Zach’s Blog

A dog agility test’s lessons on success…

We seem to love a good “fail” video. We beckon our friends and officemates to crowd around our computer screens or smartphones to watch someone (or something) take an awkward tumble on stage, misspeak on live television, or, as in the case of the video above, see an adorable dog completely “fail” at an agility competition.

(I’ll leave the psychoanalysis of this bizarre behavior for another post).

Yet, I think the anonymous internet “fail” judges got this particular diagnosis wrong. Let me explain.

The assumption that some event or thing is a “fail” presupposes that we have a firm definition of the antonym of failure, “success.”

This is where I think we, as a society, have gone awry.

In 30 seconds, this happy, toy-gnawing, hot-dog-eating, distracted dog showed me the fundamental problems with our collective, mainstream definition of “success.”

Most of the time, we appraise our own success based on measures other people created for us without ever talking to us, knowing us, or caring about us. We have defined success in terms of results and not processes and in outcomes versus means and intent.

Our plans for our lives, therefore, follow others’ paths for it. A prime example is when I meet with a student who “doesn’t know what they want to do with their lives.”

Really, I don’t think that is the problem at all. Rather, I think these students have simply not found a fit with someone else’s plan. For example, the course catalog, majors, and four-year plans weren’t made for them – they were created by others to define their success – and they’re feeling the inability to fit.

The same is true in our daily lives.

In a great TED Talk on success (, Alain De Botton says, “Let’s make sure that our ideas of success are truly our own.”

Based on this line of thinking, I would venture to say that this unnamed Golden Retriever is a smashing success that we can all learn from.

Here are three reasons why:

1. This dog is having the time of his life. I mean, go back and watch this video again. This dog is absolutely thrilled. And what dog wouldn’t be?

Forget about stopping to smell the roses. How about stopping to grab the soccer balls, chew on a Frisbee, and eat almost four hot dogs.

He had it all there waiting for him – and he went for it. This dog created his own version of success. This dog pushed through the barriers of what others told him to do and did what he was meant to do.

In spite of potential ridicule (do dogs sense ridicule?), judgment, rules, and conventions of dog agility competitions, he did what felt right – he acted like a dog.

He also, clearly, didn’t compare himself to the other dogs.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And, well, clearly no one stole anything from this dog.

What do we give up because we are afraid to be different, afraid to fail? What happiness do we lose because we live someone else’s definition of success?

2. No one remembers the other dogs. Seth Godin, in the famous marketing book, The Purple Cow, said “…not standing out is the same as being invisible.” Do you remember the breeds or faces of the other dogs in the video, the ones who came before? No.

This video didn’t go viral because two dogs completed an agility course. Hundreds of thousands of dogs complete agility courses.

Just completing something that others have already completed before you do does not make you special – why YOU do what you do makes you special.

The other dogs played the game – they followed the prescription and conventions of others. They played it “safe.”

Another quote from Seth Godin sums this up: “If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”

How do you define remarkable? What potential future are you giving up to play by someone else’s rules?

3. This dog got over 15 million human beings to laugh. In fact, judging by the YouTube views, the exact number is 15,179,967.

Achieving goals is not analogous to success. Sometimes, when we live as we feel we were meant to, the success happens in the journey.

Distractions can themselves be small successes and a very important part of creativity, yet, we as a society shun distractions and “distracted” people. Personally, I am glad this dog got distracted – I got a much needed laugh from it.

When you watch this video again, notice the humans’ reactions to each of the three dogs. When do they laugh? When do they smile? It happens only when one dog decides to do it his own way.

What are others missing out on because you didn’t follow your own path? What is the world missing out on because you subscribe to others’ definitions of success for you?

Our Golden Retriever friend had the time of his life, was remarkable and memorable, and spread joy to millions.

Yeah, I’d say he was a success, just not the mainstream’s version.


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