The Problem of Failure

You are a failure.

Now, wait just a minute, you may say, you don’t know that! Or, No I’m not! Trust me, you are. Have you ever forgotten to turn in an assignment? Have you ever bombed a quiz or test? Have you ever failed a class? Have you ever just forgotten to pick up something from the grocery store? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you have failed. Maybe saying you’re a “failure” is taking things a little too far, but I’m trying to make a point here.

You know what they say – the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. But let’s stop listening to “they” for a few minutes and really think about failure, as a concept.

What’s wrong with failing? Why is failing a problem to begin with? Obviously, failing a class could be a problem, especially if graduating requires that class. Failure can also be a problem when we’re talking about reliability. If your friend (or whoever) is counting on you to get something done, and you don’t do it, you’ve failed them.

Looking at the big picture, though, I don’t think these are the problems with failure. These are rather minor in comparison with the rest of your life. The problem with failure isn’t that people fail. The problem is that we have been taught so many negative connotations to the word that we are afraid of it.

People who are afraid of failure won’t try anything new. They also won’t attempt to change their situation, no matter how much they may hate it. Are they afraid of knowing they failed, or are they afraid of letting other people know they failed? Probably both, but more of the latter, I expect. People are usually terrified of what other people think of them.

So to fail is a bad thing. “A failure” is a person who will never be successful, who has been written off. But many “successful” people (and companies) have disastrous failures in their past. They were able to overcome the negativity associated with “failing”.

They were able to say “That didn’t work, so what will?” In this way, I’d like to view failure as a good thing. People need to change their attitude toward failure. ZenHabits blogger Leo Babauta suggests a different way to view failure:

Failure is a stepping stone to success. This is what I tell myself every time I fall. I get up, dust myself off, and start again. Each failure shows you an obstacle you didn’t anticipate, and you can plan to beat that obstacle next time. Each failure brings you that much closer to winning. And you know what? Every time I’ve told myself that, so far, it’s been true. I’ve succeeded. Getting back up is the main thing.

How can failure be a good thing? It is what causes you to learn from your mistakes. It allows you to see problems in your method. The next step, the one many people are unable to complete, is analyzing your failure. This is how you learn from your mistakes.

You must renew your resolve. You have to be determined to examine your failure, and not let it discourage you. When you do examine it, first find out why you failed. Then ask yourself what you could have done differently to change the outcome. Be determined to enact this change the next time the situation comes up.

The key to success is learning to deal with failure. Learn from mistakes. See the problems, but more importantly, ask how to fix them. Analyze the failure to work through it. This is success.

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Posted in Advice. Tags: , . 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “The Problem of Failure”

  1. Michael Henreckson Says:

    I was thinking about this not too long ago. I realized that I definitely haven’t learned how to make the most of failures. Someone who always comes to mind when thinking about failures is Thomas Edison. I understand that he viewed failure as a great lesson in how not to do things.

    I’m a perfectionist, which isn’t a good thing for failures. I take them really hard when they come, but most of the time they don’t, at least not in dramatic form. I can’t think of anything dramatic I’ve failed at. Haven’t flunked any classes or anything like that. Maybe lost a baseball game or two . . .

    But if I did fail, I don’t know how well I’d handle it. Interesting to think about. Thanks for reminding me that I need to learn to fail. 🙂

  2. Stop Fearing Failure and Make the Most of It « The Paperweight Says:

    […] don’t feel failure, all you have to do is pick up the pieces and start learning. Maybe by failing you’ll learn something that you never would have learned […]


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