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Correctly Defining Success & Failure

 |  "What some people call failure it’s actually a critical path towards mastery.”

Correctly defining success and failure may be the single most important step on the road to success– a road which will have you falling down and getting back up again. But what does failure actually mean? What does success mean?


  • A mind-shifting definition of failure (it’s not what everyone thinks)
  • Why you should not dread struggle, but embrace it instead
  • How to quickly identify if you will ever be successful
  • 3 steps for you to take on your path towards mastery
  • The one thing that will hold you back & how to overcome it
  • One powerful exercise that we do with the Ivy League Challenge students

     And so much more.


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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back correctly.

Defining success and failure may be the most important step towards success. Now, my favorite definition of failure is giving up what you want most for what you want. Now, I'm going to say that one more time.

My favorite definition of failure is giving up what you want most for what you want. Now, that flies in the face of what a lot of people think failure is. Because a lot of people think that failure is making mistakes or looking like a fool or taking action too quickly and quote unquote, getting things wrong.

But actually getting things wrong is often the critical step that leads towards getting things right. And so many times we need to get things wrong over and over and over again before we begin to have our breakthroughs that lead to the outcome that we really want for ourselves. So while so many people are afraid of making mistakes, people like Thomas Edison certainly weren't.

In fact, you might be familiar already with Thomas Edison's story. Of course, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. He invented a whole bunch of other things as well.

But the story as I heard it when he invented the light bulb, is that many of his original attempts, over 100 of them, did not work at producing light. And supposedly, when a reporter asked him, how did it feel to fail so many times? Thomas Edison replied, I didn't fail at creating the light bulb. It's just that creating the light bulb took this many steps.

I had to get it wrong so many times so that I could eliminate all of the things that weren't going to work, and that helped me move towards the things that do work. I also mentioned in a podcast earlier in season one, when I taught Mandarin Chinese, I taught for one year in high school. I could tell who was going to speak Chinese the best at the end of the year based on who was most willing to make mistakes during the first two weeks of class.

And I could tell with near perfect accuracy. So it's making those mistakes that lead to mastery, right? What some people call failure is, of course, this really critical path towards mastery. We try things, we don't quite have the skills to make it work, so we don't get it right.

We make mistakes, we make a fool of ourselves, and then we try to reflect on that and we figure out where we got it wrong and what we can do differently. And then we try again with slightly better skills, and we fail again, but we fail better. And because we fail better the next time we reflect, we have even deeper insight and better understanding of what's going to work better.

And so we try again and again and again and again until we get that outcome that we're looking for. All right? So that's kind of this journey that so many successful people go on when they reach adversity and they confront challenges along the way. Certainly that is not my definition of failure.

If that's the definition of failure, then give me more of it. Because failure is what leads to mastery in that sense. Making mistakes, getting things wrong, trying and not quite succeeding, but then reflecting and trying again.

That's exactly what mastery is made of. Now, my favorite definition of failure is giving up what you want most for what you want now very, very different. But you can almost hear that they're somewhat related.

What you want most is to succeed in the end. You want to invent the light bulb, you want to be admitted to your dream university, you want to make an impact in your community, you want to make a difference. What you want now might be different, what you want now might be convenience, it might be the avoidance of looking like a fool.

And because you want those things now, you give up that mastery and that ability to make an impact. You give up that future that you actually want for yourself. And so in a very ironic twist, trying to avoid making mistakes, what some people define as failure is actually the failure.

Now, once we understand that, what are the things that get in people's way of deciding that they're going to be successful according to this definition, right? If this is our definition of success and failure to get what we want most instead of focusing on what we want. Now, if that's what success really is and failure is giving up what we want most for the conveniences or the things that we think we want now, why do we sometimes give up what we want the most? As I observe students in the classroom and then of course in the Ivy League challenge and previously, and even now as I talk to classmates from Harvard and university professors, I would say that there are really three things that lead us to give up what we want most. The first is we lack clarity.

Think about this. How do you achieve this definition of success if it is not clear to you what you want most now? Some of you are in that boat and learning what you want, gaining clarity around who you are, what your values are, what really motivates you, what really drives you, what your mission is at this stage in your life. If you don't know those things, then it's really difficult to know which skills you should develop so that you can further your mission.

