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To Define Success, First Define Failure

It took me a couple decades running my own business before I realized that everybody in their own business should step back, every so often, and define success. It isn't obvious. Some people want business growth, some want recognition, some want independence, some want to stay at home, and some want an office to go to. People are different.

Then I realized, that at least in my case, a lot of what I did in going on my own and then, later, building that into a business, was about avoiding failure.

Does that seem weird? Still, I think it works for a lot of people. Think about it.

  • Failure is missing payroll. Running out of money. Closing the doors.
  • Failure, for most people, is destroying a relationship. Working all day and all night, constantly irritable, rationalizing, that you're doing it for him or her or them. While you slowly lose him or her or them.
  • Failure, for most people, is not having enough money to pay the mortgage, buy the kids shoes, do something different on weekends, the occasional vacation, living.
  • Failure for some people is not making it big, not getting financed, not getting acquired.
  • Failure for some people is not being rich or famous.

I went out on my own, quitting a good job, because I wanted to do the work (planning, market research, in my case) instead of supervise other people doing the work. But as I did that, it wasn't exactly doing what I wanted; it was doing what I wanted without hitting the failure alarms of any of the first three points above. The fourth and fifth didn't matter that much to me.

So what was success? I suspect, in retrospect, I defined it as not failing. Doing what I like, spending the day working on things that interested me, and, as time went on and the company grew, in a friendly office with people who shared the vision and were fun to work with, but without running into any of those first three failures.

Does that make sense? I wonder if I'm the only one.


  • marcio Paoliello says:

    Hello Tim,

    When I heard all those words above I felt so happy because I found one more truly human being on earth. You know Tim, I already travelled a lot and met several types of people. In my humbly opinion it is not unsual people think as you or me. The difference is not on theirs thoughts but at their hearts. One brave heart makes your dreams come true. Business is not easy work but the fuel to run any dream is not just within your brain and muscles but, actually, within your soul and truely will. I’d would like to change your article a bit at the following part:

    “(…) Doing what I like, spending the life (day) working on things that interested me (…)”

    Have a great time.

    Marcio Paoliello

  • Tina says:


    I like what you state about avoiding failure. Do you have some tips and/or strategies on how to avoid certain failures? What about fears or fear of failure? How do you overcome the fear factor?!


  • tim says:

    I like your list. I can also see where someone can “make it big” or “get rich or famous” and still fail on the second bullet. I’m with you; if I can achieve the first three points, I will have succeeded.

  • Rick Cooper says:

    Great suggestions Tim. There is an important distinction between reaching for success and avoiding failure. You offered an excellent reminder on how to take time to determine what we really want from a business.

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