Introduction to the Book

Beyond Success and Failure: Ways to Self Reliance and Maturity [Endnote #1]


Willard and Marguerite Beecher

Self-help books have been notoriously ineffectual in helping people, for the most part. It is important to understand why this is so. Past efforts have been based on the positive approach, which is an additive process. It assumes the reader is empty and the problem exists as a lack of pertinent information that can be supplied to him as in a cookbook with recipes for various situations.


Some authors give case histories, which serve as horrible examples of the various aberrations — a kind of rogues' gallery of evils. This method seldom worked, as hardly anyone was able to find a case just like his own, and thus could not profit by what he found.


Another approach has been largely inspirational, built on exhortation or encouragement to urge the failing individual to greater efforts to lilt his goals higher and keep striving for them. But tugging on his own bootstraps didn't help the poor fellow either. He felt held, hack by something. Or his boots were stuck in the mud somewhere. The high resolves fired by the inspiration and exhortation faded into his old level of discouragement, and old symptoms came hack. The fires of influence and inspiration became merely embers, then transient dreams that later increased the original feeling of discouragement and inadequacy.


The positive approach assumes that the mind is an un written page waiting for someone to write on it. Or better still, an Empty Mug waiting for the Big Jug to pour wisdom into it! People in need of help avidly read such books with great hope and conscientiously try to remember all the valuable information laid down in them. But it is not possible to pour anything into a full cup. It simply runs over the top! The person who has carefully remembered all the admonitions feels quite confident, until he meets an old situation he is afraid of. In panic he tries to remember which of the many inspiring bits of information he is supposed to use to slay the on-coming dragon. His mind goes blank, and he meets the situation in his old, familiar, habitual, unsatisfactory way. As the tuba player said, "I breathe in so sweet — but it comes out so sour"!


If we wish to achieve any fundamental change in our character, it is quite futile to depend on information, sermons, and lectures as a solution of the problem. We immediately run into the old stone wall of habit. And habit never rests! The mind is filled with misconceptions, which add up to dependency on outside authority figures.


The misconceptions must be destroyed. It is simply not possible to alter oneself — to go beyond old conditioning — without first destroying the compulsive hold that habit has on us.


There must be a period of unlearning, so that the person can de-condition himself to his old, habitual responses.


Experience has taught us not to expect to keep our New Year's resolutions! Within a few days or weeks we fall back into our old levels. We greatly underestimate how much of our life is built around our "bad" habits and the joy they give us. We do not want to give them up in the first place; we want only to rid ourselves of the pain they cost us.


The alcoholic who gives up drinking is suddenly and shockingly faced with an empty, lonely life. He does not know what to do with himself when he is not drinking, as most of his leisure time was spent drinking and almost all of his friends were drinkers like himself. He is suddenly filled with the horrors of sobriety and without anything to put into the vacuum left when he took the bottle out of his life.


The person who wants to change his habits must first reckon with his present host and pay his bill before he can be free of the debt he has to old conditioning. His job is to empty out the old garbage — not try to fill in on top of it! The job is much like that of building a modern structure on the site of an old shack. The old encumbrance has to be removed to make way for the new. When the old mistaken certainties and old dependencies from childhood have been cleared out, then the way opens for new behavior by itself, without any pressure on our part.


In the light of the above, the term "self-help" is, in a sense, a misnomer. It implies the exclusive application of some will or effort. As we see, however, we need only to discover and destroy mistakes and illusions that fog the mind. When we have seen accurately the What Is in a situation, everything turns right-side up by itself, as it ought to be. Nothing new has to be learned or practiced.


A world in which a man, cannot help himself is quite unthinkable! To whom shall a man turn if he cannot trust himself? Is he doomed to face life waiting for some outside salvation that may never come? Are most of us doomed to futility because not enough professionals can ever be trained to save us from ourselves? Is there a way by which we can use our own existing powers to help ourselves? Did nature provide a factor within each of us for his own salvation? It must be so, at least at the psychological level. Two great teachers thought so.


When Buddha came upon his own enlightenment, he said, "Be a lamp unto your own feet; do not seek outside yourself." Jesus was of the same opinion when he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is not ‘lo here' nor ‘lo there'; it is within." The great sages of all time seem to agree that a man cannot turn to someone else to save himself—that the answer lies within his reach and in his own inner endowments. Each has been given the medicine with which to cure himself. It would he an unjust world indeed if this were not the situation.


