• SumoMe

Self-proclaimed descendant of Achilles, King Pyrrhus of Epirus was a Century military leader who, in 280 BCE, is known best for his battle with the Romans. In a war taking his namesake, Pyrrhus defeated the Romans during the Pyrrhic war, a series of battles to try and quell Roman influence. After his victory, the Greek historian Plutarch recorded Pyrrhus’ thoughts:

The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.

This statement led to the “pyrrhic victory” metaphor–a great victory that comes at such a cost that a second victory will ultimately cause defeat.

Often this metaphor is used to describe actual battles, but it is applicable to many other achievements outside bloodshed. For instance, college degrees are often pyrrhic victories as many people achieve a great victory in graduation, but are left with such crippling and inescapable student loan debt that going back to school would result in financial ruin. Or perhaps an injured athlete fights through a broken bone or pulled hamstring to win the championship, but is left with such pain and injury that to go through the playoffs a second time would prove injurious to long-term healing.

While achieving your goals is always encouraged, men should remain wary of achieving the pyrrhic victory to the point where the most recent achievement is his last.

There are a few ways to avoid the pyrrhic victory, and certainly many more than are listed:

1. Recognize that the achievement is pyrrhic at the outset.

Easier said than done, right? If we could know this, the pyrrhic victory would soon become a thing of the past. The problem is that many times we enter into a path to achieve something and we only see the end goal in sight, rather than the obstacles in the way and the potential costs to achieve the end goal.

While this optimism is often of great importance, men should start to look at the bumps in the road to the light at the end of the tunnel. How much time will your achievement take, and do you have that time to sacrifice to begin with? Will your achievement cause unmanageable financial strain on your short and/or long-term situation? How will your relationships with others be affected by your actions?

All these questions and more are important to consider before going after any achievement. Whether these questions outweigh the benefits of your success are wholly up to the individual. Some people are willing and able to sacrifice personal relationships to achieve their goals, and this is perfectly fine. The important point is to ask yourself if your successes are worth the price of admission–there is an equal and opposite reaction for everything, including success.

2. Learn when to cut your losses.

Never catch a falling knife. Literally and figuratively. More pointedly, know not only how to fail, but when to fail. Sometimes it’s best to say, “I’m in a bad situation, and I’ve not yet achieved my goals. I’m going to let this knife fall to the ground rather than grab it and wind up cutting myself.”

Remember, you can always pick the knife up off the floor and start again from where you left off or start over completely. Just ask Henry Ford. Sometimes not achieving your goals is blessing in disguise, and knowing when to cut your losses is a great way to avoid losing everything for a victory that might not be worth the cost in the end.

3. Have a backup plan.

Before you start anything, have a backup plan. What if you don’t graduate college, what then? What if you play that game injured, but wind up losing anyways? If you’re going to take the plunge and go after your goals (which is completely encouraged) you should be real with yourself and realize that failure happens every day in all sorts of ways, and you aren’t immune. You are immune from poor planning, though, if you just take the time to sit down and not cheat yourself.

Having a backup plan is a great asset if you decide to cut your losses and stop your path to success early because it will not only ease your fears of not knowing what comes next, but it will allow you the mental and emotional freedom to watch the knife hit the floor and not feel like a failure.

Granted, these are not the only steps to avoiding a pyrrhic victory. However, keeping these three points in mind will greatly aid you on your path to success in whatever it is you want to do. Do not fear success for the possibility of failure, simply avoid denial and get real with yourself so that you will always be prepared.

(Image credit: ANESTAKOS)

Have you ever had a pyrrhic victory? If so, what was your experience? Tell your story in the comments below.