Which Teaches Us More? The Success of Others, or Our Own Failures?

Photo by Zac Durant

We tend to learn from both examples, but the success of others tends to teach us far more about what we, too, could achieve, than our failures. Of course, everyone is unique, and their approach might not suit our personality or objectives.

However, when we have setbacks or failures, unless we learn the lesson they give us, we would be no nearer to improving our approach, expectation or life situation. We would just keep repeating the same mistakes again and again, and getting the same old results.

What the success of others do for us is immediately show us what is possible, especially if that success is associated with people who are culturally like us (whether in age, gender, colour, etc.). It suggests to us that we, too, can make it, especially if we had thought we were excluded and didn’t stand a chance.

For example, in the 40s and 50s America, it was assumed that only White players could play baseball. That assumption prevailed for a long while to justify racism, while the recruitment to the sport continued to mirror the racial stereotype of suitability and success. Enter Jackie Robinson to win the first Rookie of the Year award in a national league (1947), becoming the first outstanding Black player, although Moses “Fleet” Fleetwood Walker was the first African-American to play professional baseball in 1886, changing the White narrative of sports history.

Robinson’s successes inadvertently showed that minorities could play the sport, too. and it led to a stream of Black players after that, mainly because other minorities were influenced by the success of the early role models and wanted to be part of the action. Today the thought of only one colour of player in the game would be unthinkable.

The same with the advance of women. For example, in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwood became the first female doctor in America after being rejected by at least 10 medical schools. The first Black doctor, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, gained her qualification 15 years later, and their successes served to inspire many women into the profession and other fields.

The success of others is always more powerful and encouraging in its effect on us. Failure of any kind shows what we cannot do, while success reinforces what is possible for us, creating new undreamt of opportunities. Hence why success is likely to be a more effective influence on our future actions.


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