Idioms about Success & Failure

Idioms about Success & Failure

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill, a British politician, army officer, and writer

We all share the same goal – to be successful in life. But perceptions of success may differ enormously. As a teacher, I often ask people various questions. And the answers I get sometimes astound me, and sometimes they deeply touch my heart. For example, recently I asked the question “What is success to you?” and got two remarkable answers. Now, I would like for you, my dear readers, to think about what success really is to you. After all, if you can define it, it should be easier to achieve. So, one answer was: “Success is a private jet. If I had it, it would mean a very high status and true independence.” And the other answer was: “Success is bringing happiness.” Please note that the question was not specified and could be interpreted in many different ways: what is personal success, professional success, etc?. But it made the answers even more interesting. Anyway, whatever success is to you, you should know how to talk about it. And there is no great success without failures. So, let’s get down to work, shall we?


If something… then it…
makes all the difference (to something), has a very good effect on a situation/thing: Your offer to drive us to the airport makes all the difference to our travel plans.
happens like a dream, happens successfully without any problems: My new motorbike runs like a dream: it’s fast but so smooth and quiet.
works like magic (BrE), works immediately and very well: Your plan worked like magic.
goes from strength to strength, gets better and better: The company has gone from strength to strength in the last 6 months.
does the trick, solves a problem well: I sprayed the stain remover onto my jacket and it did the trick.
is the be-all and end-all (of something), is the most important thing: Work isn’t the be-all and end-all in my life.
is a blessing in disguise, has a good effect even though at first it seemed it would be bad: The flood ruined our old kitchen, but it was a blessing in disguise, because the insurance company paid for a new one.


If something… then…
(or someone) is a victim of their/its own success, their/its success has negative effects as well as or instead of positive ones: She is a victim of her own success. She is a popular teacher whose class everyone wants to be in.
(usually someone) doesn’t have/stand a ghost of a chance (of doing something), they have no chance at all: I didn’t think I had the ghost of a chance of passing the exam, but I did.
(or someone) gives up the ghost (BrE), they/it stop(s) working or they stop trying to succeed because they know they won’t: My old shoes have given up the ghost.

Note that if you say someone gave up the ghost, it may mean they died.

(like a company) goes belly up, it does not have enough money to pay its depts: His shop went belly up last year.
(very important to you) goes up in smoke, it fails, disappears (like a futile effort): All my dreams and plans went up in smoke.
goes up/down in flames, it gets destroyed (as if in a huge fire): His career went up in flames.
withers on the vine (literary), it fails to be implemented or dealt with because of inaction: The resolution withered on the vine.


Perhaps, it would be better to end on a positive note. So, it’d like to add a few more words about success. The text below will help you boost your vocabulary even more:

Do you want to get ahead in life? According to successful author and entrepreneur Matthew Toden, you need 7 key personality traits for success.

  1. Be optimistic: always look on the bright side, and just as importantly, don’t dwell on past failures.
  2. Be passionate: find things that will spur (encourage) you on in all aspects of your life.
  3. Be persistent: don’t give in (stop trying). Everyone slips up (makes a careless mistake) sometime or other, so just deal with challenges and then move on.
  4. Be flexible: when the unexpected crops up, successful people adapt to change and are prepared to move with the times.
  5. Educate yourself: even without formal education, people who are prepared to improve themselves throughout their lives tend to be more successful.
  6. Be focused: everyone wants to make it (succeed) in life, but it’s essential to concentrate on the long term. Don’t be distracted by the temptation to make the fast buck (earn money quickly and easily (disapproving)). 
  7. Be altruistic: really successful people are concerned with others and contributing to the greater good. Helping people and giving money away (give money as a gift) is rewarding.

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