Beyond Success and Failure

In every nook and cranny of other students’ life, Amir only sees the Dean’s List award that they have received. They are recognised at their respective institutions for academic achievement. Their faces are featured on the front pages of universities magazines and E-newsletters. Inspired by the stories of those who achieved triumph, Amir’s mind is inundated with the notion of being victorious is never impossible, with no exception. He found that successful students are everywhere. There are lots of them.

We may have experienced instances such as the story. Oftentimes, people have a tendency to focus on one’s successes and try to emulate theirs. In many books, newspapers, and articles, we read and see how people thrive in their study, career or business. It has been underscored that an ordinary person can always turn into an extraordinary; as if successes are always warranted. A plethora of advice is offered to us on how to secure a successful life too.

Notwithstanding the achievement is common in life, everyone is prone to failure. Apparently, not many journalists are interested to highlight the flunk and this makes success more evident than failure. As a result, people rationally overvalue their chances of succeeding and mistake how little the possibility of success really is. This belief is referred as ‘survivorship bias’ (Dobelli, 2013): a faulty reasoning of focusing on the successful and unconsciously ignoring those that did not succeed because of their absence of visibility.

In reality, behind every successful student we can find a hundred other students who are not successful. Behind them are another hundred who are still awaiting a decision from the university admission team. Behind them are yet another hundred who are not qualified to get a place at the universities. And behind each one of these are a hundred of students who dream of-one day- receiving a formal education. Why do we often hear the stories of successful and very little those who are not? It is quite impossible for the unsuccessful to write books or give lectures on their failures. Therefore, the onus is on us to delve into the ‘grave’ of the failed people to avoid the ‘survivorship bias’. If we examine their traits, they may be embedded in ours too!

This writing is intended to make people aware of many probabilities in life. It is by no means to demotivate others nor to daunt people by the word ‘failures’. We need to guard our overestimate chances of success by looking at the failures too. The world is not being built by only the narrative of success.

This may also serve as an uplifting piece of writing. When we do not achieve what we expect even after we have invested lot of times and energy, it is best to accept that failure, as part and parcel of our journey. So do not feel bad when it happens to us.

In fact, failure can be a great teacher. It is also a meaningful experience and an opportunity to make a new discovery. We can give meaning and change it into something of significance. All we need to do is to infer what precisely the lessons are and how we can learn from them to pave the way for future successes. We should reflect and re-evaluate our preparation and performance. However, it is a chore to learn a lesson in the midst of our dismay and hopelessness. As such, we must have an inner strength and a supportive surrounding to overcome the disappointment and to feel normal again. Trying times always lead to better days. As a believer, we know that whatever Allah does, it is for our best.

In one of the authentic sayings, The Prophet SAW reminds us with his beautiful words “Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily his entire affair is good and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him”.

As the saying goes; Failure is not fatal, success is not final. It is the courage to continue that counts.



Reference: Dobelli, R. (2013). The Art of Thinking Clearly. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.


Siti Soraya Lin,
A PhD Researcher, The University of Sheffield
The author of, Cikgu, Saya Suka Pergi Sekolah.

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