If you don't know what your values are, you might get lost and lose yourself thinking that what is most important is just that people like you or any other number of misplaced values that are really like mirages. So the first step on this path towards success instead of failure, real success, according to my definition, is gaining that clarity, understanding what your values are, understanding who you are and what you really want the most, which is why we spend time in both. Pillar one, set yourself up for success, and pillar two, create your admissions theme, kind of your personal brand.

We spend a lot of time identifying those values and gaining that clarity. All right, the second reason why sometimes we give up what we want most for what we think we want now is because we lack hope. We don't believe we can accomplish our mission.

We have assumptions about our ability to perform, and behavior is derived from assumptions, right? Whatever assumptions we have about ourselves and about our ability to perform, that's going to drive our behavior. So if we don't really have hope that we can do the things that our mission demands of us, our values ask of us, then we find ways to kind of weasel our way out of it. We find ways to get out of that mission.

And of course that leads us into that cult of being average that we'll talk about in the next podcast. The third reason why we sometimes give up what we want most for what we think we want now is just plain fear. Now, I actually spent an entire podcast in season one.

In season one, episode 14, you can learn about the three origins of fear. Right? Where does fear come from? It always comes from three different origins. And once you understand those three different origins of fear, you can begin to name the fear.

You can understand where it's coming from. And I give you a strategy to overcome fear depending on where that fear is coming from. So lesson 14 in season one is where you can learn all about fear and what we teach in the Ivy League challenge to our students about where fear comes from and what you can do about it, depending on which type of fear it is.

Listen to that episode. It will change your life. Those are the three things that I see in my students, holding them back from making the better choice.

Either they lack clarity about what they really want most in life, they just don't know what their personal values are. They don't know what drives them. They don't have a mission yet, or they don't have hope.

They lack the hope that gives them that belief that they can make a difference. Now, to be clear, none of this is necessary. It is absolutely possible for a twelve year old, a 13 year old to have great clarity around who they are, what their values are, what their mission is.

It's also very much possible for a twelve year old or a 13 year old to understand that, yeah, maybe their influence is small but that doesn't mean that it's insignificant. It doesn't mean that they shouldn't be acting on it, that there is no hope that they can't make a difference. Indeed, they can make a tremendous difference even when the sphere of influence is tiny.

And of course, fear, which holds so many back, whether we're talking about teenagers or we're talking about adults, and the origins of fear and how to overcome them, is something that is worth your time to learn about. My challenge to you now is to take on this definition of success versus failure. If the definition of failure is giving up what you want most in exchange for what you think you want now, what does that mean for you in your life? Take a few minutes right now to think about what you really want the most in your life.

What we do in the Ivy League challenge is I ask my students to imagine themselves at their own funeral. Imagine themselves listening to what people say about them at their funeral. Listen to what your siblings, listen to what your friends, listen to what the media read your obituary.

Listen to what people say about the kind of person you were and the kind of impact you had. And together with several other activities, that's one of the ways that you can figure out what your values really are, identify for you what would be the most meaningful. So begin there.

Gain clarity. What is it that you do want most in life? Until you know that, how could you possibly begin developing the skills and the relationships and everything else that's going to help empower you to fulfill that mission? Of course, clarity is the first step. The second step is to work around your mindset and to shift that mindset from the mindset that says, some other day, some other time.

I'll make my difference when I'm qualified. Just realize that that's not going to happen. Trust me.

At this point, if you're twelve or 13 and you're listening to this podcast, you're probably thinking that at 25 or 35 or 45, you'll be qualified and you'll know exactly what to do to reach your mission, to really pursue your objectives and your mission in life. But if you're 25 or 35 or 45 or older and listening to this podcast, you know that until you begin pursuing your passion, until you begin making your impact, you do not make an impact. You continue giving up what you want most for what's most convenient today.

And that's just because you haven't developed the skills yet. So develop the skills when you're young. Develop the mindset that you can and you do make an impact.

While you're young, while the stakes are low. Develop the skills. Make a difference, even if that difference is small.

Make your impact. And finally, listen to the podcast on Fear episode 14. From season one, learn about the fear of loss, the fear of process, pain and outcome pain and learn about the different strategies that I teach to help people overcome each of those different types of fear.

Once fear is out of the way, you believe that your impact matters and you have perfect clarity about your values and your mission in life. Look out. The impact that you can and will make is tremendous. And that is the definition of success.