A person must never feel he is in a situation where life overwhelms him or that he is not able to help himself. Feelings of helplessness and loneliness, fear and despair sweep over the person who believes he cannot meet the demands of life. His despair frequently leads to desperation. This is especially true if he does not know where to turn in his confusion. What does one do when he hits the panic button? What is a person to do if he cannot trust himself when things are rough?


Technological knowledge and techniques multiply faster all the while, and miracles are performed daily in the physical world of things. But there has been no corresponding progress in our understanding of ways to help ourselves when we are hurt emotionally, at the psychological level. There is a babel of voices of outside authorities in our ears, but it seldom helps when things get too hot for us to handle in our daily lives. We lose confidence in ourselves and begin to run in all directions for an escape from the threat of pressing events. Life is like driving in the face of on-coming traffic. We must be able to do it easily without anxiety or we risk damage. We must develop full trust of our own inherent capacities and not flee in panic from the scene.

There is, however, a widespread belief that an individual must seek the help of some professional adviser if he is in chronic emotional difficulty and wants to change. Many people believe that their problems are so deep that no solution is possible to them on their own understanding and initiative. They believe that they are doomed to a lifetime of unhappiness unless they can find the right person to relieve them from the psychological bind in which they find themselves.


Fortunately for all of us, nature built into each person his own self-healing powers, both at the physical and psychological level. Health is the natural state of being, and it restores itself when we refrain from habits that interfere with it.


When World War II began, the armed forces suddenly discovered they had a large number of men with serious emotional problems who were incapable of useful service. Something had to be done for them even before discharging them from the service. But there were not enough trained personnel to handle even a fraction of them on the customary basis of individual treatment


Something had to be improvised on a group basis, although no trained personnel existed to do any amount of group therapy. In desperation an experiment was tried. Groups of emotionally disturbed persons were formed and encouraged to discuss their individual difficulties together informally. Astonishing things began to happen in such groups. Without any formal treatment or the application of any method or theory, large numbers of men made big strides in freeing themselves of the bonds that had been holding them.


At the same time around the country, alcoholics heard of a remarkable organization called Alcoholics Anonymous, which was working miracles simply by group participation and discussion. Most of those who joined it found themselves dry of alcohol and repairing the shambles into which their lives had fallen. Here again were individuals who were lifting themselves by their boot straps. Even those alcoholics who had professional care without any improvement now found that they were doing on their own what they had believed impossible for them to do.


Since then, this self-help approach to one's own problems has extended to gambling, narcotics, obesity and similar addictions. In each of these areas self-help has accomplished results that seem like a miracle to the person who was suffering. These pioneers demonstrated a very exciting fact—that addictions may be of long standing, but they are not deep in the sense that they cannot be handled at the level of everyday living by the individual.


The fact that one can free himself of crippling neurosis, then, has been shown by countless persons who had a variety of symptoms of all degrees of intensity. In fact, this approach works best when the person is suffering so much that he is "happy to do anything—even get well." Professional treatment has a role to play in many situations and need not be ignored. But anyone who is sincerely ready to get out of his own trap can escape by increasing his own self-understanding.


It is not always possible to find a group of like-minded individuals who will form a discussion group with us in our quest for understanding. But fortunately for everyone, there are many mistaken certainties that are to be found as a hard core, or least common denominator, in most—if not all —emotional difficulties. A mistaken certainty is something described as "something you are sure is so—but ain't." We shall describe the most important of these mistakes and how they act as partially submerged obstructions to our plans. These mistaken certainties arc at the root of wishful thinking, which leads us to self-deception "to make our dream come true." We view the world through a cloud of wishes and distort reality, so that we are blind to things as they really happen. The wish for ideal conditions makes us wish to be blind to reality, which we then avoid in favor of pleasurable illusions and the pursuit of greatness.


Self-deception denies reality. But when the pain grows great enough, reality insists on breaking through. At such a time, when a man is lost, he needs a map—not a formula or method. Systems of "do and don't" will not help him find his way. Such authoritarian systems of positive and negative commands fail immediately when he tries to function with them. Nothing other than a free mind will provide the autonomy and spontaneity that life demands of us. To free the mind of wishful thinking must become the central aim of all our thinking. Only that will lead us past the Scylla and Charybdis of the illusion of success and failure.


