The Value of Failure

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
~ Samuel Beckett

Failure is one of life’s great teachers. Without failure, we’re unable to measure success in a way that encourages passion and persistence. Without failure, we are less capable of realizing our own path to personal or professional fulfillment.

It's fine to celebrate success but it's more important to heed the lessons of failureSadly, failure’s value becomes most apparent as we age. We look back on failed tests, relationships and job-related projects that felt like the End of Days. In hindsight we realize they were simply teachable moments, detours and steppingstones moving us forward.

Failure is a gift, but nobody welcomes it. The lessons it brings are wrapped in insecurity and self-doubt. The good news is we reach a certain age and suddenly see the lessons failure brought us outlining the path of our success.

Without failure, there is no way to measure achievement. Without failure, we are less likely to set higher goals and continue trying. Unfortunately, society celebrates successes while often overlooking the difficult journey. Setbacks, challenges, rejection and failure litter a successful path.

No one is an overnight success and most people achieve their goals because they failed, reinvented themselves and set new directions more than once.

Failure is Temporary

Failure is not a step backward; it’s an opportunity to check your direction and adjust your course. That’s easy for me to say now, but in the midst of my failures (I had many) I felt my only option was a one-way ticket to the Island of Misfit Toys.

You always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't takeWhen you don’t succeed you often hear that little voice asking, “what if it happens again?” It might. But Inertia is the worst side effect of a bad ending.  If it happens, make sure its temporary.

The fear of failing translates into not trying, or even giving up. Don’t. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky reminds us, “You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” The truth of that statement means you might score the winning goal.

Failure Counts

Progressive companies and seasoned managers incorporate failure into job interview questions.

During an interview I am often asked to describe an event that did not execute as planned. The hiring manager is not doing this to cross me off the list of candidates, it’s to gauge how I handle the unexpected, learn from experience and find alternate solutions.

I want people on my team who have experienced failure and I want leadership that understands its value. More than anything else, this tells me how they respond when things don’t follow the script. It’s a key element of individual and team success.

Failure Feels Terrible

In fact, nothing feels worse. My biggest job failure is tied to a company I never should have worked for. It began with a bad cultural fit and a manager who was a nasty piece of business. It ended with no possibility of success. It is the job I quit without a new one waiting for me. I resigned and walked out the door; the weight of my failure more than I could bear.

If you have never seen failure you have never seen successIt was the best thing that ever happened to me. For weeks I was miserable, unable to pull myself together and begin a job search. It kept me from seeing my worth and stripped away my self-confidence and it continued until I realized it was defining me.

That failure led to the three best jobs of my career. I worked for amazing companies and managers who encouraged me and developed my success.

When I managed a team of my own, I silently thanked that nasty piece of business for showing me the person I did not wish to become. I celebrated that failure and learned that timing is everything, even when it feels bad.

Failure Builds Resilience

Failure teaches you how not to do something. To your younger self this lesson isn’t readily apparent, but as you gain experience and fail more than once you realize you’re still here; a better you than you were before.

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligentlyYou see the lessons failure teaches rather than allowing failure to define you. The take-away from failure is how you respond to it, because that builds your resilience; it makes you who you are. It’s not really failure when you learn and move forward and it’s okay to look back as long as you remember you’re not going that way.

The definition of resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from setbacks and difficulties but it’s not a skill that comes overnight. As we gain insight and develop problem solving skills, we realize failure is something that happens to us, it is not who or what we are.

Failure’s Lessons

Failure teaches us in ways success can’t, but they seem to work as a team. Together they make you smarter, tougher and courageous. Failure is not a step backward. It’s value, when recognized, is also the path that brings you out of your comfort zone.

We often make work, relationship, and life choices based on pre-conceived expectations that lead to failure. Making a bad decision is part of being human, staying there is a failure—because it will turn out every bit as bad as you anticipate.

A good failure—yes, it’s a thing—provides the opportunity to take responsibility for a decision and change the outcome.  It’s humbling to accept failure as part of a healthy life. The best way to view any failure is in your rear-view mirror.

Choose not to let failure hold you back. Finding the right relationship, job and fulfilling life goals is hard work that comes with a setback or two. The results are worth the risk.  The experience of failing is part of who we are.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
— J.K. Rowling

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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