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4 reasons to friend failure, not fear it


Several top schools in the United Kingdom have been engaging in an interesting experiment: Failure Week.river rock

The entire week is about failure and about “the value of having a go rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less.”

I love this. Here’s why: We need to become friends with failure in order to be able to bounce back in life.

Even though there is lip service paid to “it’s okay to fail,” the reality is that there is subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to do exactly the opposite – to be perfect.

But we’re not perfect. We’re human and thus vulnerable to all sorts of flaws and foibles, including failure.

So, we know failure will happen at some point. The question is, can we recover from it? And even more so, can we learn to value it?

Be like the rock in the river

We tend to resist things we don’t like. And failure is one of them. But resisting failure is like the jagged rock trying to resist the rushing river: The water will always pour over the rock, so why does it try so to make it stop? Perhaps, instead, it can allow the river to smooth its sharp edges and turn it into beauty that the rock never expected.

And so, as the rock and the river become friends, knowing that they will always be together, so must we befriend failure.

4 ways to friend failure

1. Friend failure, don’t become it.

I have heard many people say, “I’m such a failure.” No, actually, you are someone who has failed. You, yourself do not equate to failure. Be wary of labeling yourself.

2. Look for the side effects of failure.

Paul Iske, a business innovation researcher and founder of The Institute for Brilliant Failures, likes to give one example to illustrate that failure often has beneficial side effects: Viagra. The drug was created to treat heart conditions. It failed at that, but scientists soon began to note that it had a very noteworthy side effect. The rest, of course, is history

When I was an undergraduate, I failed my statistics class. And then I failed it again. I passed it on the third try (and with a different professor) but my plans to become a mathematician were derailed. I was dejected. I had never failed at anything I set out to achieve.

After awhile, though, I noticed something. Failing my statistics class forced me to look at other fields of study. And I realized that it was actually psychology that energized me, not math. The side effect of my failure was that I allowed myself to really look at what I was passionate about. And although my math classes were interesting and challenging, they did not stir my creative juices as psychology did.

The rest of that story is history, too.

3. Realize that it may not be failure, it may just be deferred success.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Thomas Edison tried 3000 times to invent the light bulb until he got it right. If he had quit after his first few tries, you might be reading this by candlelight on parchment paper.

One of Paul Iske’s favorite brilliant failure stories is that of Christopher Columbus. His original mission was to find a faster trading route to the far east. Instead, he failed spectacularly by discovering the North American continent. The success of his failure would not be known until later years.

No matter what is happening for you right now, it could be that you are experiencing success that is deferred until later, one facet of the gem that is failure.

4. Release control of your expectations.

One of the reasons we are so failure-aversive is that it feels as though we lose control when we fail at something. Letting go of your control and expectations about something will allow you to see the softer sides of failure. And, again, letting go does not mean giving up. It merely means to have no judgment about situations or yourself.


We can learn a lot from failure. You never know, it may just end up being one of your best friends.

How do you deal with failure?





  1. Great article! It reminded me to look at my failures in a different light. I also think that sometimes when we fail, we are being protected in some way. That what we wanted might have led to disaster of some kind…if that makes any sense!
    Sheila Bergquist recently posted…Why I Stopped Being So NiceMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Sheila, that’s an interesting take on failure. I think it’s likely that some paths we fail on might lead to something we wouldn’t have wanted or needed, anyway. Thanks!

  2. Becky says:

    Love it. It’s true — failure makes us better prepared for success. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down as long as the number of times you get up is bigger. Well done, my friend!
    Becky recently posted…Awareness. (Or, Pot, Meet Kettle)My Profile

  3. AJ Walton says:

    I loved the Columbus example Bobbi.

    Ramit Sethi made a nice distincation I think that’s worth noting: While we should embrace failure as a part of our growth, celebrating it for its own sake isn’t helpful either. The middle path, or “failing forward” is the best way.
    AJ Walton recently posted…How To Stand Out From The CrowdMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Aj,

      Yes, that is a nice distinction. Failure is just failure unless we make a choice to fail forward and/or do something constructive with it. Thanks!

