If you look up failure in the dictionary, it’s defined as ‘the fact of someone or something not succeeding’. When you think about it, what does that even mean? How do we define success? Is it about what other people say about what happened? How we feel about it? Whether we made money from it?

In terms of taking exams, it’s generally pretty straightforward. You pass or you fail. But in terms of say, writing a book, what does failure mean? That you don’t finish it? That not many people read it? That it doesn’t make you loads of money? That other people criticise it (and you)?

None of those outcomes need to be seen as a failure.

If you don’t finish it, it simply means that you chose to prioritise something else.

If not many people read it, then either it was only of interest to a few people, in which case it succeeded for those it was aimed at, or you chose not to let enough people know about it. That’s not a failure either, it’s a choice.

If it didn’t make you loads of money. Well, welcome to self-publishing. But there can be lots of other reasons for publishing a book- to establish yourself as an expert in the field perhaps, or just to get your voice heard. Not a failure.

If other people criticised it. Well, that depends if we’re talking about the one bad review in a sea of good ones, or if everyone agrees it’s dreadful. If it’s the former, that isn’t failure. If the latter, you must have chosen to not get any feedback along the way, so it was more a set-up than a failure.

Success and failure aren’t objective terms

Do you see where I’m going with this? Most of the time the terms success and failure are much more subjective than we like to think. Failure generally isn’t a verdict that someone else gives us, it’s a label that we choose to put on what happened. And the basis of that label may well be something that we haven’t ever really thought through.

For example, let’s say that you complete a piece of work by the deadline and the person you submit it to is pleased with it. That’s success, right? But what if in order to do that you threw by the wayside all your good intentions to eat better, get rest and exercise and spend more time with your partner? Is that still a success?

Or, to look at it the other way around, how about if you plan a lesson and it completely falls flat, but it teaches you something really valuable about the needs of that particular class? If it means that you can help them much more effectively going forward, is that still a failure?

Fear of failure

Very often a fear of failure comes from having well-intentioned, but over-protective parents, who taught us to avoid failure or risk at all costs, rather than encouraging us to know that if and when things went wrong we could deal with them.

Confidence is not about knowing that you can do everything perfectly and that you won’t fail. That’s arrogance. Confidence is about trusting in yourself that when things inevitably do go wrong (as they always will from time to time) you have the resourcefulness to cope.


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