The Fine Line Between Success and Failure: 3 Tips in Helping You Re-define Success

Barely a month ago, two men were given up as lost on Everest. One died, and one eventually made a near-miraculous recovery to return home safely. Both men were known to me personally. For David Sharpe, he did not return home. He had climbed alone, with little support from his erstwhile team-mates, who were themselves splintered into a number of sub-teams, with no social compact to work together. On his descent via the north ridge on Everest in Tibet, he weakened and lay dying on a day when 40 climbers from around the world walked by . some later claimed ignorance of his true physical condition; some claimed knowledge but professed a lack of ability, or resources to organise a rescue. But most appeared to have enough drive and energy to plod on to the summit.

The other climber, Lincoln Hall, was given up as lost and unable to survive further by his exhausted sherpa team-mates’. He was declared dead shortly after – only to be found still alive by American guide, Dan Mazur and his team. Dan cancelled the summit attempt, contacted Lincoln’s team , which then organised a massive, and dramatic rescue operation. This eventually saved Lincoln’s life. Would you say Dan’s team was successful? Probably not if you defined the goal of success of the expedition as getting to the top. In rating ourselves as ‘ successes’ or ‘ failures’, here are THREE tips in helping you keep your morale in the face of any obstacle.

1) You decide what your parameters of success are going to be.

For most serious mountaineers, the quality of the experience ( the ” journey ” bit ) which might include good companions, technical challenge, beauty of the route/peak – counts for a lot. The summit us important too, at times. But as so many things beyond our control can thwart us from this, we have to ask ourselves ‘ what else is important. By NOT defining success too narrowly, we aren’t trying to kid ourselves or to blur the line between failure and success. Instead, we are creating MORE options to consider in the greater scheme of things

2) You decide your timeframe of success

How time sensitive is your goal? If you fail at a set of examinations, is it truly ‘final’ and no re-sits are possible? Or are their other choices? Stretching your timeframe in accepting a set of results allows you to re-frame failure as merely a lesson in how to succeed next time or to do things better. As mountaineers sometimes say, ” There is no failure, just a lack of time [ to get to the top ] “. Unless you have an open return airticket home, many expeditions have to quit a climb because many climbers need to return to their everyday jobs and responsibilities – and not due to a lack of ability to climb to the top.

3) You decide what you accept as your higher values.

On Everest this year, many climbers chose to go for their personal goals at the expense of time and effort to participate or share in rescue efforts. Much of these decisions were not necessarily cold-hearted, but more to do with the ‘bystander paralysis effect’ – everyone hopes someone else will pick up the responsibility and burden/sacrifice in helping. A lack of cohesion between teams and decisive leadership were also contributing factors. Before any major life challenge, you have choice – to live your life, and express daily behaviours based on your higher values. I hope these values are aligned with your calling, and that you have the wisdom to make the right decisions.

You may notice that each of those THREE tips have nothing to do with anyone else but YOU. Life is about choices and self-accountability. Did Dan Mazur make the right decision? I think he did. As was described afterwards, Lincoln Hall had only one life, but you can always go back to Everest.