One Quote, One Card: The Brink of Failure

“No man ever achieved worth-while success who did not, at one time or other, find himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.” Napoleon Hill


I have learned some things about Mr. Napoleon Hill since last time. He is “one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal success literature.” He wrote “Think and Grow Rich,” and “Outwitting the Devil.” In order to write his most popular book, he interviewed a number of “successful” people to discover his formula for success. The most influential of those persons, 45 white men, were listed in the acknowledgements section of the book.

This information helps me understand why I feel weird when I encounter many of the quotes attached to his name. Like, he’s not “wrong,” but there is always something not being said that bothered me.

My idea of success is nowhere close to what Mr. Hill and 45 rich white men from the early 20th century would consider success. So when he says “worth-while success,” he is probably not referring to having a clean heart and conscience; or creating spiritual/emotional health over all things physical and monetary.

On this path of self-realization (for lack of a better term), there is no such thing as failure. Your spiritual and emotional well being is not graded on a pass/fail system. There aren’t tax brackets to move into, or any meaningful goals to be attained. You’re working to heal and be healed a little more each day; or discover the barriers to your healing.

This reminds me of a story that I’m going to incorrectly tell now:


A very old zen master was walking through the halls of his monastery when he encountered a group of younger monks talking about their dharma patches. These patches are given out by their teachers whenever they demonstrated some level of satori or enlightenment. They disputed over who had the most, who had the best, which teacher gave which patch, etc. The zen master approached the students: 

“Ah, I see you have the dharma patches.” 

Yes master.” – they replied. 

Ah, and so, besides the patches, what else do you have?” 

The students stared blankly at him, not comprehending his question. He added: 

You are here discussing what you have gained, yet Zen is the way of losing everything.  Isn’t this hustling backwards?” 


I think that’s the main difference between Mr. Hill’s idea of success and my own — he, his friends, and the society/culture they have perpetuated are all about gaining, gathering and achieving. The more you have, the more you accomplish, the more trophies and cash and toys and notoriety and books published and sexual encounters and whatever else the person can experience — this is success to them. And sure, in order to get there, you have to fail sometimes.

But for the Beautiful ones and the Dancers, there is no failure because everything is the Dance. Falling down is learning the dance, breaking a toe is learning to dance; dancing alone, dancing in a crowd, dancing when there’s no music, dancing when the music is wack. You don’t fail in the dance of letting go, in the dance of healing your soul, in the dance of coming back to the God of your heart. There is no failure on the dance floor. What could be “worth-while” about successes that are bound by the laws of time and change? Patches wear off, names on buildings are forgotten and that building gets demolished, empires always come to an end. Learning to dance with life — AS Life — takes us out of the rules of nature. The ecstasy of knowing yourself is the only worth-while success story that will ever been told.

May you Dance today and be free from the tyranny of failure.