This is why failure may actually be the secret to long-term success

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Nicola Rachel Colyer
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Coming second place can be a hard pill to swallow. However, there’s hope for all of us that have narrowly missed out on the top spot as a new study finds that failure may actually be the secret to long-term success.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a state of despair after victory slipped through your fingers, we’ve got some good news. Researchers have found that coming out on top may actually have a detrimental impact on your future success, while coming in second could see you soaring. 

As a society we are encouraged to aspire for greatness. “Go for gold”, “reach for the stars”, they say, and so we plan, we hustle, we climb. Success is a destination and there is no doubt that it’s at the top.

Whether it’s securing that promotion, running a personal best or taking home the prize at your local pub quiz – we set our sights on being number one. Sure, being number two may see you on the podium, but there’s no denying that we all have our eye on gold. 

However, it seems that there really is a silver lining to finding yourself in second place. 

A study by the University of Virginia published in the Journal of Health Economics has revealed that there is a surprising benefit to narrowly missing out on the top spot. Researcher Adam Leive followed the lives of individuals who won gold and silver Olympic medals between 1896 and 1948 and found that those who came second not only went on to achieve greater financial success, but they also lived longer than those who won gold. 

It seems winning may not be the gold ticket to success

“On average, losers earn 16 percent more than winners, and income is highly correlated with lifespan,” Leive reported.

Leive found that gold medalists die on average over one year earlier than silver medalists, leading him to conclude that “the pursuit of victory may harm health.”

In fact, the difference was so pronounced that around half of the silver medalists were still alive at age 80, compared to only a third of gold medalists. Meanwhile, over two thirds of silver medalists reached greater financial success, and were more likely to enter a professional vocation than their gold medalist counterparts.

While Leive acknowledged that winning may initially present greater financial opportunity, it is clear that it did not result in long-term financial prevalence, something which instead fell upon the losers. Explaining this discrepancy, Leive suggested that winning could have a detrimental impact on future financial success “because it may affect future motivation and thereby influence resources and health”. After a big win, victors might benchmark success as the pinnacle that they have just reached and so spend the rest of their lives searching for the same, or alternatively, it can cause them to lose motivation to strive for success at all.

In the age of #lifegoals, just five minutes on Instagram can leave us feeling less than our counterparts. It can feel like everyone we know is up to something bigger and better, and it can be easy to feel like we’re falling behind. However, while racking up the accolades may seem like the natural path to glittering success, it seems that we should instead be more focused on how we respond to both failure and victory. A win may offer a short-term reward, but a positive attitude and sustainable motivation to achieve long-term goals may not only ensure fuller pockets, but also a longer life to reach your full potential.

Images: Getty / Unsplash


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Nicola Rachel Colyer

Nicola Colyer is a freelance writer and ex-corporate girl. A francophile and relapsing sugar-free graduate, she'll often be found seeking out the best places for brunch or struggling to choose between a green juice and a G&T.