Fail. Fail. Fail.

Failing Isn’t Fun.

I really, really to hate to fail.  In fact, I hate it so much that I rarely admit that I failed when I do–it’s not that I lie about it–I just don’t even admit to myself.  So why does every guru on leadership say that failing is good?  I had the opportunity to watch lots of kids this weekend–kids of all ages.  They “fail” all the time.  They try something, it doesn’t work, they try again, or they walk away and try something else.  Sometimes they get upset, sometimes they get hurt, but they pretty much pick themselves up and keep trying.  They don’t usually see it as “failure.”  They just see it as a part of living.

Imagine if they were so afraid of failure that they didn’t try.  What if they didn’t learn to walk because they would fall down.  What if they didn’t learn to read because they wouldn’t be able to figure out all the words.  The way they keep going in the face of what we adults would see as “failure” is an important lesson for us.  Some time around late elementary school or middle school, kids start to stress about failing and start to be afraid of trying.  By the time we’re adults, we’ve got that lesson well-learned.

Failure Is A Step

The flip side of failure, though, is that without it, you don’t get better.  Even if we succeed we don’t do it as well as if we fail first and try again.  If I spend my time obsessing about how I failed at something, rather than treating it like a baby treats a fall–that way didn’t work, maybe the next way will–then my forward movement becomes a loop at best.  One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There are LOTS of books on the benefits of failure:  Fail Forward; Celebrating Failure, The Power of Failure, Great Failures of the Extremely Successful Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, to name just the ones I’ve read in the last two years.  So, I  get why failure is critical.  The problem is the way we look at it.  Failure isn’t an event.  To quote Edison again,  “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”  Failure is a step.

Try, Try, Try

So, remember the way a kid thinks: Try. Try. Try.


Filed under Books, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Reframe, Success

4 responses to “Fail. Fail. Fail.

  1. Dave Roitman

    Jo – the questions I would add to your provocative and excellent blog: What are the root causes for “fear of failure?” And what are the ones we can influence. There’s a lot written on this too, and some good research. A quick search produced 120,000,000 hits! For example an intriguing study showed the connection betweeen fear of failure and relative low scores in self-determination. By reducing reliance on external motivators we can reduce failure. an entirely different source of inspiration and information would come from Jerry Jampolski’s excellent book “Love is Letting Go of Fear.” So – thanks for the morning boost!


  2. Stacy

    Good stuff Jo ! Your post really touched home.


  3. Pingback: Reflections on Failure | Jo McDermott

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