In a society dead set on success, what do we do in the face of failure?

Why do we need to learn to fail? Carved into our subconscious through childhood stories and tales of triumph the aversion of failure has become a cultural obligation. We go for gold, strive for greatness and avoid the ‘f’-word at all costs. But, for many, the quest for success is far from motivational. Paralysed by a fear of failure, the pursuit of success can hold us back.

J.K. Rowling

Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success.

In an era of individualism, we are the Gods of our own fate. As a society, we are entrenched in the idea that those with adequate talent, energy and skill will always achieve a place at the ‘top’. As put by Alain de Botton, “It’s made to feel, by magazines and other media outlets, that if you’ve got energy, a few bright ideas about technology, a garage — you, too, could start a major thing.”

Following the myth of meritocracy and the “self-made man”, the pursuit of success has become a moral imperative. Those who achieve it are celebrated has having done so righteously, while those who fail are considered deserving of their downfall. But, rather than motivating individuals to pursue their goals, the cult of success comes with debilitating repercussions. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports that over 40% of individuals aged between 18 and 64 express that their fear of failure would prevent them from launching an innovation-led business. Meanwhile, in China where the market is condensed with competition, students display high levels of mental illness accounted for by this fear. Spreading on an endemic scale, the pressure to achieve and the fear of failure has a crippling effect on how we experience our lives.

oprah winfrey

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction”

In reaction to this, a new cult has emerged. Dropping the ‘f-bomb’ with no filter, individuals are celebrating the importance of failure. This cult includes Kristen Vermilya and Justina McMasters, who, overwhelmed by the endless instructionals on how to “be a boss” and how to “make $100,000 while you sleep”, founded Podcast ‘How To Fail’. Here, Vermilya and McMasters join legions of thinkers actively encouraging people to go against the status quo embrace failure with open arms. The mentality that if you’re not failing, then you aren’t taking enough risk and if you’re not taking risks you won’t find the path to success. Below, we share a guide on how to fail, successfully.

  1. Accept failure an inevitable part of life

    When admiring the success of Oprah, many forget that in her path to becoming a television icon, she was fired from her first job as an anchor. Like death and taxes, failure is an aspect of life that no one escapes. We are witness to so many success stories that it is easy to view them as the norm. But in reality, high-achieving individuals fail more often than they succeed.

  2. Understand that things are a process

    It is very rare that people achieve their success without a process of trial and error. James Dyson created 5,126 prototypes before finally developing the bagless vacuum cleaner that made his fortune. Failure should be perceived as an opportunity to learn. Seeking insight from our downfalls permits us to take greater strides to our goals in the future, letting us learn to overstep the bumps in the road initially that tripped us up.

  3. Develop a kinder philosophy of success

    After a failed attempt to boost album sales by conforming to a mainstream idea of popular music, Jay-Z realised that if he was going to be successful, he had to be successful with himself. Expressing that, “I couldn’t be successful doing what other people were doing. I had to do what I believed in and what felt real to me and true to me.” Developing a kinder philosophy of success involves realising that our ideas of success have been fed to us by societal ideas of what we should want, do and believe. To truly succeed, we must develop an authentic and individual idea of what it means.


Read More