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When you have no choice

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To reach your goal

To reach your goal   – (Picture from NYtimes)

Few weeks ago, I had to face a difficult time within the non-profit association where I am member of the board of director. We were in trouble with an employee who did not give satisfaction. We tried several time to fix what was going wrong with him, by giving some feedback about his job and about what we were expecting from him, but unfortunately, no improvement followed. After more than 2 years, we took the difficult decision to fire him.

This association is helping people in precarious situations, through different social and educative programs. I am acting as volunteer accountant and member of the board. Such commitment is very rewarding, as it makes more sense on what you are doing, by helping people. This is a real opportunity to face challenges and opportunities, and to discover new interest, to discover yourself. Nevertheless, there is not only nice things when you contract such responsibilities. There are even ungrateful things you have to face.

One of these ungrateful things is when we have to stop the work collaboration with an employee. We already had such cases in the past, but it was the president of the association and the managing director who were in charge of this difficult task. This time, as our president was unavailable for an undetermined period and as I was in charge to replace him during his absence, the weight of such responsibilities was on my shoulders. The day came where the managing director and me, we invited the employee to a meeting in order to inform him about the end of his contract and the reason of such decision.

Such meeting is never pleasant, and it was the first time I had to fire somebody, as I never had people under my responsibility during my professional career. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the fact that I stayed calm, keeping eye contact with the employee and the director. And at the end of the meeting, I thought “You did it!”. Yes, I did something I thought I would never be able to do. I did it because I had no choice, but I did it. And I began to wonder why I stayed so calm during this meeting, doing something I am normally scared to do. What was the tips making that I “succeed” in this task and having a different feeling than the one I would think I had ?

A first element is that this decision was the result of a long reflection process. During few boards of directors, the managing director talked about the problems he faced with the employee. We invited the employee to a meeting with only the administrators, to talk to us about his job, about the satisfaction he had or the problem he faced. He expressed some expectations we communicated to the managing director. Based on that, the managing director gave him some opportunities matching with his expectations, but the results were not successful. After many reframing of his tasks and an ongoing monitoring, we concluded that the job was not for him. We communicated our conclusions to him, but expressed also that he would be maybe more happy in another kind of job. The first element was a good argumentation making think us that we took the right decision.

Another element to take such conclusion, was the lack of productivity of this worker, and the consequences it had on the activity. This person was supposed to manage a team of 6 people in a social and professional integration program. He had not the skills and talents to manage such team, with negative consequences on the work improvements of the team and on the reputation of the association. This situation produced conflicts within the team, caused an additional workload for the director, and had a negative impact on the productivity of the team. The risk of seeing the activity decline and to get a bad reputation, were not an option.

The challenge here is to succeed by doing something we are scared by. By thinking about this experience I mentioned, I see two keys contributing to succeed.

  • What is the goal? To define the goal is an important step, because the goal will be the key of your motivation, the element that feel feed your energy to succeed. In the case I mentioned, the goal was not to fire the employee, but the goal was to solve the problem of organization and productivity caused by the lack of competence of this person. It could have huge and damaging consequences on the durability and the reputation of the association.
    It is interesting to think that what you define as a goal on a first time is probably not the final goal that will motivate you to take action. I remember a video of a guy who wanted to put out weight. Each day, he was going to work by running, and had always some food with him. The first days were not easy to find the motivation, and the desire to eat was still there.
    On his way, he was meeting homeless people, and one day, he decided to give them a part of his food. By doing this, he made a step to get more motivation, by defining another goal. His goal was not only to put out weight but also to help poor people by sharing food with them.
  • The other key is your motivations and the reasons why you want to achieve that goal. There are many reasons why you want to achieve a new goal, but the most important is probably the need of change. You want to change something, because the present situation is not an option anymore. By starting such change process, you will think about strategies and have a different perception of things. You will learn new things, and maybe discover new hide talents or passions. Learning something is the best way to empower your self-confidence and to give you the possibility to face new challenges and opportunities, to have bigger ambitions. I would say that the desire to learn is probably more important than the desire to succeed. And that desire will make that you will not be scared to try something new and eventually to fail. The other important element if you want not to be scared is to have an alternative plan in case of failure. Louis Pasteur said that chance smiles to prepared mind (La chance sourit aux esprits préparés).