  4. Mathias says:

    Nice article! It’s true what you’re saying; that initial failure may just be future success. I like to think of failure as a short-sighted definition – once you look at the bigger picture, you see that each short-term “failure” was actually part of a bigger success.
    Mathias recently posted…How to Improve Your Self-Discipline and Solve all Your ProblemsMy Profile

  5. Great article! Great suggestions on how our attitude toward failure can help us embrace new challenges and persevere. 🙂

  6. Devin Bisanz says:

    I failed many times, and it can be embarrassing! I always think about the years I used to knock doors and my mentor always said, “Every NO you take get’s you one step closer to a YES.”
    Devin Bisanz recently posted…Are You As Observant As You Think?My Profile

  7. Rose Costas says:

    Thank you very much for this post. It was on time. I like everyone else have been my share of failures but have grown to realize that indeed failures are temporary set backs. also, it is a time to reassess what I have been doing and if I need to make changes.

    Thanks again for a great post.
    Rose Costas recently posted…Do you Know How Powerful You are?My Profile

  8. Sandra James says:

    Great Post! We all hate to fail but learning to reframe our thinking and turn failure into a learning experience is powerful. Thank you!
    Sandra James recently posted…Whole-Brain Teaching Strategies to Accelerate EducationMy Profile

  9. Carole Lyden says:

    Hi Bobbie,

    It’s been a while since I’ve been here. And yet another important post. I wish that as a child I had been told that it was ok to fail sometimes. Life would have been a whole lot less stressful.


    Carole Lyden recently posted…What is depression and do I have it?My Profile

  10. Frank says:


    I look upon failure as a learning opportunity.

    If you don’t fail you are missing important lessons in life.

    And it does make you a stronger person.

    But you do need that positive, pick yourself up attitude!
    Frank recently posted…How To Make Background Screening EasierMy Profile

  11. Hello Bobbi,

    The more one fails yet rises each time comes to understand humility more. Learning to be happy and joyful on your knees is a great quality in moving forward because, in growing, we spend most of our time there. Great post! It is absolutely essential to train yourself to see failure as necessary pruning. Thanks again and look forward to more posts 🙂


    Holden Seguso

  12. Phil says:

    Great post, very insightful.
    I am always preaching to others how to learn from, and embrace failures.
    I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been knocked back before finding the breakthroughs I was after.
    Control is a huge drawback too as you said. I encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone or do something a little crazy from time to time.
    Phil recently posted…What Is the Myers Briggs Personality TestMy Profile

  13. Brian Robben says:

    Very insightful post Bobbi! I believe if you’re not failing regularly, then you’re not setting your goals high enough. I think you would agree.
    Brian Robben recently posted…How To Choose A MajorMy Profile

  14. DIYBlogGuy says:

    Sometimes I confuse failure with just not having the result I expected, so I can resonate with your words.

    I’m still grinding every day towards my goals and just need to reflect more on the days work.
    Taking this time can turn a failure mindset into a success one.
    DIYBlogGuy recently posted…I hate my WordPress themes provider for being too awesome!My Profile

  15. Shonda says:

    Hi Bobbi…
    I found your blog listed on wishing well coach and decided to check it out. Jessica was right, I’m glad I checked it out. This has definitely been enlightening.
    Shonda recently posted…Seat Belt Cover | Car PillowMy Profile

  16. Hammo says:

    I embrace failure on a daily basis and as long as you’re not hurt, then it’s just a lesson that you learn from.

    I love that Albert Einstein quote – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Failure is one way to stop you from repeating the same thing over and over again, or at least it should.

    Stay sane, keep failing.
    Hammo recently posted…Is Wealthy Affiliate a SCAM?My Profile

  17. Mercury says:

    I believe you only truly fail when you stop trying. Doing something wrong or making a mistake isn’t failure.
    Mercury recently posted…How To Stop Overthinking: Is It Even Possible?My Profile

  18. Amy Boardman says:

    I love this article. I am a class teacher and often use the acronym F.A.I.L with my pupils. We have an understanding that a F.A.I.L is OK as it is our ‘First Attempt In Learning’. We have changed what can be seen as a negative word, into a more positive one whilst instilling perseverance. A lot of what you say resonates perfectly. Thank you for sharing!

    • Bobbi says:

      I like your FAIL acronym, Amy, that’s awesome! I volunteer about 3 times per year at a certain kind of dog obedience trial called Rally Obedience. When a handler and dog make a mistake, they’re NQ’d which technically means “Not Qualified.” However, the judge and the rest of us volunteers tell the participants that NQ really stands for “Not Quite yet.” 😉

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.