Michael in Growth 10 minutes

Failure Masquerading as Success

I didn’t have the grades I should have had in high school. My parents didn’t have anything saved up for college when I turned 18*. By living at home, under my mom’s insurance, and getting support from my dad, I was able to end my Junior year of college with a few thousand dollars of student loans and no credit card debt.

But that wasn’t enough. I needed to have a successful college life.

I began believing that there was a real risk that I was going to look back at my college life as a failure. People in college are supposed to experience community, friends, fun, unfettered learning. Living with mommy and having a job was seriously impeding those goals. I had only one year to make things right. So I did what any idiotic 20-year-old would do: I quit my job waiting tables at an upscale restaurant in Dallas, moved into a dorm, and maxed out my student loans and credit cards to make it happen.

During the next fourteen months I had a lot of fun. I hung out with interesting people, was in walking distance to most of my life, and expanded my mind through books and interesting classes. Based on the terms I had set out for myself, the year was a success.

I’ll be honest with you: I spent many years paying off the tens of thousands of dollars I borrowed in that fourteen month period. The years of debt repayment that followed brought home an important truth:

what felt like success for those fourteen months was really failure masquerading as success.

When success is real it flows to all areas of life, not just on the area that has the focus. It also flows into the future, not just the present.

When financial success turns a healthy, compatible, and loving marriage into a hate-fest, that’s failure masquerading as success.

When success at work turns colleagues from respect and honor to anger and disdain, that’s failure masquerading as success.

When success in marriage creates isolated, ignored children, that’s failure masquerading as success.

When success on my project this quarter leads to years of rework and confusion, that’s failure masquerading as success.

I believe success does have tradeoffs. There are failures that always accompany success: having dinner with your family might mean someone else who doesn’t need to do that will get promoted instead of you.

But I don’t believe that a wise definition of success has collateral damage. I believe a life of peace and balance is possible. Anything else quickly becomes failure masquerading as success.

Has failure ever masqueraded as success in your life?

  • What they did do though is tell me over and over again how important it was for me to go to college, something I am thankful for to this day