It’s easy to talk about enjoying the journey, but it’s actually a very hard thing to do.
From the time that we are little our world is consumed with the idea of rewards – act in a certain way and obtain pleasure – and avoid other things because they might bring pain. Because we like pleasure, and for the most part we’d prefer not to have pain, this is a highly effective method.
What’s interesting is that the process that influences us to focus on rewards (pleasure) is the exact same process that allows us to enjoy the journey as well, but it’s a process that we seem to forget about as we get older.
The process is simple. It is the process of feedback.
Let me explain – when we are little our entire world is a feedback rich system. We are constantly conducting thousands of experiments (intentionally and unintentionally) all resulting in feedback.
- If I say this word when Mom’s around, I get a timeout. I don’t like this: Feedback
- When I help Dad without being asked he took me to get ice cream: I like this: Feedback
- When I got an A on my test my mom gave me a hug and my Dad rubbed my head. I like this: Feedback
- When I got a D on my test my mom wasn’t as happy and my Dad got mad. I don’t like this: Feedback
It goes on and on. Feedback continues as we grow into our adolescent and teenage years, and with each piece of feedback – each “data point”– we form internal conclusions and make observations about how we should act.
- This job at the Potato Chip Factory sucks. If I had to do this my entire life I wouldn’t be happy: Feedback
- The guys who look, act and talk a certain way seem to go out with the pretty girls: Feedback
- By working really hard on my art project I won a cash prize at school. Maybe hard work and compensation are related: Feedback
As we progress into our early adult years we start really embracing rewards. When we are little the rewards that we receive are still part of the feedback mechanism. The reward itself is a data point. However when we become adults we’ve complied enough data to think that we have a good understanding of our world at large – we know that certain actions will lead to pleasure, and certain actions will lead to pain. So we morph from the curious little data seekers and become instead “success collectors”. We don’t need more data (or so we think), and we’d rather just spend our time collecting rewards, and avoiding pain.
When this happens the dreaded word “failure” enters into our vocabulary.
When we are young failure doesn’t really exist. Literally – this construct has no bearing on us whatsoever. A data collector, by definition, cannot fail, they can only gather. There isn’t a reference point for failure. The only possible failure could be a failure to collect data, but again this is impossible because every waking moment provides another data gathering opportunity. Once an individual decides that they are done collecting data – when they decide that they have enough data to understand the world, and that their goal is now to “get” what they want – well then at that point, failure becomes a real possibility.
At this point failure is simply the gap between expectations and reality.
We are done “collecting data” and instead turning our attention to “getting stuff” (in whatever form we define “stuff”), if we don’t get our “stuff” according to our appropriate timelines then we feel “failure”.
But failure is purely a fiction. It is a relative emotion that is entirely based on our interpretation of the world around us. It is an association that we have created, and that society has reinforced, over and over.
But what people often fail to see is that the solution to the problem of “feeling like a failure” is the process that we first evoked as children: the process of “data and feedback gathering”.
If our paradigm for living were such that we never, ever stopped gathering data, and seeking feedback, then failure would not exist. It would be a word without a meaning – nonsense.
There would be no emotional attachment to the word at all, and no anxiety whatsoever relating to it. Every problem, emotion, anxiety or stress associated with so-called “failures” would immediately disappear if we were perpetual data and feedback gatherers.
This in my opinion is the secret to a fulfilling life: to never lose the curiosity that you had as a child – to always remain a data seeking, feedback gatherer – and to never cross over and become a “success collector”. It is really that simple.
Absurd! You might think. Why would anyone want to do that? I want success! Right? Don’t you? I want money, and praise, and accomplishment! I need the world to see how good I am, how important I am. I need to be recognized for it.
Why? Why do you need that? You need that because it fills a void inside of you – a void that says that you are not enough without it. Well that void only ever was created the moment you decided to become a “success collector”. I get it. I get that it’s way that most of us are raised, and the way that we are taught and conditioned in school. It’s also the way the media constantly conditions us.
We don’t have to accept this paradigm.
If you’ve never felt any anxiety around the principle of failure, not being enough, not having enough, not meeting up, not getting what you want, not being successful, then consider yourself lucky – frankly you are the exception to the rule.
If however you have felt anxiety concerning any of the above, the solution is really simple, and it is right in front of you: become like a kid again.
You can do this with pretty much zero ramifications. The world is going to transform into your own amateur experimental lab, and your role is to gather data points. You are here to gather feedback – you ultimate purpose is to be happy (isn’t that all of our purpose?). So each observation is simply feedback on the path the happiness:
- I don’t like having a boss, I’d rather work for myself. That isn’t failure because you currently have a job. This is simply: Feedback
- I picked the wrong career. I need to change. This doesn’t mean that you are a failure in your career. It just means that you made a wrong choice. This is simply: Feedback
- I can’t seem to make any sales. This doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It just means that the method that you are currently using to general sales isn’t working. This is simply: Feedback
- My business went broke after a year. This doesn’t mean that you are a terrible businessperson. It also doesn’t mean that you failed. It either means that you had a product that people didn’t want to buy, or you sold it for too high a price, or you didn’t effectively market it, or your business systems were flawed, or you didn’t build an effective team. All of the above are not failure. They are simply: Feedback
- No one wants to buy my book. This doesn’t mean that you failed. It just means that you need to adapt your writing (or marketing) style. Again, simply: Feedback
- My relationship fell apart. You still haven’t failed, you simply acted (or didn’t act) in a way that contributed to a broken relationship, or the relationship was not a good fit to even begin with. Not failure, simply: Feedback
- I feel like a terrible parent. My kids never seem to listen to me. Again, not failure. You simply are using an ineffective parenting strategy: Feedback
I could go on and on. Failure doesn’t exist. A Unicorn that farts rainbows has as much basis in reality as failure does.
Failure is an emotional association that experience when our expectations don’t align with what actually happens. Nothing more, nothing less. It can evaporate instantly by simply becoming a lifelong data gatherer.