The Anatomy of Failure (21 easy ways to fail at anything)

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”  ~Bill Gates

Just as there are specific actions we can take and attitudes we can harbor to increase the likelihood of a successful life (in whatever aspect of life we’re seeking it), on the flip side, there are specific actions and attitudes that can increase the likelihood of failure as well.

Below are some of those steps and attitudes that can lead to abject failure in life. The point is, of course, to know ahead of time exactly where the cow dung in the field is to avoid stepping in it.

21 Easy Steps to Abject Failure (or 21 attitudinal dung hills to avoid for a better life)

1. Criticize instead of fix

Fixing problems is hard work. Even suggesting solutions takes some effort. Instead, just criticize and complain your way up the corporate ladder or into a loving relationship or deep into a life of happiness. Sure seems like it would work!

2. Wish instead of do

Doing stuff is exhausting. Much better to passively wish for success. Wish for a great job. Or for a happy, loving family. But never tire yourself in actually creating such things.

3. Run when you should walk

When you’re just too tired and worn out, be sure to keep pushing without break or reprieve. I’m sure it won’t catch up to you! Besides, I read somewhere that we can get so much more done when the body and mind are exhausted. So burn the candle at both ends and watch success rain down upon you … or go up like a puff of smoke … or something like that.

4. Walk when you should run

When a goal is in sight, slow down. Be average. Stroll. Never roll up your sleeves and prove yourself a sucker. Get away with doing as little as possible and never more than anyone else. That just wouldn’t be fair. One way to define success is to only do what you need to do to not get fired. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.

5. Act without a plan

Close your eyes, keep your head down and run like crazy! Of course you won’t crash or fall down a hole. So set no goals and aim nowhere. Just do. Think it through later. After all, I’m sure there are plenty of great structures that were built without blueprints! It’s possible.

6. Stick to a plan religiously

Never bend. Don’t reconsider. Refuse to be flexible. Keep so focused on a straight line of action that you never notice new developments or opportunities or better ideas. I bet there aren’t any new ones worth mentioning left in the world anyway!

7. Act before thinking

Just say and do whatever comes to mind. No need for social filters or values or thoughtfulness or the consideration of others. So what if the reputation of the company or the family or your own is on the line. Reputations don’t matter much, at least not when compared to your right to do what you feel the impulse to do. So just do it and watch the beauty that is your life unfold and friends flock and respect deepen.

8. Don’t set aside time to learn

You’re educationwas completed the moment you graduated. So why study now? No way! You earned the right to never learn anything new again. So keep the TV on and stay as far away as you can from a classroom, the book store or library. (and whatever you do, don’t click on this link to Audible or this one to the Great Courses to take the next step in your education. I mean come one, that would just be a waste of time!)

9. Don’t question the status quo

Take orders and run with them without question. Read a generic how-to manual and go for it. Don’t waste your time finding out if there are other ways of doing things that would work better. Don’t rock the boat. Float in calm waters. Don’t challenge or explore or try out alternative ways of doing things to the status quo. I’m sure doing the same things you’ve always done in the same way you’ve always done them will eventually produce different results than what they’ve always produced!

10. Lose sight of where you want to go

Why take the time to decide where you want to go when there is so much to do right now without spending valuable time determining what’s most important to you? I’m sure everything will work out and you’ll just love where you end up. Besides, values are such malleable things. So just massage your values to the shape of your actions … and never the other way around.

11. Give up when things get tough

Why keep pushing against a headwind? Why climb when you can just sit down and bunker in where you are? If you get hit, go home! If you get pushed, run away. If it get’s difficult, leave. Stamina, perseverance and commitment are overrated things anyway!

12. Control, backseat drive and micromanage

People can’t be trusted to do what needs to be done, so do it all. Badger those few people you give insignificant tasks to do until they do them precisely as you want them done just to get you out of their hair. I’m sure a strong team spirit, improvement, expertise and passion for the work is created this way!

13. Never build a team

Pit one group against another, one family member against another, neighbor against neighbor. Build rivalries and contention. Be a know-it-all. Never let your guard down. Ostracize and denigrate and never put time into building a culture of mutual respect and meaning. Don’t worry, everyone will come together in a pinch. No, really.

14. Be duplicitous

If a lie will make you a little more money, why not bend the truth? Make honesty a matter of expediency. Stretch things so far they never quite fall back to shape. A few coins now, after all, are much better than what you could get in the long-run with trust and trustworthiness. Duh!

15. Allow home to fall into emotional disarray

Get so tunnel-visioned that you forget to pay attention to your family. See them as an obstacle to your real goals and make them feel like they are in the way of you doing what you really love. What use is a family when there’s real work to get done anyway? Besides, you can always pick up the emotional pieces later once you make it big. Don’t worry, they’ll understand. And I’m sure they’ll stick around.

16. Worry instead of act

Since every step you take can end in disaster and abject failure, it’s safest to do nothing to ensure you’ll never fall on your face and bruise your ego. After all, it’s much better to never succeed by not trying than to try and fail, right?

17. Put off doing tasks you don’t like

Just because successful people pay attention to detail and do what needs to be done even if they don’t like doing it, doesn’t mean you have to! So don’t make those calls. Don’t know your costs. Don’t do the distasteful parts of excellence. I’m sure they’ll get done on their own by someone.

18. Do the trivial first

Get bogged down in the details. Get caught in the thick of small things. Do so much of the meaningless that there’s little time left at the end of the day to do what’s more meaningful.

19. Wait for the perfect time

You don’t want to start something too soon. As a matter of fact, keep waiting until circumstances are just right. Pause at the edge and wait. I’m sure things will clear up and work out just fine. And I’m sure no one else will jump ahead of you in line.

20. Make long-run sacrifices for short-term gains

Cut corners to cut costs and skimp on customer service to show immediate improvements on the bottom line. Never invest in long-term results. Only put money where it will show an immediate return. Long-run planning is for fools!

21. Think profits, not people

Money is all that matters, right? If you can squeeze an extra sale out of a customer with a little hard selling, go for it! You never know when or if they will ever come back, so get every dime you can get from them before they leave the store. Your product wouldn’t serve their needs? Don’t let them know and emphasize everything else about the product that’s attractive. They’ll never know … or spread the word. And you’ll feel just great about yourself with a few coins in your pocket as well. After all, everyone’s character has a price at which it can be bought and what you sold yours for is certainly worth it, right?


So now you have a decent little map to most of the attitudinal dung hidden in the fields of life. Step in them too often and you’ll likely be scraping off the stink for some significant amount of time. And life will feel flat, adrift, lifeless, unsuccessful. Stop doing them and you just may have to endure a life well lived, success achieved and happiness attained.

Your Thoughts …

Did I leave anything off the list? What would you have added? What do you think about the attitudinal dunghills I’ve included?