Archive | Resilience

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?



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