The experience I mentioned above make me realize that sometimes, we are not enough ambitious, but also that we missed sometimes interesting opportunities. When you have no alternative and you have to face a challenge, a situation, you will concentrate all your power and energy to succeed and in some cases, you will note that you were able to win this challenge. You won because you have no choice. What is maybe more important than to define a goal, is to find the reason why you have no choice and why you have to go, to realize a dream or to face a new challenge.

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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 21, 2018 at 22:39

Career : Never Be Scared To Take a Decision

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Mandela-winRecently, I read a post from a freelance on my LinkedIn wall, meeting a friend he had not seen since a while, and who told him his misfortune. Talking about their professional status, the friend told him that he lost his job. We was working for a start up, but unfortunately, as many of them, the start up felt in bankruptcy and the employees lost their job. The guy felt completely ashamed to be jobless, especially since he left a position in a multinational company, to go work for this start up. In his eyes, he felt guilty to have made a bad decision.

This story made me think about my own professional journey, and a similar experience I have lived. In the 90’s, I was working for an international company as senior accountant. The workload was intense but it was an interesting opportunity to learn a lot and to make significant progress in term of skills and competences development. But after few years, it was difficult to maintain a good work-life balance in such rhythm, and my motivation was declining. I was very tired, and not too far to fall on burnout. At that time, I was in contact with the CFO of a company that was a customer of a previous company where I worked at the beginning of my career. This company moved from IT hardware resales to a software development activity, and so move to a star up mode. The CFO let me know that he would need some help to ensure the development of the company, and need a profile like mine to join the financial department. Nevertheless, he caught my attention to the fact that the project was not yet profitable and that the risk of failure was high, an so a unsecure job. Despite this, and the fact that I was not moving to get a better salary than the one I had, I did not hesitate to resign from my current job, and to sign a contract with this start up.

In the start up market, the rate of success is around 10%, and unfortunately, the start up I worked for never joined the 10%. After 2 years and 6 months, the company was declared in bankruptcy, and I was jobless, as all my colleagues. This failure was not a big surprise, even if I would prefer to live another scenario.

When such things happen, some people around you would tell you that you probably took a wrong decision, and maybe it can be the first feeling you have. Personally, I have not that feeling and it made me think about Nelson Mandela quote – “I never lose. Either I win or I learn”. The decision I took to leave the multinational company was a well thought out decision. My motivation was declining, and burn out was certainly not an option.  Furthermore, job security was already no more a certitude end of the 90’s.

Joining a start up was a change of environment. They needed the competences I acquired in multinational companies and such environment was an opportunity for me to perceive more intensively the finality and the added value of my work. I discovered the advantage and disadvantage of the start up and small companies business, but I discovered also a motivation to work in such environment, developed new skills and competences making emerge new passions and opportunities. Such changes are definitively a wealth, in a fast changing economic environment where job security does not exist anymore.  During my career where I worked in several companies, I noticed that your current job is and has to be the opportunity to prepare the next one. If you do not learn anything, if you don’t face new challenges, then the danger of not being competitive anymore is not far.  You cannot find job security anymore but you can build your career security by learning on an ongoing way.

Being unemployed for several months was not a shame for me. I was looking for jobs offers and making contacts with temp agencies, but the time after the dotcom crash was difficult. If I had felt ashamed to be unemployed, it would mean that losing my job was my fault. Such view would still make sense if job security still existed. But today, even if you are doing a good job and showing a good attitude, there is no guarantee to keep your job indefinitely.

To answer to the question if you take the right decision, you never know in advance if it will be the case. But asking that question means that you are looking to the past, not to the future.  By looking to the past, you will not be focused on what you can learn and discover from your new journey, and it means also that you have no project to feed your motivation and to reach success. Success does not mean that you will never failed, it is the capacity to cross over failure and to learn from it. Sir Winston Churchill did not say anything else: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts”.

Failure is indeed not fatal, it is only a view of mind. Failure is not fatal if we keep in mind the eventuality of it and if we develop alternative plan in order to build resilience. Never facing failure does not mean necessarily that you meet success, you could never meet failure because your lack of ambition. And lack of ambition is not a successful attitude.

