Will We Succeed?


Dr Seuss has provided us with a wonderful story explaining the realities of life in the book, Oh The Places You’ll Go. He makes a critical error though.

Throughout the story his little dude guy is on a journey, could be a life journey, and he has many adventures. The character is us, the reader. Sometimes we are confronted by terrible beasts and huge challenges. Seuss wisely encourages us to triumph, tells us we will be ahead of everyone, predicts great success.

Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best
Wherever you go, you will top the rest

… Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t

Though those last two lines can feel like a downer, are they not the real world? We are encouraged to be our best with the dose of reality that tells us that sometimes we can still fail. This is the lesson we need in order to truly succeed. Without it, the devastation of a failure can be so great that we may never fully recover. Our esteem can be severely damaged if we fail and do not understand it. When many race, only one can be first.

So the story goes on, with triumphs galore and again he reminds us ‘except when you won’t’, until the last challenge. He tells us

Kid, you’ll move mountains!

And leaves it at that. I suppose that could mean that in all the successes and failures we will still move mountains. That works. However, for some it suggests that eventually we will fail no more. Oh, oh. This is the Seuss error. We desperately need permission to remain valid and useful and good enough even through failure. Without that permission, we can implode, give up and succeed no more.

I often buy that book in ten lots to give to certain clients for whom the message seems poignant. I pencil in ‘except when you won’t’ after the move mountains line and put their name in with the many names on the very last page of the book. I love the Seuss books and this one in particular. For the young it is positive and introduces failure as acceptable. For us adults, often, we need one more reminder that ‘except when you won’t’ is totally OK. Indeed, it is the path to our greatest success.

Joseph Seiler MCC