The Glory of Success or Failure?

Is the following a photo of success or failure?

(The answer appears below the photo)

VC Osprey pic - 475

This photo I took captures the moment a split second after the Osprey failed in pursuit of its prey.

At that time, the Osprey had swooped down to grab an extremely large fish.

It succeeded in grabbing on to the fish with its talons, BUT the fish was too big, too strong, and too heavy for the Osprey to fly away with it.

In fact, the fish pulled the bird down into the water, submerging 90% of the bird’s body, and started to drown it.

The moment you see above is a split second after the bird decided to give up, let go of the fish, and fly up to live to fight another day.

In a truly glorious rise from failure, the Osprey strained to flap its water-drenched wings to pull itself out of harm’s way.

The reason you see so much water spray, which is very unusual for an Osprey, is precisely because the water had drenched the Osprey’s wings when it got pulled under.

Birds were designed to fly, not to swim. This Osprey got reminded of that lesson in this GLORIOUS moment — arguable much more glorious than if it had been successful.

Sometimes it is not how we handle success that defines us; it is how we handle “failure.”

For it is in recovering from failure that lessons are learned, “muscles” (physical and mental) are strengthened, and skills are honed for the next attempt.

Nobody successful in life or nature gets that way without learning from his or her “failures.”

When I look at the most glorious moments in my life and career, they are not the public moments of success. They have always been those private moments right after I’ve hit rock bottom.

In my case, it was a figurative rock bottom. In the case of the Osprey, it’s literal.

In both cases, recovering from failure is glorious (even if it feels absolutely miserable in the moment!).

There’s a second lesson here. And that is the value of setting ambitious goals and learning from the PURSUIT of them.

It would have been “safer” had the Osprey not attempted to pursue such an ambitious goal.

I would have had far fewer failures in my life and career had I not tried to aim high.

But that misses the point entirely.

When you aim high, even when you fail... or especially when you fail... you GROW and learn from the experience.

Failure is not the opposite of success. It is the pathway through which you succeed.

However, this is only true under one condition: you genuinely embrace the lesson failure gives you as a gift.

That’s only possible if you face failure head on (rather than hide from it) so you notice the gift, are humble enough to learn the lesson, and have the courage to try again.


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26 comments… add one
  • Jun. Xie May 16, 2015, 8:44 pm

    Dear Victor,
    Pretty good story. Thank you so much for the valuable lessons learned, I could no more agree with you that failure is a gift. I will receive this gift and face my failure head on, have the courage to try again and pursue new goal.

  • Matt May 4, 2015, 5:12 pm

    Love the pic. Love the message.

    I think your spin is the positive (read: right) one.

    That said, I could just as easily see you telling me a story about appropriate goal setting, or managing expectations (e.g., the bird should have set realistic expectations, picked up a fish more reasonable in size [success!] and fed his family for a couple of days.

    I guess that’s why images are so powerful in the world of story telling, and authorial intent is often misconstrued as truth.

    Always appreciate the read. Keep ’em coming.


    • Victor Cheng May 28, 2015, 3:43 am

      Hi Matt,

      You are correct. A photo is a photo. The caption or interpretation of the photo’s significance is as you said subject to interpretation.

      The same is true for charts and slide titles in consulting power point slides. :)

      By the way, one reason to use visuals is its often easier for most people to remember the idea that was linked to the visual when the visual exists.


  • P_U May 4, 2015, 4:33 am

    Dear Victor,

    Your mail came at a very opportune moment. Facing one of those situations now. Love my job, hate my company. 1) After being promised a country head role for two years in a row, I have seen it slip through because my firm pulled out from the acquisition at the last moment. 2) Growth prospects getting stuck because of slow growth of the firm, personal differences with my current senior, 3) Huge challenges at home with my estranged father who needs to move to assisted living but refuses to do so, 4) And all complicated with differences with my spouse- six months into marriage and I wonder why I did it.

    I know I will pull through, have always grown to bigger things from situations like this. But at this moment, just feel stuck. Can’t sleep, can’t unwind. Everything seems to suck energy.

    Your mail came as a welcome change. Thank you.

  • Dean Apr 30, 2015, 3:17 pm

    Thanks, Victor. Your story puts failure in the proper perspective.

  • Alexey Apr 30, 2015, 10:34 am

    Hi there
    I want to thank you Victor for this post.Today I received rejection letter from one of PE firm I wanted to work for. Yerstaday I faced the same with the othe one. And finally to day my boss offered me higher salary but in a minute he changed his mind. I felt miserable but after reading your post I seemed feel recovered and ready to the next chance.But from now I do learn the mistakes first and then make any steps. Thanks again

    • Victor Cheng Apr 30, 2015, 11:01 pm


      There is success and there is feedback (instead of failure). Good luck.


  • Gloria Apr 30, 2015, 9:18 am

    Thank you so much, Victor. When I read your email yesterday, I didn’t realize how powerful your message was. But now I do..

    I’ve just found out that I didn’t pass bar (yes, just today), and yet, I don’t even have a single drop of tear coming out of me (honestly, I am totally surprised with myself right now). But I believe it’s because your message was embedded in my ‘heart’ somewhere that I’m keep telling my ‘head’,

    “I will face my failure head on (rather than hide from it), receive this gift, and have the courage to try again.”

    Thank you so much for the valuable life lesson at a perfect timing. You saved my day : )

    • Victor Cheng Apr 30, 2015, 11:02 pm


      Sorry you didn’t pass the bar this time around. Best wishes going forward. You definitely have the right attitude.

      Best wishes,

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