Our life can only be successful by taking decisions. Decisions and actions are the keys driving our life, helping us to build self-confidence and to open new doors, to move to new horizons.  When I look to my journey, the only thought I have to my mind is this: Never regrets to take a decision, a good or a bad one, only regret to have not taken one.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 14, 2018 at 19:11

Why volunteering is an opportunity.

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VolunteeringActing as volunteer implies some qualities to benefit from such experience. Each volunteer has his own reason to dedicate a bit of time to contribute to any social project. But sometimes, it appears that some volunteers are feeding only their own ambitions. I noticed this by some attitudes, or by some remarks they do. These findings make me think about the qualities people need to have in order to succeed in a volunteering experience and gaining a positive feedback, similar qualities needed in entrepreneurship.

– A question of value: You want to contribute to a better world, a better society. You strongly believe that to subscribe to values is not enough, but you have to act in accordance with your values, that are common values in the project. In other words, you are an actor, not a spectator.

– Contributing to a common goal: Contributing as volunteer will bring you some satisfaction which is probably one of your goal, but your personal goal cannot be reached to the detriment of the common goal. It implies that you have to store your ego in the closet, and acting in a way that each member of the team will gain satisfaction and value, will have the feeling to be a stakeholder of the project, a way that maximize the chances of success. You are working within a team spirit, working with and not against a team.

– Showing interest for other people: Volunteering is an opportunity to meet different people with different horizons of competences and experiences. By sharing each other knowledge and experience, you catch an opportunity to learn something, but you will get also another perception of the environment in which you are acting, you will adapt your strategy, and you will perceive more in depth the finality of your action. Such process can only succeed if you bring interest to other and not if you work only on your own.

– Curiosity and creativity: By living new experiences, you can discover in you hide and unexpected passions. It is up to you to be curious and to use your creativity to realize new things, to build innovative solutions. Moving your own limits and sharing what you do with other is an opportunity for each people to move his own limits too. Remember this quote saying that the only thing you increase by sharing it each other is knowledge.

– Commitment and leadership: Volunteering implies a commitment. The success of a project is linked to the commitment of all the stakeholders. It means that you are volunteering not to pass the time but to make succeed a project and to operate in this way. When you are filling your diary, consider volunteering as a priority, that it means to have an appointment not only with other, but also with yourself. Volunteering has to be a life project and you have to make it work.
In this common activities, consider each people for what he does and for what you can share each other. No question to consider your work as more interesting than the work of somebody else. As said previously the work of each team member will bring sense to your work. Each member work is useful and contribute to the success. Develop and show talents of leadership. Appreciate and recognize the work of others, listen to them, and you will maximize your chance to be appreciated and recognized too.

There are many other qualities we could quote, but time to time, I notice that some people are volunteers for “bad” reasons. How often some people told me that I am “doing this for free”. Yes, the purpose of volunteering is to contribute to a social and common project, not to be paid. And such remark sounds very strange from people criticizing the capitalistic system, and mentioning this as a motivation to cooperate in volunteering projects, but expecting money as reward for a service. Sometimes, in my experience, I had more satisfaction and learned more things by working as volunteer for specific projects than some days in my professional activities.
These people are often too those who attributes the collective success to themselves, and put the guilt of failures to the others. If looking for recognition is legitimate, you cannot gain it to the detriment of the other. It is a question of ego, and often, ego is inversely proportional with knowledge and capabilities.
That is why volunteering is an opportunity when you integrated these qualities. Increase your experience, discovering new interest and passions is probably the best thing you can do to maximize your chance of catching new opportunities, or to face and launch new challenges. It is an opportunity to expand the fields of the possible, to build new projects in other areas. We are not far from what Steve Jobs mentioned in his unforgettable speech at the Stanford university, when he talked about to connect the dots, meaning that you can innovate by making a link between things that seems nothing to do with each other. See your volunteering life and professional life like two things that can feed each other. Consider such experience for the long term effect you can get from it, and contributing to your personal goal, it means to build an interesting and passionate life.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 10, 2015 at 19:03

Be aware of your skills to live a passion.

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Norbert, former banker, now bus driver.

