A few words on failure


This past week I have been attempting to better my understanding of my relationship with failure. It’s strained at the best of times, and generally a little complicated.

I’ve been reading, Black Box Thinking (by Matthew Syed), which is a phenomenal book – I’d highly recommend a read! And I’d like to share a few of his words on failure that have in particular resonated with me. Here are six simple observations, that I think we could all learn from.

One of the problems in our culture is that success is positioned as something that happens quickly. Reality television, for example, suggests or leads us to believe that success can happen in the time it takes to impress a whimsical judge or audience. It is about overnight stardom and instant gratification.

This is the paradox of success: it is built upon failure.

The problem is not just about the consequences of failure, it is also about our attitude towards failure.

Failure is rich in learning opportunities for a simple reason: in many of its guises, it represents a violation of expectation. It is showing us that the world is in some way different from the way we imagined it to be.

If we edit our failure, if we reframe our mistakes, we are effectively destroying one of the most precious learning opportunities that exists.

The desire for perfection rests upon two fallacies. The first resides in the miscalculation that you can create the optimal solution sitting in a bedroom or ivory tower and thinking things through rather than getting out into the real world and testing assumptions, thus finding their flaws… The second fallacy is the fear of failure… You spend so much time designing and strategising that you don’t even get a chance to fail, at least until it is too late… You are so worried about messing up that you never even get on the field of play.




8 Comments Add yours

  1. carlalouise89 says:

    I feel like this is especially important when it comes to teaching. Like, we’re teaching them not to fail because we’re so generous when it comes to everyone. We’re always giving participations and well dones and everything begins to lose a merit. Most kids view “C” (which is meant to be average) as a failure now, and anything less than an A is unacceptable. The worst part is that they aren’t working hard (most of the time) to achieve these results, the just expect them. A little off tangent, but something that is important to understand with this generation.

    1. M_McKeen says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more on that, it’s definitely something I experienced at school. A’s were the expectation anything lower than that and we had failed. Yeah I think it’s because in this day and age, everything a kid wants he gets, so if he wants good grades he thinks that he’ll just get them, he doesn’t realise the amount of effort that needs to go into it. In some ways, I think a lot of kids don’t actually know how to fail, because they’re not given a chance to a lot of the time :/

      1. carlalouise89 says:

        I agree. I really think we’re doing a disservice to the next generation, and we’re not preparing them for the real world and real-world consequences. It’s like we’re setting them up to fail.

      2. M_McKeen says:

        I think it’ll certainly play a part. It’s probably to easy to blame all problems on that though. It’s something I really struggled with. Still trying to learn that failure is inevitable in this complex world and that it really is OK to fail as long as we learn it’s lessons

  2. My depression is triggered by failure…Especially failure within relationships. I’m such a perfectionist and I hate it because I’m nowhere near perfect…Nor will I ever be and I dont think I wanna be…Talk about paradox.

    1. M_McKeen says:

      That is the definition of a paradox. Perfection is an illusion. It’s something that a lot of us struggle with, but sometimes we just need to accept the way things are.

      1. True indeed. Believe me, if I could just get past it I think I would be perfectly fine.

      2. M_McKeen says:

        I’m a little like that too. In a way it’s a good thing though, it shows that you care. But maybe we invest too much into it as we think it’ll have a bearing on our reputation.

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