Rethink Failure: Sometimes Missing the Mark Isn't All Bad

Oct 4, 2018

We have all experienced the feeling when our heart drops to our stomach and our throat tightens; a look of disappointment stares back at us in the mirror.

Failure is unavoidable. It is something that we all have in common, but it is also relative and subjective to each person. Failure shapes us. We can choose to let it keep us from trying again, or we can grow stronger because of it. 

Although a cloud of doubt surrounds us and we want to disappear, we need to take the experience and use it to strengthen ourselves within to succeed. Failure should be seen as an opportunity for growth rather than something that hinders it.

Does the fear of failure motivate you? Do you try again after failing the first time? What was one of the worst failures you have experienced, and how did you cope with the loss? These are all questions that I asked people on the streets of Portland.

The answers varied significantly with gender and age. Due to limited life experience, teenagers viewed different things as failures. While an older man believed his biggest failure was his broken marriage, a teenager said her most significant failure was not being successful in a particular sport. 

One person’s failure could be considered another one’s success. For instance, in school, if a person receives a C that might be regarded as “failing” for them, but for another that might be an excellent grade. A majority of people believed that failure was a motivational tactic, yet three (out of the 14 people interviewed) found that it prevented them from pursuing a specific goal. Humans have an inherent ability to be resilient and try again even after they failed. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines failure as “a lack of success; falling short.” We naturally associate failure as an opposite to success; while success elicits positive responses, failure is considered negative.  A young woman said how she does not always view failures as something negative. A bad mark or critique is a way that she can improve herself. Another woman said, “The only real failure in life is the one that gets you killed, so you just have to keep going.” 

The mindset that failure is a way to grow should be normalized and accepted universally. Rather than failure being the opposite of success, it is part of the process. If we adopt this belief, we will begin to see all of our “failures” in a positive light. 

University of California Berkeley researcher Martin Covington theorized that the fear of failure is directly linked to our view of self-worthiness. When we succeed, our abilities are reflected positively, and we see ourselves as worthy of opportunities. We believe failure reflects our perceived incompetence. To become a success-oriented person, we have to look at everything as a lesson. Every opportunity, whether or not we succeeded as we wanted, is a chance to grow and improve ourselves as individuals.

Most of us choose to show the world the best versions of ourselves. We wear masks to conceal all the negative aspects of our lives. As a teenager, I still have little experience dealing with failure, but I am slowly beginning to see that failure is a lesson and a way that I can improve myself. Do I pick myself up and give it another go, or do I let it defeat me? The only real way to get over failure is to accept it as part of the process of being successful.

Caty DuDevoir is a student at Cheverus High School and is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice.