vacuuming it and I agree. But is fame really the measure of success?

Depending on whom you ask, success is serial failure, mountains of money, Kardashian-quality notoriety—or a host of other things. And that’s the point. You have to determine what success means for you. It doesn’t matter what others think—it’s your success. You’ll find it’s a moving target, though. Over time your ideas will change. That’s ok, too, as long as you don’t accept setbacks as final and keep the end in sight. Just don’t count on winning the lottery!                 —Ebert

Leave a Reply