Norbert, former banker, now bus driver.

At a certain moment of our life, some of us dream to get another life, to switch to another professional life. We dream to do something totally different, something driven more by passion than by constraints. Such decision represents a major change with some consequences on our life. This is why such change happens often after a period of self-brainstorming.

Such changes we aspire are sometimes the result of a thinking process about our current and passed professional experience. All what we have learned to, all the constraints and the challenges we had to face to, our success and our failures are conditioning our future goals and our future decisions. Like on a sailing boat, we adjust our road function of the new cap we want to reach and function of the wind and streams we are meeting. In a changing environment, the need to learn on an ongoing way is obvious, not only in our own professional discipline, but also in the development of lateral competences. The more we learn, the more possibilities we offer to ourselves. Just remember Steve Jobs in his famous speech at Stanford University, explaining that learning calligraphy by passion, he saw afterwards the usage he can do of such skills, by creating fonts for Mac graphical interfaces.

I would like to relate an article I read on the website www.lemonde.fr, about a Dutch, Norbert de Kramer, who switched to another professional career, and so living an old dream. Norbert, who is now 62 years old, was formerly a banker. He started his career within ABN Amro, was credit analyst, in charge of training, and after, director of a subsidiary in Rotterdam with 40 employees. But his childhood dream was to drive a bus. When he was 55 years old, Norbert followed two weeks of training, and later took a sabbatical leave to do an internship of bus driving. When he was 59, Norbert was proposed to take new responsibilities within the bank. He declined this proposal in order to start a new professional life, to start his passion, to drive a bus. Today, Norber is free-lance drive for a bus company. He is transporting tourists, children, sport teams, and sometimes, ministers.

Some of you are wondering what could be the motivation for Norbert to switch from the job of banker to a job of bus driver. He had probably to face huge challenges within the bank, contributing to acquire and increase his competence level, giving him the possibility to conquer higher positions and face higher challenges.  What can he do now with the competences he acquired in his new job? This is precisely the question the journalist asks to Norbert, what are the common points between the banker and the driver? To that question, Norbert answers as follow: “People”.  Beside the fact to drive the bus, there is the communication side with people. The conversation he gets with them. He explains that some of them are surprised by the conversations he hold with them, and his knowledge of English and German languages.

What is interesting to underline in Norbert new life, is the use of skills in another context. Indeed, he is not a bus driver like another. With his language skills, Norbert can speak with people from different countries, and it brings something stronger in the relationship he can have with his customers. Let’s assume that if he looks for information about the destination where he drives customers, he can play also a bit the role of touristic guide.  The background he acquires in terms of lateral competences represents a real added value for his new job.

What we can learn from such experience is the following. If you want to start a new professional project, you will maximize the chances to succeed if your project is driven by passion. But as you know, to start a new project is a very courageous and difficult decision to take. By starting something new, you become a “junior” in your new market.  Beside the fact that passion gives you the strength of conviction, the use of skills you acquired in your previous experience will allow you to offer something more than your concurrent, something you customers will remember.

Another interesting point to mention is that in our changing environment, some existing jobs can be reinvented. Norber, is not a bus driver like another. With his multilingual skills, he can bring something more to the people he is driving, by giving information about the visited locations in the customer language, and it is for him an opportunity to spend more enjoyable and interesting days. In the way Norber is doing this honorable job, this job has much more value. Combining acquired lateral skills in another context is part of an innovation process.

For those who want to change of professional project, it is important to acquire skills and develop talents, to be curious and open minded. Trying new experiences allows you to open new doors to new opportunities, and to build innovative solutions. Be aware that you can value the skills you acquired in your previous experiences, and that it will allow you to live a hold dreamed passion, and reinvent it by adding your personal touch, making that you will be unique, but also authentic.

Picture from http://www.lemonde.fr

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

August 18, 2014 at 06:09

How to face uncertainty?

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rock-climberIn my previous post, related to the choice of studies, I was talking about the fact that to predict the future is something becoming more and more difficult. Since now 25 years I am working, and looking around me, what is for sure is that uncertainty is growing. Who can predict now how will be the world in the next 6 months, or in the next 10 years? We try to make predictions in many areas and sometimes, we have to note that these predictions are not verified. How many times have we heard some economists explaining us the origins of financial crisis they were unable to predict.

