The concepts of success and failure are embedded in our culture, but how real are they?
From a wide range of answers and her own experience, Jennifer Kavanagh explores some of the stereotypes on which these concepts are based, and reveals what people feel really matters in their lives. There is a growing acceptance that failure can not only lead to success but can open us to profound change. If we let go of the quest for individual perfection, and accept what is, our lives and relationships will be enriched. If we let go of our judgemental behaviour, we will no longer view life in terms of success or failure. If we let go of the need to control our lives, we will let go of goals and expectation. If we let go of our attachment to outcomes, we will be content with where and who we are. We may even go beyond the duality of opposites to an understanding of essential unity.
Putting one foot in front of the other, neither afraid of failure nor triumphant with success. Living, in other words.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Probably few Quakers would be surprised by the idea that Western society is immersed in a culture of success and celebrity. In this book, Jennifer Kavanagh takes a deep look at the meaning and implications of success in our culture – what it is, how it is measured, and the meaning of failure. She explains how success is generally understood today as the achievement of something attempted or the attainment of a desired object, with particular reference to the attainment of wealth or position.
Kavanagh examines several issues and problems that arise when we identify ourselves too closely with our own successes and failures or with the successes and failures of others. Success and failure do not exist respectively in their own rights, but only in relation to one another and to some kind of measure or expectation of ourselves or others. The emotional, spiritual, and material costs of our culture of success and its frightening shadow, failure, are high.
The author explains that the achievement of success is measured either against a standard or against the achievement of others. Certainly, healthy competition improves performance. However, competition can also narrow a person’s view down to a singular focus on defeating others. Differentiating between these two goals – producing quality work and defeating others - can sometimes be difficult, but Kavanagh shows the importance of maintaining this distinction.
In a very real sense, success is not what it seems to be and neither is failure. We often consider an individual who claims success as having achieved some final result or having reached a state of completion. The truth is that much innovation and many creative ideas are embedded within processes. Often, a person who is celebrated as a great success is in reality just another link in an ongoing chain.
Failure is not what it seems to be either. One great insight of the spiritual life is that failure can help us reconsider our projects and direction and make necessary adjustments – if we receive our human experience of brokenness (failure) constructively. At a spiritual level, failure, dark times, and trauma can challenge us in significant ways and open us to change – not just change in our outward actions, but in our very selves.
Kavanagh concludes this book by looking at mystical, religious, and philosophical attempts to deal with the paradoxical nature of dualities, by examining the duality of success and failure. For me, this book furthered my own quest to deal with paradoxes by offering me concrete verbalizations of concepts I am increasingly coming to understand from my own experience.
I think that Friends will find this book of interest. With the continuing increase in income inequality in our world and with our culture’s increasing emphasis on “winner take all” mentality, this little book provides some much needed perspective.
The Failure of Success was published by O-Books in 2012 and is available in paperback and electronic formats. Learn more about the author at www.jenniferkavanagh. co.uk.
~ Jerry Peterson, Western Friend
It seems that the Western World is obsessed by success and celebrity and so lives in fear of failure. This is the premise on which Kavanagh challenges the traditional definitions of success. She offers a balanced and accessible exploration into what really matters in our lives. Jennifer Kavanagh writes with great wisdom and insight using her own experience and that of others to look at failure in both its negative and surprisingly positive aspects. The book challenges us to let go of our preconceived ideas and allow life to flow from the truth of what matters. As the author says, "in letting go, allowing life to evolve, listening to our inner self and acting in truthful response, all that is needful will be shown."
This potentially life-changing book questioned my own definitions of success in this over-materialistic world. It was a book I couldn't put down and will read again. ~ , Magnet magazine
Is your attitude to life sharply contrasted between white and black – success or failure? If it is, you may find this slim volume helpful and heart-warming. If it isn’t – rejoice in being blessed with contentment.
Jennifer Kavanagh, in her new book The Failure of Success, is deeply concerned to challenge this sharp contrast. She believes that too many people are conditioned to be successful in material terms – examination grades achieved, skills tests passed, income, possessions, career progression and status achieved. She thinks the whole emphasis on success is unhealthy. She thinks it is too widespread in all areas of our culture.
Equally, she is concerned to nurture those who feel a failure and to help them realise that such a label is wholly inappropriate – a point epitomised by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘If’:
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same…
She only quotes those two lines. I could not help thinking of the last two lines of that poem, which still conclude with a form of success:
Yours is the earth, and everything that’s in it
And which is more – you’ll be a man my son!
Jennifer Kavanagh has talked to many people – many preoccupied with success and others troubled by failure...
She writes: ‘Success [in the model she is concerned about] is based on a collection of stereotypes, including wealth, property, marriage, children, a circle of friends and being respected in the local community. We may come to believe that we are judged by our house, our car, our job, even the holidays we take. The image of perfection created by an omnipresent edifice of advertising insists that success brings with it a certain body type exuding good health and fitness: the men sporty and tall, the women slim.’
The result of this, of course, is, for many people, ‘status anxiety’. Anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype is likely to feel a failure. Commercial advertising and community assumptions put pressure on people who feel they don’t rise to what they imagine everyone expects them to.
However, Jennifer points out that failure can open us up to profound change. This change can lead to different ‘successful’ outcomes. She wants us all to stop striving for individual perfection, accept ourselves as we are, and our circumstances for what they are. That way, she believes, our lives and our relationships will be enriched.
... The book contains many interesting examples and their stories are very well told by the author. I found myself wondering why some people get so wrapped up in such preoccupations. Maybe this is because I am fortunate to be very content with my lot.
Jennifer has been a businesswoman and worked as a volunteer in various roles in the community and within Quakerism. She is a Friend and writes and speaks about the Spirit-led life.
The book has a clear, consistent message: ‘be more content with who you are, what you have and what you regard as important in life.’ I feel Jennifer is encouraging everyone to really take to heart the wisdom in Advices & queries 31-42. It urges us to live simply and with integrity, as ‘a simple lifestyle, freely chosen is a source of strength’. ~ Michael Wright, The Friend
New Kavanagh book takes a holistic perspective of failures & the role of judgement, control & attachment to outcomes http://bit.ly/Q8e0jG ~ Admitting Failure @admitfailure, twitter
This is a slim, wise, thoughtful book. It should be read by anyone who thinks they are a success or a failure! ~ Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, 1997-2003.Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood from 1983 to 2010