Don’t Let Success Hold You Back – Words of Wisdom from Robert Redford

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending the Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is a big tech conference for folks and companies who use Adobe products to get together and learn more about current tools and see sneak peeks of upcoming ones.

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Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, UT.

While at the event, we heard from CEOs, CIOs, and CMOs from all sorts of major companies. None of these speakers made me stop and think quite as much as Robert Redford: actor, director, producer, and founder of the Sundance Film Festival.

Below are his thoughts on failure, success, and everything in between.

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When asked how he deals with failure, Redford’s initial cheeky response was to, “get a psychiatrist.”

But in all seriousness, he said he views failure as, “just a step along the road.” And our job, when we encounter failures and obstacles is to, “push through it.”

This makes me think of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers. Did Edison create the lightbulb on his first try? Did the Wright brothers fly the first time they launched themselves off a cliff in the Carolinas?

No.

Anything worth doing, anything that will push humanity forward will take hard work, skill, and a lot of failure. Easier said than done, I know, but there is certainly a lot of truth to the idea that failure leads to learning, and accumulated learnings eventually leads to success.

It’s interesting to me, then, that Corporate America is so risk averse and failure intolerant. That is a culture change that is sorely needed if people are to progress.

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Redford’s opinions on success, however, were even more eye opening for me. According to Redford, “there is a danger in embracing [success] too tightly.” He believes that if we do not view success as a step along the road, much like how he views failure, he believes success will stop you. The danger, Redford warns, is that, “people forget to use that success to propel themselves forward.” They just sit and bask in their success and become stagnant.

How many people and companies are doing that today? They started as young ambitious start-ups, had their first taste of success, and now they are comfortable; now they are “successful.”

But companies come and go every day. Legacies don’t last forever without a lot of hard work, and in this market it’s either innovate and die. If we allow ourselves to be defined by our failures and successes instead of just looking at them as steps along the path, do we hold ourselves back from our true potential?

What do you think? Is Redford right? Discuss!

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Let Success Hold You Back – Words of Wisdom from Robert Redford

  1. So true! I’ll have to hang onto these quotes. The same philosophy applies to life outside of business and career: creative endeavors, which I’m sure Redford’s including, are an equivalent, but so are relationships and generally trying to be a better person. (Reminds me of the monk who described each day in the monastery as “We fall down, we get up again, we fall down, we get up again.”)

    Further, though, I wonder how much fear of failure comes from not having failed. That first risky step might be the hardest, but it’ll be easier as failure becomes a known quantity.

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