Failure to fail

failedI was watching a reality TV show recently and one of the eager young contestants proudly boasted, “I have never failed at anything I’ve tried to do!”

He smirked for the camera, and I thought, “Loser!”

Why? Because failing to fail is the greatest failure of all.

Let me explain. I’ve been around long enough to try my hand at lots of different things. And because I’m an ambitious, competitive kind of person, I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Sometimes things go well, sometimes not. Is that because I take on tasks that I’m not qualified to do? No, it’s because I try to do things that are hard.

After all, if you don’t push yourself to new levels you probably won’t fail, but you won’t achieve everything you’re fully capable of either. I’m not going to boast about my achievements here. You don’t want to hear about that. My failures are much more interesting.

I failed my PhD. That pushed me along a new and unexpected career path that turned into a huge adventure. I tried and failed to build a new kind of search engine that could one day replace Google. That taught me a lot – about technology, about start-ups and about patent law. I wrote a novel that nobody wanted to publish. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m a blogger today. Failure in one endeavour can lead directly to success elsewhere.

So failures are character building and they help to define what a person is more than success. Success just measures what someone did. Their failures measure what they might have done if things had worked out a little differently. Failure reveals the scope of our ambition and desire. And perhaps most importantly of all, failure guides us along a path to greater future success (and perhaps greater future failure.)


It was Bill Gates who famously said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” Bill Gates is a man who knows a thing or two about success. But he’s made his fair share of mistakes too. Running one of the biggest companies in the history of the world isn’t easy (I’m guessing now, you understand), and Microsoft certainly made a fatal error in ignoring the growth of the internet for what seemed like an insanely long time. Yet this is the same man who became the richest person in the world.

What about Donald Trump? In the eighties he was a spectacularly successful property developer, then he went bankrupt owing billions of dollars to creditors. Now he’s a multi-billionaire once again.

Big Success. Big failure. They seem to go well together. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

The most common regret people have on their death bed isn’t what they did in life – it’s what they didn’t do. Don’t let that happen to you. Reach for your dreams. Don’t let people tell you it won’t work. Try to do things that are hard. Because even if you fail, it will still be better than if you never tried.

And so my message to that young guy on reality TV is this: if you haven’t failed yet, you really haven’t been trying very hard.

209 responses to “Failure to fail

  1. Pingback: Failure to fail | thegreat146

  2. Really enjoyed reading this. It’s a great reminder to be ambitious and not fear failure.

  3. Reblogged this on Just Think About It and commented:
    I think we need reminders like this to not be afraid to try new things. Failure is fertilizer, it helps your grow!

  4. Great Advise, fully agree. Failure is just a mark of impending success! Rock on!

  5. Reblogged this on moxie supper and commented:
    Important to fail! –many discoveries depend in failure systems! –advancements in, for instance, science depend on failure systems; recall those O-rings, and Feynman’s perseverance for forms of truth, that he wouldn’t have looked for without Challenger’s tragic –and preventable! –failure! –he was relentless, in uncovering what needed to be uncovered! –an idea is to build upon what was believed in the past, to update information, to not be afraid to attempt! –if the “worse” that can happen is “failure” –good! –fail to the best of one’s ability to fail! –too much emphasis is placed on that “highest” grade, but with an “A” a,so comes a ceiling, and that “A” indicates, that a form of “ceiling” has been attained, so there’s nowhere necessary to go; all that could be learned, has been learned! –but with an “F” (for “fine failure”, for instance, there’s many directions to proceed! –I’m so hungry for failure! –will be my lunch (1:22 pm EST)

  6. This is a wonderfully insightful entry – thank you! I have always believed that failing is important, but I have been starting to realize just how much easier it is to say that than to let yourself actually risk failing. I recently wrote a little bit about this if you want to have a look:

  7. Amazing! Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you

  8. You have cited rich people as examples of success. There may be other cases also. But what is the measure of success ? Money ? Number of failures ? Number of non-failures ? Can’t quite get why the most peaceful people ( Peace I believe is a measure of success) are unconcerned about success and failures.

    I had written something on planning to fail in my blog . Hence the visit.

  9. Pingback: Letter to an 11 year old boy | Blog Blogger Bloggest

  10. I like this. I feel like I’m failing right now, currently a first year in my masters degree. I’m trying to find my purpose. It’s hard to see that big failures lead to big successes because I’m in a lull right now. It can be so frustrating! But I definitely see your point. Even though I agree completely, it’s hard to see!

  11. Reblogged this on LP Fray and commented:

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
    ― Thomas A. Edison

    “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
    ― Winston S. Churchill

    “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
    ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

    “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
    ― Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts

    “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
    ― Robert F. Kennedy

    “I’d rather be partly great than entirely useless.”
    ― Neal Shusterman, Unwind

  12. Pingback: 440 Can You Appreciate a Good Paradox? | Find the Factors

  13. Steve, I love what you said, “Failure in one endeavor can lead directly to success elsewhere.” So true, and something that needs to be taught in school.

  14. Thanks Michelle. Perhaps it’s one of those lessons that can only be truly learned by experience?

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