Posted by: ryanmccoskey | November 2, 2009

Success & Failure: A Parable

There once was a man who enjoyed great success in life. Everything he set out to accomplish happened just as he intended. In his and the world’s eyes, this man was ideal.

The successful man held no trust in anyone or anything, save himself. He could do the work of 10 men, and to his knowledge, no other man could match his focus and industry. And so this man worked long, lonely hours and garnered the attention and praise of the world.

As time passed, the successful man’s renown grew. He was surrounded by intrigued men who sought to find the secret of his success. The successful man loved the praise, and so he never turned admiring onlookers away.

Likewise, there was also a man who suffered consistent failure. He would put his hand to all kinds of tasks just like the successful man, but unlike the successful man, he never met his own expectations.

The unsuccessful man worked harder than the successful man. He could do the work of 15 men, but everything he attempted eventually failed. He sought praise like the successful man, but he could not find it. The world paid no attention or respect to the unsuccessful man.

After much frustration and public ridicule, the unsuccessful man quit seeking the praise of the world and became a plain man of the soil. He planted plain corn, lived in a plain home, started a plain family and quietly worked away the plain years of his youth.

Years passed, and then the land was overtaken by severe economic hardship and a great famine afflicted it. Everyone suffered, so that even food was hard to come by.

However, the unsuccessful man’s crops were miraculously unaffected by the great famine. The land on which he randomly chose to settle remained rich and fruitful, while all the other land withered and died.

And so the world turned to the unsuccessful man for help. They cried out for food from his crops, and pleaded to have shelter on his land. And in spite of the world’s ridicule, the unsuccessful man did all that he could to help. He worked as hard as he could, and all the world saw that he was truly more industrious than the successful man. He truly could do the work of 15 men.

But when someone raised their voice to praise the unsuccessful man, he had no regard for it and asked that he not be publicly praised – his years of failure were still painfully embedded in his heart.

All the while, the successful man refused to approach the unsuccessful man. He continued to work long, lonely hours, but to no avail. The economic hardship and great famine had stripped everything away from the successful man, and no one was there to console him.

He set out to rebuild his empire, but could not. He attempted to grow food, but all the land was worthless. And when the successful man ran out of food, he still refused to rely on the unsuccessful man – his years of success and self-reliance made him exceedingly prideful.

And one day after much stubborn suffering, the successful man died.

Shortly thereafter, the famine passed and the economy was restored. Everyone went back to life as usual, and just like in the past, the unsuccessful man was forgotten.

Years passed, and then a young man, full of ambition and ability, decided that he would become the next successful man of the land. He began building his empire, and the world soon took notice. He was just as successful as the last successful man, and he loved the praise and adoration, too.

But he was not as industrious as the unsuccessful man – the young successful man’s parents told him stories of the unsuccessful man’s hard work on the farm, and how he could do the work of 15 men. They told him about how he fed the world in a severe famine, but did not want any recognition because of his many years of failure. The young successful man loved these stories, and he sought to learn the secret of the unsuccessful man’s great industry.

One day the young successful man wrote the unsuccessful man the following words: “Although you never succeeded in gaining the praise and adoration of men, you are more industrious than any man I’ve ever heard of. Could you teach me to be more successful?”

This is what the unsuccessful man wrote back: “As for now, the world is enamored with your success, and they adore you for it. And for a season of time, your success will last. But when that season is over and hardship comes, the world will forget about your success – but you, my young friend, you will still be enslaved to it.”

When the young successful man received these words, he read them, and then promptly threw them away, returning to his business as usual.

Shortly thereafter, the unsuccessful man died of old age. He considered himself unsuccessful all through life, but his family and true friends did not agree. When the wife of the unsuccessful man was rifling through her husband’s belongings, she found his journal. The last entry was written as follows:

“Life has shown me that easy success is but a fickle wind that blows on only the most unfortunate of people. Although it comes with plenty of praise, recognition and adoration, it will ensnare a man in crippling self-absorption, of which few ever escape. Failure, on the other hand, is like a bitter medicine. The application of it creates such horrible discomfort, but in the end, it’s the only remedy that will reveal the natural sickness in a man’s heart, and thus lead him to see the world rightly. And so I find that Truth cannot be understood by a man until he understands the extent of his own heart’s sickness. My failures taught me the extent of mine.”

The unsuccessful man’s family now carries on his work. Watching and waiting for the next famine.



  1. So which one are you?

  2. Did you write this? It’s really good regardless, but if you did write it…WOW!

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