Defer your success and never fail again

Defer your success and never fail again

‘The past is history. The future’s a mystery. But today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present’.

Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda


My goal for 2020 was simple: complete 18 classic Lakeland fell walks, each one inspired by Alfred Wainwright’s excellent book, ‘Fellwalking With Wainwright’. By this time last year, I’d read the book from cover to cover, spread maps across the kitchen table, scribbled notes on scraps of paper and formulated a plan.

Things didn’t get off to the best start, with storm after storm battering the mountains in the early part of the year. Then, just as the weather picked up, we had a stark warning from government to ‘stay at home’. Three little words that would shatter so many hopes and dreams in an instant.

This cycle of ‘stay-at-home-don’t-stay-at-home’ has become all too familiar, as nations battle to keep the virus under control. And it’s made ticking off 18 mountain walks seem kind of trivial.

Except it’s not. Because if there’s one favourable outcome of this dreadful pandemic, it’s that people are waking up to the idea that access to the outdoors is non-negotiable. Spending time in our wild places and living in harmony with nature is something we all need, not just to thrive but to survive.


Lockdowns, self-isolations and sore knees (thanks to running around the garden like a hamster on a wheel) have made regular trips to the mountains trickier. Out of 18 planned big hill days, I’ve completed 16. And that means I’ve technically failed my challenge for 2020.

Blencathra and Scafell are the ones that got away. Blencathra because I want to take on Sharp Edge and Hall’s Fell Ridge, which demand decent weather. And Scafell because Wasdale feels a very long way away while overnights have been difficult.

These sound like excuses. And I guess they are: I could have made sacrifices elsewhere and found a couple of days to tick these off. But mindlessly scratching summits off a list is not why I head to the mountains.

So yes, I’m a flop for not achieving what I set out to do this year. But this mentality of continually assessing and evaluating our performance can be unhealthy. We constantly measure our self-worth against the lives of others who are seemingly doing bigger and better things than we are. Society has evolved to make us all feel like failures.

Rather than dwell on the two mountain walks I didn’t complete this year, I think about what I have achieved. And it starts to look a little different.

Deferred success

I am immensely proud that I’ve completed 16 big mountain walks, despite there being a global pandemic. I had the summits of Great Gable, Helvellyn, Bowfell and Scafell Pike – some of the country’s most popular mountains – all to myself. I experienced breathtaking cloud inversions, saw my first brocken spectre, and watched the sun rise. Plus I’ve increased my mountain fitness, skillset and confidence, all while spotting opportunities for even greater adventures next year.

If ever the idea of failure threatens to dampen my enthusiasm, I just look at the chart I’ve been using to track my progress and take comfort in the lack of red text. 68 Wainwrights in a year like this is not to be sniffed at. Yes it’ll be woefully inadequate for some people. While for others it’ll look like an impossible feat of human endurance. The point is that society’s rigid measure of success vs failure is not helpful and will only ever lead to disappointment. We need to reframe outcomes with more positive thoughts of what we’ve actually accomplished. And take some pride in our performance. Whether that’s narrowly missing out on becoming the CEO of a FTSE 100 company or only managing to get out of bed and dressed that morning.

Click to enlarge

I started this post with a quote from Kung Fu Panda, a film I’ve watched extensively over Christmas. Master Oogway is the source of much quotable content. And he also wisely declared ‘there are no accidents’. So perhaps it’s no accident that Scafell and Blencathra eluded me this year. Everything happens for a reason. There may be bumps in the road as things don’t turn out the way you planned them. But looking instead at what you have achieved, however big or small, ensures you can never fail. It just becomes another small part of the journey.

Let’s start thinking of failure as deferred success. Living in the present, enjoying the ride, celebrating achievements, while being kind to yourself and others is what true success is all about.

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