How interesting to learn, in a review of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (Harvard 2005), that "[b]efore the Civil War 'failure' described a business in peril, not a person." From the prologue,
Businessmen dominate this story because their loss of money and manhood drove legislative, commercial, and cultural solutions that redefined failure: from the lost capital of a bankruptcy to the lost chances of a wasted life. This shift from ordeal to identity expanded the constituency of failure. Women, workers, and African Americans were put on notice: ruin was no longer just for white businessmen. As the twentieth century dawned, popular magazines were enlivened by "Frank Confessions from Men and Women who Missed Success." The Cosmopolitan named "The Fear of Failure" as the bane of "many a young man and woman." Correspondence schools taunted laborers to escape "the treadmill positions of life." Upon founding the National Negro Business League, Booker T. Washington urged that "more attention . . . be directed to [Negroes] who have succeeded, and less to those who have failed." By 1900, anybody could end up "a 'Nobody,'" plodding down the "many paths leading to the Land of 'Nowhere.'" Failure had become what it remains in the new millennium: the most damning incarnation of the connection between achievement and personal identity. "I feel like a failure." The expression comes so naturally that we forget it is a figure of speech: the language of business applied to the soul.