Each of us has an intuitive feeling that he has a central core that is not ill and cannot be touched by the evils that may be tearing at his flesh. We somehow are not surprised when we are told for the first time that at the eye of the hurricane is total calm, a place where the sun is shining and the birds are singing. We know that some where inside of us we are at peace. Our only problem is to discover what prevents us from getting to this center-of-our-being and holding on to it. The question in our mind is why we cannot live at this core easily, as we know it must be possible for a man to do.


That is the concern of this book. It is not a how-to-do-it book. A man does not have to create this core in himself, because it is there sui generis, a gift inherent from birth. Nor does he have to learn how to seek it by some arduous discipline or self-denial. What he needs to know is that mysterious factors alienate us or seem to drag us off this center.


When these "gravitational pulls" are taken off us, we discover we are at the center-of-our-being and had never departed from it, but that we had been blinded by the storm of our distortions and illusions. The important theme of this book is that we do not have to learn some new discipline to arrive at our own center – be use we never departed from it. We were only the victims of our illusions about the world. These led us to feel we had abdicated our rights or drifted off course. Reality appears immediately after our illusions are destroyed.


The negative approach to reality is the destruction of illusion. The positive approach is a confusion of multiple do's and don't's that blur the mind with contradictions and inconsistencies. The negative approach, fortunately, is only concerned with regaining our original ability to see and hear the What Is of a situation without it being distorted, edited or judged by our habit of wishful thinking. The fall of man in the Old Testament is described as happening at that moment when he aspires "to become as if a God, knowing both good and evil" — that is, when he wants to he a big shot. When we can distinguish wishful thinking and the illusions it creates from What Is, we are saved.


This is not a book in the ordinary sense. It has no beginning and no end; it doesn't go anywhere. It is more in the nature of a map of What Is on which one can chart shoals and reefs of illusion that abound in the sea of life. Try to look at What Is dispassionately and with total acceptance in your own life.


It was Thoreau's opinion that most people live lives of quiet desperation. And from appearances, it seems that this may be all too near the truth. Does life condemn most of us to defeat and frustration in this world? Is this the basic nature of things which only a few fortunate individuals may hope to escape? Are these fortunates elected for what we call "success"? And are the rest of us fated to be nonentities and to dwell in the shadows with tedious, undistinguished, alienated lives? Or is our unhappiness really nothing more than a complaint we make about our own character? Is unhappiness due to our way of looking at ourselves and the world around us? Are we perennial victims of a hostile outside world, or does each of us have an equal chance for happiness, regardless of such accidents of birth as wealth, learning, race, religion or nationality? These are basic questions that must be answered by each of us as to whether we continue to live as victims or whether, by the exercise of our own under standing and initiative, we can perform Operation Bootstrap and live as first-class citizens who put no head higher than our own!


If we are not victims struggling in a hostile world, then many of us face the problem of getting "unbugged," so that we no longer see hostility and behave in a hostile manner. We must undertake the process of unlearning whatever habit it is that leads us to our dismal outlook and customary feelings of depression. We must learn to see and to hear outside our old, habitual way of looking at the world and at those around us.


One of the most destructive distortions we endlessly encounter is the illusion of success and failure. It gives rise to the driving desire to get ahead and become somebody. Some people are so blinded by this illusion they cannot imagine anything could exist apart from their endless struggle to get ahead in order to be "one up" on those around them. Those who feel they cannot get ahead regard themselves as failures and feel there is no reason to keep on living if they cannot find success.


Can this be all of life? Surely there has to be another, less hostile way of life which is not based wholly on competition. The world of success and failure is based on appearances or the semblance of things—not on reality.


Like Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, we must go behind the mirror, beyond the appearance of success and failure before we can find reality.


The individual trapped in the struggle for prestige, recognition and appearances, is a helpless victim of his own wishful thinking. He is trapped in ideas of what should- be or what ought-to-be—ideally. Such wishful thinking is a basic illness of the mind. Only when we transcend such a habit of mind can we hope to go beyond this trap and discover our own essential nature. The person who escapes this competitive struggle is a person with a free mind. He is often called a sage. Such free individuals are unfortunately rare among us—even though each of us has this potential as a birthright alive inside him, waiting only to be released. We need not envy others who clearly have discovered it. It is easy to see this quality of the free mind if we look through the eyes of Walt Whitman in "Leaves of Grass" as he gazes admiringly at animals, who share this birthright:


I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained;


I stand and look at them long and long.


