Success and failure are intertwined. We can pretty much succeed at anything. Conversely, we can fail at anything, too. And, neither actually define us (unless we let them).

We don’t get to control whether what we do is a success or a failure, either. Most of us would probably pick not failing every time. Past successes, talent built, connections we’ve made … these help, but aren’t guarantees of anything.

Side-note: If success was something we could easily control, the first thing I’d do is create a donut that cures cancer (possibly the best example of a “win-win” ever).

I’ve tried being a writer, a designer, a software developer, a course creator, a startup starter, and many more things. I’ve had a couple wins, many losses, and sometimes I feel like I’ve got more questions about how to be an adult making a living now, than I did when I was a teenager.

A lot of victories come from not letting screwups become setbacks, rather than having a large amount of expertise or talent. We win not because we don’t screw up, but because we screw up enough to learn that those screwups have lead us the only possible alternative solution: no longer screwing up as much. And then—harder still—is knowing when a screwup requires perseverance and when it requires throwing in the towel to run headlong in a new direction. Basically, it’s a war of attrition on screwups.

Money spent, time invested, skill acquired, effort exerted… these can help steer us towards succeeding, but they don’t guarantee we’ll get there. We get to control a lot less than we think we do. A lot less.

What we do get to control is where we spend our money, where we focus our time, what skills we acquire, and how we use our efforts. Those things we can control.

So, if we can essentially succeed or fail at anything—why not succeed or fail at something we actually give a shit about?

I may not have a magic 8-ball (or one that actually works with 100% certainty, I think mine’s broken), but I can align what I do with what’s important work to me and let whatever happens, happen. Important work isn’t an absolute either—it’s more of a compass, showing me what direction to travel in so I can do more of it.

It seems better to fail at something that truly matters, rather than succeed at something doesn’t.

Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: