Didn’t Make It by Szymon Janiak


The post was originally published in Polish on Szymon’s LinkedIn profile. Szymon kindly agreed to republish what we think is of great value to our readers.

There are people who ‘didn’t make it’ out there. We encounter them every day – someone almost made millions, another one almost created a revolutionary invention, and one more almost broke a world record. However, this seemingly insignificant adverb ‘almost’ changes almost everything. It’s a sticker on the forehead that says ‘failure’ that makes us disappear from the area of interest. Losers don’t inspire. Nobody wants them as authorities. We don’t want to surround ourselves with such people. That’s why we love winners – we want to identify with them, follow their actions, see our future selves in them. The paradox of this situation is that the two are not much different from each other, because without one there is no other.

Szymon Janiak, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Czysta3.VC

It’s easy to imagine this with an example – a hundred contenders are trying to build a company worth dozens of millions in the same industry. In the end, one succeeds. The crowd cheers. Suddenly, the winner has their five minutes of fame. The phone rings. But how did the paths differ? They are often remarkably similar, and the reason for success is trivial: a stroke of luck, better timing, the right circumstances. The key thing, however, is that it was thanks to a hundred setbacks that this one victory was achieved. It is possible to draw conclusions from others, observe, accumulate knowledge. Many did their best, had wise thoughts, valuable experiences that are worth drawing on. Meanwhile, hardly anyone is interested in them.

It is also a paradox that even the winners themselves say that this final act is insignificant. That achieving this dream goal does not give as much satisfaction as it might seem. For them, it’s the road that counts. Anyway – I’ve been through this myself, I’ve worked like an ox for this expected success, and when it came – nothing has changed. There was even a slight disappointment and we had to move on to the next challenge.

There are thousands of extraordinary people among us, who were prevented from achieving their goal by one unfortunate event. These are extremely interesting stories, but no one is interested in them because they don’t have a happy ending. Often, they turn out to be more valuable than many successes that are the result of chance. Value and inspiration should be sought in the experiences themselves and the path that someone has walked. Evaluation only after completion leads to erroneous conclusions and a huge waste of valuable knowledge.

The comment section had a few observations:

A very valuable and ‘healthy’ observation about ‘unhealthy’ customs. We live in a Judeo-Romano-Hellenic civilization where being emperor, winner of the Olympics, and master of the Earth are the patterns of success. What made sense for the wise Greeks (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’, Olympic competition) was flattened and distorted by the Romans, organizing, for example, gladiatorial fights to the death.

Today, psychology is trying to uncover the truth about the devastating aspect of unhealthy competition (e.g. in sports or education), but most believe in the myth of success as a path to immortality. Parents instill these rules in their children, and narrow-minded coaches instill these rules in leaders and managers (e.g. the cruel ‘you’re only as good as your last day’).

When we look from the perspective of the psychology of talents, the key to success is the passion and joy of following the path, not the moment of defeating others. We call it autotelic values. Success is to be a human and failure is to be an animal.

Your financial results from this year will be beaten by someone else next year. Will your quality of life increase when you are a number on this or that list?

As long as you don’t know what makes you happy and you don’t know your worth, break records! This trains your character. But the period of youthful pursuit of results must come to an end!

Zenon Waldemar Dudek, President at ERANOS Foundation Institute of Psychology and Culture

Living in a system that glorifies success, preferably as early as possible, it’s hard to enjoy the road. All those rankings like Forbes 30 under 30 only reinforce the feeling of time running out, and we are left in a race – starting, by the way, from school. I believe we need to introduce new values and perceive ‘success’ more collectively, even when we know it starts with an individual.

Diana Kryńska, Senior SEO Expert at Havas Media Group Poland

Two things:

  • Someone who ‘almost broke the world record’ is definitely not a ‘loser’ to me. We misdefine losers and winners. The scale and multifaceted approach are much better (almost breaking a record is a great result and a sign that someone has a lot of knowledge, skills and is worth listening to).
  • That we prefer winners to ‘non-winners’ – Is it bad? It seems to me that this is quite logical and even wise. If out of 10 people who tried to build a company, one succeeded, so what if we prefer to listen to that one? If their stories are really very similar, then we don’t lose anything by listening to this one and not the rest. On the other hand, by focusing on listening to the winner, we increase the chances that we are sifting out those who did not have a ‘similar story.’

The problem is not putting the successful on a pedestal. The problem is looking at them non-critically. That is, in fact, a lack of effort to understand a more complex reality. Which can be perfectly seen in the example of people’s approach to Elon.

Marek Czuma, Owner, Big Data Engineer and Instructor at Riotech Data Factory

We condense our knowledge about the world to the size of messages, compared to which your post looks like a book from the school program in literature. And when we add to this message the belief that ‘you can do anything,’ we get a hybrid that combines the desire to get to the top quickly, preferably by taking shortcuts, and paying attention only to those elements of someone’s biography that testify to the success achieved.

Countless times I’ve read posts like yours, and there are quite a few studies that prove that the road to success in a given field takes a lot of time (in the field of creativity research, this is sometimes called the 10-year rule). Still, short messages like ‘I made so much last month, I’ll show you how to do it’ will probably attract attention until the end of time, perhaps because they contain a clear promise of success, which is not found in any long story about a series of failures that change things from time to time.

Dr Kuba Łuka, Speaker, Lecturer, Trainer

After each subsequent post I read, I am overwhelmed by a sad reflection that those who are CURRENTLY at the forefront of the business race do not look at those whose stumble or mistake. A bad decision may have temporarily pushed them to the back of the business peloton. The leaders don’t look because they’re leading, so they’re the best, they’re infallible, and they’re not going to sully their own business dignity by drawing experience from those behind. They don’t look until… when they make a mistake identical to those made by those at the back, falling with a bang from the leader’s pedestal. 

I wonder if it’s a lack of business experience and modesty or arrogance of the leaders. I don’t remember that, in a fund or a corporation, we spent even the same amount of time analyzing the reasons for the failures of the competition as we did celebrating our own successes with the slogan shouted with joy: ‘We are the best!’

An important element of business learning when you start your journey with your business child.

Tomasz Prosiński, Managing Partner at the Mental Health Institute

Fortunately, a company is not a life. Or such a life in a computer game, you can always have the next one. It’s not like everything will always work out. Sometimes it won’t, because the universe is set up wrong and that’s it. No big deal. You get up, shake off the crown, draw conclusions, and keep going.

Dariusz Dziuba, General Manager at Cranfield Foundry


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