They do not sweat and whine about their condition.


They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;


They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. 


Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things.


Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago.


Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth. 

We dedicate this book to the late Dr. Alfred Adler, founder of Individual Psychology, who was our teacher the last years of his life, during which time he gave us our first understanding of human behavior. We learned from him essentially:


1.   That the individual’s approach to life is a result of early self-training due to his interpretation of his situation. He can change it in later years only if he realizes that his disturbing, conditioned responses are nothing more than inappropriate, inadequate holdovers from childhood. The adult is expected to replace such behavior with more useful responses to be a help and not a burden. He should realize it is useless to try to escape the pain he creates for him self trying to solve adult problems with a child’s tricks and evasions, since problems are only situations for which we have not trained ourselves.


2.   That the problems of behavior, which make us feel and act like inferior second-class passengers in life, are no more than the results of our failure to develop the habit of both emotional and physical self-reliance; we retain from childhood the mistaken expectation that others should “hold up our pants” for us emotionally and physically and be interested in as well as responsible for our welfare.


3.   That leaning on others emotionally or physically is a child’s way of life. We should not permit this habit to follow us into adult life, since dependency is the root of all feelings of inferiority. Dependency generates the feeling of second-class citizenship. Out of this grows the habit of competition, envy, making comparisons and similar mistaken compensatory striving that we create in our effort to assuage the pain of feeling second class in relation to others. Humiliating feelings of inferiority produce the gnawing, distracting, disruptive, destructive craving for personal recognition and prestige, with its inescapable fear of failure.


4.   That unhappiness, loneliness, neurotic symptoms, crime and similar distresses arise directly from this unresolved habit of leaning and depending on others whom we immediately feel we must try to control, rule, dominate or exploit for our own bene fit, since we cannot otherwise support ourselves physically and emotionally.


5.   That only those who are sell-reliant emotionally and physically can function as adult human beings able to cooperate with other adults, because life demands that we be useful and productive or, as Adler said, to “he a help and not a burden.”


6.   That the inadequate responses of envy, greed, competition and sabotage — with which we try to solve confronting problems of life — are only reactions which would not arise in the first place if we were in the habit of standing on our own feet and were not always trying to find someone on whom to lean and exploit, demanding that they prop us up and hold us there.


7.   That defects of self-reliance and the inescapable pain that accompanies them can he changed only when we fully realize that the pain we suffer is but the other-end-of-the-stick of our leaning, dependent, subaltern habits of mind. Our problems do not have mysterious, hidden sources, and we do not have to look far or deep to find the source; we keep stumbling, tripping and falling over it all day long, even though we refuse to identify it as our own childishness.


8.   That all human beings are the product of evolution, and that we share the inheritance of all human potentialities and are equally based in evolution. Each can evoke his store of potentialities to shape them into his own creation and discover his own reality. Each is his own architect. Whatever one human being has done can be done by others. Creation is a built-in attribute of each of us. It waits, however, for the awakening touch of self-reliance to shape its parts and aspects.




1. Beecher, Willard and Marguerite, “Introduction” to the book Beyond Success and Failure: Ways to Self Reliance and Maturity by Willard and Marguerite Beecher, 1966, Revised Edition 1981, Willard and Marguerite Beecher Foundation. This Introduction provides an excellent outline of Individual Psychology which was founded by Alfred Adler. Everyone should read Beyond Success and Failure and the other three Beecher books which are published by and can be ordered from the WM Beecher Foundation, Inc, PO Box 833027, Richardson TX 75083, Web Site: The Problem of the Twentieth Century" is reproduced here with permission of WM Beecher Foundation, Inc.


About the Beechers and the Beecher Foundation:


The late Willard and Marguerite Beecher had more than eighty years of combined professional experience as renowned Adlerian psychologists and authors. Primary concepts they taught included self reliance - everyone standing on their own two feet, cooperation instead of competition and “common sense” is “sense of community”. They viewed most behavioral problems as bad habits which could mostly be resolved with group discussions and did not see the need for deep psychological therapy. The foundation was established by the Beechers. The mission of the foundation includes keeping their books in print for future generations.