Did you experience failure, before someone told you what it was? Can you remember the first time you failed? What did it feel like? Did you instinctively know that you’d failed? Or did someone let you know? And in what way did they inform you of your failure?

How do you define failure and is it actually your definition?

Who/what informs the voice in your head that lets you know? Here are some common definitions of failure: ‘Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success’.
If you don’t do the thing (whatever it is), you’re a failure, not a success? But success by who’s standard?

‘Failure can be differentially perceived from the viewpoints of the evaluators. A person who is only interested in the final outcome of an activity would consider it to be an Outcome Failure if the core issue has not been resolved or a core need is not met. A failure can also be a process failure whereby although the activity is completed successfully, a person may still feel dissatisfied if the underlying process is perceived to be below expected standard or benchmark’.

Okay, if the standards are set by you, you might just be a bit of a perfectionist but here’s where it gets tricky… ‘Failure to anticipate, Failure to perceive, Failure to carry out a task’ – the fear of the idea of ‘failing’ is the mindset which puts you on the path to self doubt and anxiety.

Surely we can still make mistakes? as opposed to ‘failing’ mistakes are natural and necessary in order to learn, Failure removes learning from the equation and creates a ‘dualistic’ approach to life and learning development:

Right/wrong, black/white, good/evil, success/failure – you’re either in one camp or the other … ‘Loser is a derogatory term for a person who is (according to the standards of the observer) generally unsuccessful or undesirable’.

Hmm…loser? It’s the thinking that informs the terminology/language which is the issue, it’s not about ignoring when things don’t go to plan, but to define yourself as  ‘less or lacking’ as a result? Or someone telling you, you’re a failure or unsuccessful? Is a person a loser because they make a mistake? Is a baby a failure and a loser because it stumbles and can’t quite walk yet? Here’s an alternative way of looking at failure in four stages:


1.  Acceptance – accept that things haven’t turned out as you would prefer

By accepting the outcome, you’re emotional and mentally prepared to be in the present.

2. Responsibility – take responsibility for your role in the choice/situation

By taking responsibility for your action, you own the choice and can deal with the current situation, which may be an outcome of that choice. You are also taking ownership/control, as opposed to being a victim of circumstance or looking for something or someone to blame.

3. Learning – what can you learn/take away from the experience

Learn from what happened – what was your emotional/mental state? Were you prepared? Did you have all the facts? Having evaluated, what could you do differently?

4. Action – how will you apply what you’ve learnt

How would you apply your new knowledge to your daily thought and decision making process? What practical steps can you take to ensure you don’t find yourself in the same situation or if you do, to ensure that you’re prepared to deal with it?

I hope this has given you a different way of looking at failure and using it as a productive tool, for learning development, as well as an opportunity to explore what failure means to you and define it on your own terms.

Talmud Bah

Founding Director

Talmud Bah Consulting