The big question is how to face uncertainty as we don’t know in advance what the evolution will be in many domains? There are in my mind two types of uncertainty to take into account; the uncertainty linked to our environment and the evolution of it, and our own uncertainty, or I would say our own uncertainties. Facing uncertainties induce questions and make people worried. What will be my future? Will I have a job? Or simply will I be able to do this task, to face this challenge?

Our own uncertainties and the uncertainties linked to our environment interact. Most of you probably know the famous Peter Drucker’s quote saying “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself”. But to be able to create something, we need to have a good perception of the future and be able to perceive the trends and the changes of our environment.  But facing the environment uncertainties means to face also our own uncertainties, with a range of questions we are putting to ourselves. What will be the future and will I be able to face it? Have I the capabilities to face challenges and what challenges will be? To face our uncertainties means to try to know a bit more about ourselves.

To consider our own uncertainties is to be aware of our lack of knowledge and experience. By mentioning this, we underline the key role of education but also of curiosity. Education and school are the fundamental tools to develop our knowledge and capabilities. Education and knowledge will give us the opportunity to become first human being and to develop our autonomy, giving us more possibilities to make choices. This is why the role of education and the way to educate people are fundamental. It is important to develop curiosity, to encourage people to learn new things by their own, to discover new interests. To develop our knowledge is probably the best answer to the question related to my previous article: what studies have I to choose? Most of the time, it is difficult to know in advance if we will enjoy things we don’t know now.

This is why people have to be encouraged to make experiences, to be curious and to try new things. It implies the necessity to take risks. By multiplying such experience in a process of serial trials, you expand your possibilities fields and you dispel your own uncertainties. You will probably enjoy something new that you never suspected before that you could enjoy. We never know in advance what things could be if we could enjoy it or not, as we don’t know them.  Such experimentation process make that your own uncertainty dispels: you know that you enjoy something, that you are able to do it or not. By expanding your interest and experience fields, you discover new possibilities, you build new competences, but you also empower your self-confidence.

Self-confidence and competences are probably the two most important key components to dispel your own uncertainties. The development of these two components will allow you to maximize your chance to attract challenges and opportunities. With all your experiences, you will build your background, a knowledge base including information that helps you to analyze situations and to develop appropriate strategies. Nevertheless, despite the fact that success cannot be guaranteed anytime, it is also important to develop and keep critical mind. When facing a similar situation we faced by the passed, we should avoid making a copy-paste of previous solutions we applied. Things are less linear than before, and we have to take all the elements of the situation into consideration to implement solutions and action plans. It is part of an efficient learning process.

It is obvious we cannot live in an environment without uncertainty. But by developing a learning attitude, we can create a virtuous circle, where experiences and risk taking contribute to empower our self-confidence. A zero risk environment doesn’t exist, but this virtuous circle will allow us to be creative and to be stronger to face it and to quit more easily our comfort zone.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 8, 2014 at 06:07

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

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"It always seems impossible until it’s done." Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”.  I am not writing this quote haphazardly. This nice sentence was said by Nelson Mandela, who passed away a few days ago. I like this kind of quote we should repeat us every morning, front of our mirror. Nelson Mandela is the right person to pronounce such a quote. He spent 27 years in jail for campaigning against apartheid regime. The apartheid regime was suppressed in 1989 by Frederik De Klerk, president of the South-Africa republic, and Nelson Mandela was released from jail on the 11th February 1990. Mandela never gave up his fight against apartheid, and he paid a huge price with a large time of his life in jail, but he reached his goal by seeing the realization of his goal.

From this example, each of us we can learn a lot of positive things when we want to reach goals in our life. It begins with some dreams, and often we are thinking we will never reach such a goal because it is too complicated. Most of the time, we are the one who put obstacles on the way of our own objectives, and our dreams remain dreams. Most of the time we would like to have finished something before to start it. Today, everything is going fast, everything is ephemeral, and we lost the fact that great things require effort and pain to be realized.

