The 2 Types of Failure

It’s this deep absorption of adulation that can easily lead to Brooks’ second type of failure.

In his best-selling 2019 book “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life,” author David Brooks explores a variety of topics including marriage, loneliness and joy.

But the most relevant subject for us as leaders might be his views on failure.

Brooks claims there are at least two types:

1) You’re good, but people can’t grasp it. “Moby Dick,” for example, sold just 2,300 copies in its first 18 months.

2) You’re not as good as you once thought you were. And others see it.

“We all want to imagine that our failures are of the first kind, but one suspects that something like 95 percent of failures are of the second kind,” Brooks writes. “One of the character tests on the road to mastery involves recognizing that fact.”

On our leadership journeys, we’re all humbled at certain points when disappointments and losses present themselves.

But we need to be better about keeping this second type in mind when the triumphs come as well.

Our character and work ethic need to be process, not result, based. That can be particularly difficult to remember when everyone is celebrating our achievements.

It’s incredibly difficult to rise to the top, and our natural tendency once we’re there is to exhale and soak up the praise being tossed our way.

But it’s this deep absorption of adulation that can easily lead to Brooks’ second type of failure, which can come almost instantaneously.

When we win a big game, secure a major deal, earn a prestigious award, sure, let’s celebrate our efforts and appreciate all that it took to get there.

But let’s also think back on Brooks’ words and remember that true mastery lies in realizing we’re not quite as good as we think we are.


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