The Gift of Failure


Failure is a natural part of life. Nobody goes through life without failing. The key issue about failure is how we respond to it. Do we allow it to help us breakthrough barriers, develop our characters, refine our ethics and behavior, help our learning or even lead us to innovation? It can do all those things but our attitude to failure will, to a certain extent, define us. Either it will help us or restrict us, or worst-case scenario be a destructive force in us.

Below are 6 constructs that we can build into our lifestyle to make failure as positive experience for us as possible.

Embrace it – even though it is painful

This is not a ‘positive thinking’ blog or ‘let’s put a positive spin on failure to make it alright – we failed but let’s pretend we didn’t or ‘spin it’ so it looks positive! Make no mistake failure is painful. We have to embrace it for what it is – we set out to do this, to make something, to pass an exam, to be successful at business or a career, to act morally or ethically, whatever it was and we fell short, we didn’t make it, we disappointed someone or ourselves. Don’t try and avoid that pain but rather embrace it, face it, name it, mourn it, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness. Whatever you need to do to embrace it - be bold and courageous and do it.

Make it Transparent

Don’t hide it. Be appropriately transparent. Tell the people who need to know. Adopt a place of humility – not groveling or begging. If you bring it into the ‘light’ it will help you to deal with it properly. It helps deal with the shame of failure – often that includes you being able to forgive yourself. To start to build trust of your instincts and judgement again. Also, we must recognize that we will probably need to build trust etc. with others as this is all part of the process of restoration and restitution that enables us to healthily recover from our failure. Dealing with the shame of our failure starts to help us receive honour or weight again.  

Learn from it

The most important thing that comes from failure is that we can learn from it. We must learn from it. If we don’t, we will end up either repeating similar mistakes and patterns or being so risk averse we never achieve anything. There are a couple of things that help us to learn from our mistakes

Firstly, we must learn how to be reflective, to be able to look at what did go wrong, where the mistake happened but also what was good – there are very few failures that have no positives, things that we did well. If we are not reflective, we won’t learn. If you are more naturally reflective beware of not being too reflective. The danger with the naturally reflective person is that they never move on or it makes us timid or wary of taking risks again.

Secondly, we need to decide to take action. What do we need to do differently? Do we need a different mindset or develop a different attitude? Do we need a new skill or a improve our skill set? Are we just not suited to something? Do we need some mentoring or coaching? Do we need some help to change something in our character?

This reflection and deciding how we need to take action empowers our failure to help change us.

It’s the power that drives innovation and creativity

As we learn to deal with failure in good way it will help to drive forward innovation and creativity. I think we often see failure and conflict as things that hinder innovation and creativity, but my experience and observation is that, if they are handled correctly, they become the power and freedom that drives them! Reflecting on how we failed helps us to see new possibilities, different facets of the problem and have new hope of success. Many inventions and breakthroughs have happened because people have learned from the mistakes and failures, decided on action and persevered. Someone once said to me ‘that a failure just helps you cross off another thing that doesn’t work – the next one might be the one!’. How conflict helps creativity and innovation is a subject for another time.

Develop a sense of humour

Developing a good sense of humour, not taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at yourself will help you to get through and recover well from failure.

One proverb wisely states: ‘Laughter is good for the soul and the bones’

Celebrate it!

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to celebrate failure especially when you have processed it. To celebrate it as a gift that will help you be a better person and better equipped for your next challenge.




Ian Rowlands