I would like to take an example. I like to talk and to write in other languages than my native one. This blog is a real opportunity to do such exercise. It is obvious that most of you who are native English speaking, noticed that I am not one of you. Language is a marvelous tool to express ideas and to communicate them with other people. It becomes very interesting when you know some expressions that cannot be translated literally in your native language. When you know and pronounce such expression, it means that you have a good knowledge of the language but that you have also interests for the people you are talking with. Such interest makes that people are closer from each other. Often, I am dreaming to move to a job of translator-interpreter. Such goal means that I would have to learn and to improve significantly my language knowledge.  Is it impossible? Probably not, but it requires few things.  First, is to take the decision to realize that objective, by drawing a strategic plan, by following courses, reading books, watching to Tv programs. Second point, is to have a discipline, the discipline to study your vocabulary and your grammar on a regular basis, based on a work agenda. Third point is to take all the opportunities making that you will practice the language you are studying.  I mean that if you are French speaker who is learning English and you meet English native who speak very good French, take the opportunity to practice English and not your mother language. The language learning process is something long, that you can always improve.

Many things like to study a language take time. Most of us, we remember things we were struggling with at school, and today, we are wondering why we struggled with it. As to build a house, you will do it stone by stone. You will have to face difficulties you will have to solve. Such difficulties are opportunities to learn new things, to improve and empower your experience, to expand your knowledge. The experience make that you will be ready to face bigger challenges and, will become more confident. The fact that we will reach our goal is linked to our own decision to do it, by our courage to face difficulties and our perseverance to work hard. It is possible if our projects are driven by passion. As said Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”.

So, each morning, let’s think about this quote, and about the way to realize goals. Goals are the motor of our life.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 9, 2013 at 00:01

The way to success…failure?

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Failure-foundation-of-success-1024x723Success is something most of us we are looking for. If to be successful is something different for each of us, the definition of the success is to reach the goals we have defined.  Success is seen positively, and appeared as something that intelligent people reach without any constraints. Does it mean that other people cannot be successful?  The question is what we name success.

To succeed is first a question of power and courage. The courage to make that our dreams become true. But often, some people never realize their dreams because they are scared to fail, and that failure is considered as a tabou. Commonly, failure is considered like something you are guilty for. This feeling of guilt comes probably from our education system based on rewarding and sanction. When a student answers wrongly to a question, he will be penalized. The education system is based on a competition system where students are scared to do not reach the arrival line. It is obvious that the integration of knowledge needs to be evaluated to be sure that students have the necessary tools to face life, but the learning process is an ongoing and iterative process. Each of us, we need more or less time to learn something, to understand the complexity linked to something, and finally to succeed. We probably remember something we struggled with at school, and that we find now very easy, wondering how it was possible to struggle with such thing. For instance, with mathematics, by doing exercises and repeating a logical process linked to a theorem, we understand it and finally integrate it. Before to succeed in a process, we probably failed a lot of times, but failure is an opportunity to know what goes wrong, to analyze the reason of the failure, and to take an appropriate action to move to the success. Henry Ford was saying that “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Such statement should be integrated in the education programs. In companies like Google, people are encouraged to fail. If you remember, some great inventions are the result of another project that failed. For example, the Post-It was invented accidentally. The company 3M was developing a new king of strong glue. The obtained result was the opposite of the one wanted, but this accident was used as an opportunity.

Failure or more precisely the reason of failure is important to develop and to keep our critical mind. When we are succeeding, we are just enjoying our success, and attributing this success to a range of factors. There are no absolute certitudes about these success factors, but there is nothing that put the opposite in evidence. For instance, scientists describe processes based on experimentations and observations, write a theory that is valid until there is an event that makes that this theory is not valid, or need to be updated and include some exception cases.  Success is not definitive. But what appears as a failure is something that brings you matter to learn, or to discover new things, bringing information, a useful raw material to move forward in the knowledge.

Successes or failures are not final destination, but different steps of a process, of our life.  By paying attention to this, by using failure as a raw material to build our knowledge, we are empowering our self confidence and are able to face new challenges.  By considering failure in a positive way, as an opportunity to learn, we take our belief off that creates psychological obstacles, preventing us to reach our goals. Remember that the real failure is to do not try. Some people never failed because they never try something.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 15, 2013 at 18:17