Visit the graveyard to clear your mind on success!

For those who want success, it is typical to look at successful examples. You want to start a company, you look at successful companies; you want to be an actor, you look at successful actors; you want to be a sportsperson, you look at successful sportspersons. With the abundance of successful examples in sight, people – including me, tend to overestimate their chances of success. The media glamorizes success and you’ll see articles and articles about successful people. Every singer you know is a famous singer, every author you know is a famous author, and every actor you know is a famous actor.

But what’s the issue with looking at success? What are we missing here?

THE GRAVEYARD! We are missing the graveyard of failures!

For every actor who got a role, there are 100s who didn’t get past the audition. For every actor who went to an audition, there are 100s who didn’t get a chance to audition. For every one of those, there are 100s who want to be an actor. Where will you find them? You’ll find them in the graveyard of failures. And why are they important, you ask? Because just looking at success gives you an incomplete and highly skewed picture. The media wouldn’t report them. You have to search for them. And when you do, you’ll see that for the actor who got selected, there are many others who worked equally hard, were equally skilled, and spent similar hours in practice. You’ll find similar stories in other areas when you visit the graveyard. This is a hard pill to swallow, and the visit is unpleasant, but it gives a strong reality check.

Failure is much more abundant than success and the odds are not in your favor. Am I trying to discourage you? Not at all. My goal is not to discourage people who seek success. In fact, I wish success for each one of you, however you define success. My goal is to help people think clearly. This bias, which I want you to be aware of, is called survivorship bias. Success is far easily visible than failure and when we base our worldview by only looking at the successful, we are forming a biased view. This is an impediment to clear thinking and I want you be aware of this. Once you are aware of this, you’ll start looking beyond the popular and misleading towards the boring but correct.

Additional questions

Why do we focus solely on success?

If I ask you if you know college dropouts who became hugely successful, chances are, you’ll immediately say names of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the like. I have heard friends say that they can be more successful if they dropout than if they continue with their degree. But is that true? If you sit back and think, you’ll realize that there are far too many college dropouts who aren’t well known. But when we talk of dropouts, we first think of the successful and just stop with them.

Why? Because –

Success is shiny and attractive. It’s wrapped in glittering clothes that makes it the apple of everyone’s eye. It feels good to talk about – whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Failure, on the other hand, doesn’t wear clothes – it’s naked. It’s not ugly, it’s just very real. Talking about it takes bits of courage, acceptance, and forgiveness. For us feeling good takes precedence over being close to reality, and hence the focus on success.

Why you should be cautious of advice from the successful?

You should be cautious of advice from the successful. Not because they may misguide you, but because they may have made stupid choices that worked out well, purely coincidently. Consider this, someone becomes a millionaire by betting their life earnings on a stock that jumped up in a short time. You talked to them and do the same. Luck doesn’t favor you, and you lose all your money. So, be cautious.
(I’ve raised more questions here that I plan to answer in future articles.)

Final thoughts

We look for rainbows in the world and “the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.” For those who seek truth and want to understand reality as best as one can, parting from bias is an important step. Hopefully, I have made the concept of survivorship bias a bit clear to you. Here are the key takeaways from the article:

  1. We tend to look solely at successful examples and ignore failures.
  2. This is called survivorship bias and gives us a biased worldview. Awareness about survivorship bias gives a view grounded in reality.
  3. We focus on success because it feels good.
  4. Be cautious of advice from the successful because coincidence may have played a major role in their success.

Think better. Live better.

This post is a part of the Thinking Better Series. If you like to stay updated with my latest content, consider subscribing to my website using the form below. You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

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