Is failure really the opposite of success?
I wanted to be a surgeon growing up. Many dreams came and went throughout my childhood––scientist, marine biologist, gasoline station staff worker (the one who was in charge of the complimentary window cleaning service), cashier who dealt solely with big bills––but the only dream that really stuck was the one that involved years upon years of studying, a degree at Stanford and eventually, prying human skulls open and getting my hands dirty.
Fast forward to present day. At age twenty-two, I’m decidedly not performing brain surgery, nor am I on my way to doing so.
These days, I write. A lot. I write articles and social media captions and press releases. I also attend events and get fed in exchange for pointing my camera at things (then writing about said things), and every so often I get to tell models what clothes and makeup to wear. I even sell earrings online as a side hustle––how’s that for a wild card?
Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do now. My career, albeit only four years in the making, is one huge battle scar marked by overtime hours I’ve clocked in and previous disagreements with my family. But still, the mind wanders: what if this gamble doesn’t work out? What if I jump ship, relocate to a tropical island and get by selling tropical fruit to tourists while hiding in the shade of my floppy straw sunhat? That’s a dream in its own right, so why do I feel compelled to stick to the path I’ve carved out for myself?
These dudes named Merriam and Webster told me the antonym of success is failure, so if I don’t succeed, did I fail? Do I believe Merriam and Webster?! So many questions!
In the thick of my existential dilemma, I turned to the usual guidebook: my parents. Both my mom and dad, a learning and performance consultant and a regional director for a multinational pharmaceutical company, are classic examples of success from my perspective. They've raised a three-piece army of creatures who are always, always hungry (read: my sister and I) and got two entire humans through school. Heck, they paid for the lunch we were eating during the interview below.
Despite their success trumping my seemingly shallow metrics, neither of them really pursued their childhood dreams. Here's what my life-givers had to say about success and straying from their intended destinations.
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When you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming?
Armi: I wanted to be a teacher, and then after that I wanted––for a while––to be a correspondent. That was short-lived, though. After that, I just wanted any job that would allow me to travel.
Tony: I wanted to be a priest when I was younger, but obviously that didn’t happen. Along the way, I landed in a profession that was quite far from it, but in a way was sort of similar, because I served in the Armed Forces.
Both of you are in very different fields from what you initially wanted. How did you realize that your initial goal was not for you, or that you had to stray from that path?
T: For me, it was all circumstantial. A lot of things came along the way, or to be quite honest, there was nothing else to do. I guess the thing here is that you can’t really be fixed on what you want.
A: It was knowing myself better as I grew older. When I was younger I had thought more highly of myself: I thought I was very customer-oriented, I thought I was outgoing. That’s the reason I went into sales! But as I grew older, I started ticking off the things I absolutely did not like doing until I found what I felt was meant for me.
Is there any aspect of your current job that you were absolutely sure you would detest when you were younger?
A: When I was studying my masters, I thought I wanted a corporate job. That was the reason I invested time in it. I dreamt of having the corporate perks, only to realize that that’s really not what I want to do. I want the freedom to do what I want, and now those perks mean so little to me compared to the freedom I have.
T: I always imagined myself to have my own business or owning a business with a partner. Little did I know that I’d end up in the corporate world––I always thought I’d been built to be unsuccessful.
“Success is dependent on what you want,
and what you’re willing to give up.”
Do you have any regrets?
A: Not so much regret, but I do wonder what would have happened if I did something else. Not so much anymore, though, because I like where I am now. Maybe it was a process I had to go through.
Mom, did you ever have a point when you had a crisis and thought about pursuing a completely different thing altogether?
A: Oh, many times. That’s was actually why I went back to school: to reinvent myself. It was a journey, but it was also about taking advantage of opportunities.
T: During our time, things were pretty straightforward. Things were linear. Now, it’s different, and people need to be opportunistic and multi-skilled since change is always there.
Do you think that not achieving your definition of success equates to failure?
T: A person’s definition of success and the way they measure it, can change. You can always say that you’re successful because you have a lot of money, right? But in my case, I felt I didn’t have enough time to do more things. My definition of success now is different from the past.
A: I may say I’m not successful now, but then when I look back years from now, I might say, “I was successful pala.” Or a time when I thought I was successful, hindi pala. Success is dependent on what you want and what you’re willing to give up. When I was younger I would say not achieving what you want is a failure, but now, I look at it differently.
Art Alexandra Lara