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“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash

We fear failure. We fear what people will think of us when we fail. we fear that we will lose our reputation and we fear rejection if we fail. The fear of failure can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. it can prevent us from seizing opportunities, making new friends and trying new things. We can become so afraid of failing that we won,t even take the first step needed to step out of this paralysis.

Throughout most of our lives, the message that failure is not an option has been drilled into us especially through our educational years. The whole point, in school, was to pass all the tests regardless of whether we actually learned anything or not. And what di we actually learn? Well, for one thing, we learned that failure was frowned upon and even could become a source of ridicule and punishment. Even outside of school, in sports or life in general, failure has been seen as something very negative to be avoided as it brings a sense of shame in the way we feel people perceive us.

It is unfortunate that the word failure is associated with negative experiences and perceptions because, in fact, it is really only through failing, which s really just a way that we found that doesn’t work, that we can learn to do better. Failure gives a new slate to analyze, adjust and make new plans about how to improve or change. Failure is a school within itself.

In their book, A Leader’s Legacy, authors Kouzes and Posner, write:


“Failure is not an option is one f the dumbest ever uttered. It ranks right up there with “get it right the first time”, another well-intended management nostrum that just encourages people to play it safe”

It is crazy when you think about it. When we are doing something for the first time that we have never done before, it is quite normal that we will not get it right. When we are learning how to do something, a new skill, a new job or anything, “not getting it right” is part of the process and failure is expected. Everything new is at first unknown and unpredictable. We need to fish around to discover the rules, the limits, the tricks, the shortcuts and everything else we need to eventually succeed.

Take the example of Micheal Jordan, an excellent example of perseverance and leadership. When Michael Jordan was in high school, he did not make the cut for the basketball team. He apparently was not good enough. Later, as a professional basketball player, he describes his own failures this way:


“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed”.

Failure Is Not an Event or a Person

Failure is not an event and it is not a person; it is a process. It depends on how you view it. Some people actually view their failures as defining who they are. Thay will actually call themselves a failure – if that is you, please stop because failure is not a person; it is part of a process. If you say that you are a failure, you are actually taking away your power to learn from the process and preventing success in the future. A lot of the time this tendency to attribute failure to who we are goes back to what we earned about failure in school. Maybe failure was punished or maybe failure was used as a reason to ridicule others. But the truth is that failure is how we learn.

Follow The Learning Curve

Learning is never in a straight line; in fact, nothing in life is in a straight line. No matter how well we may think we are doing something or how comfortable we are in how we do it, there is and always will be a better way. This is the nature of innovation and the application of new information. Progress and learning depend on adapting and adjusting to new input and new information. Sometimes and even often,, the learning curve will go down into the negative (perceived failure) before shooting up into the positive quadrant (success). It may continue going up or it may go up and down- it is a continual process.

Let Go of Perfect Expectations

We tend to have such a fear of failing that we set up unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are not going to fail, that we are going to it right the first time, that even though others have failed, we will be different. Doing so is unrealistic and ridiculous, really. We are human and humans always make mistakes especially when first starting out at anything. We will fail and we will disappoint ourselves and others. We will let people down who were counting on us and we will make mistakes. This is to be expected. what matters is not the failures themselves but how we handle the failures.

Let’s Admit that We Are Not Perfect

When we failures or mistakes in a positive way, by admitting that we make them and that we are not perfect, we gain credibility in the eyes of others. By doing so, people recognize themselves and their own failings in us and they are more willing to be accepting and tolerant of our failings. It really comes down to humans being human with other humans. Furthermore, when we are willing to accept our mistakes and failures, we are also more tolerant of the failures of others. This acceptance creates an atmosphere of trust and security.

Charles Kettering, founder of Delco said:


“It doesn’t matter if you try, try and try again, and fail. It does matter if you try and fail and fail to try again”.

Some helpful points

In his book Giving Candy to Strangers, author Stan Holden gives several positive points to “creatively build relationships and get you over the fear of failure”.

  • You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person.

  • Don’t assume the outcome of the conversation.

  • Don’t worry about what others may think.

  • Don’t overanalyze the situation before it has occurred.

  • Don’t worry about making mistakes (if you are not making mistakes occasionally, you are doing something wrong).

  • Don’t hesitate

  • Do listen, be friendly and empathetic

Failure Is Not Our Enemy

Failure is not the enemy; fear is the enemy. Failure opens up new doors of opportunity and teaches us what doesn’t work so that we can find out what does. Everyone fails whether they choose to admit it or not. Failure makes us human. We overestimate our mistakes and turn them into catastrophes when, in reality, this is only a perception.

I will leave you with the words of one of the most famous “failures:: Thomas Edison:


“Many of life’s failures are people who did not know how close they were to success when they gave up.”

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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, traveling, learning, and pursuing a debt-free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life.  You can connect with her through