There is no success or failure, there is only what happens.
Consequences of our actions.
Right or wrong, good or bad, win or lose, positive or negative, these are just words. Mental constructs. Socially inherited labels that we attach to our experiences. They have no moral and objective meaning. There is no tribunal that decide which result is the best.
Sadly, human beings love to compartmentalize. It’s embedded in our biology. Labeling is an evolutionarily adaptive function. And it’s quite useful to a certain extent.
How else are we going to make sense of the impossible complexity of human life? How else are we going to digest the infinite quantity of stimuli that drops into our senses on an hourly basis?
But outside of the primary utility of compartmentalization, labels ultimately divorce us from reality.
Whorf, a renowned linguist and engineer, called this phenomenon linguistic relativity. His research found that words we use to describe what we see aren’t idle placeholders, they actually determine what we see, and limit our possibilities thereafter.
In essence, the more we adhere to labels, the less present we are in the moment, the more rigid we are in the face of life’s many changes, and the less room we leave for evolving human complexity.
For example, one century ago, practices like masturbation, suicide and homosexuality were all considered sins, disorders and crimes.
Isn’t that crazy? Can you imagine being thrown in jail or burned at the stake for something like that?
Thankfully, our culture jettisoned some of its outdated, puritanical strongholds and actually made room for reality. And in modern times many of wonderful colors and nuances of the human condition are expressed freely.
Today, you can masturbate, be gay, and kill yourself, all in the same afternoon if you really wanted to.
Because they’re just words. Labels don’t mean anything until we give them the power to say everything.
Personally, my love hate relationship with labels is a tricky one. Particularly as the only person in the world who has worn nametag every day for twenty years. Clearly labels are important to my life in some respect.
Although I’m learning to let them go more and more as I mature.
When I live with the beta launch of Prolific, my personal creativity management platform, it was tempting to categorize my work as success or failure. Having put in many years of deep work to bring this product to fruition, it was hard not to.
But as my friend reminded me, in the world of tech, so much of success and failure is undetectable. When you’re a founder, you won’t always know what’s working or not, and that can give you a pit of despair and a crisis of confidence. All you can do is be present to reality and accept the consequences of your actions.
Whatever happens is not good or bad, right or wrong, it’s simply what is.
Are your labels making you more rigid in the face of life’s many changes?