Learning To Embrace Failure

The majority of people I have met in my life have a strong fear of failure. They are wary of failing and take fewer risks because of it. Not only that, but when they do make mistakes, most people find it easier to cover up the mistake than own up to it.

Many self-help books encourage us to overcome that fear and own our mistakes, take risks and fail so that we can learn. Of course, that is easier said than done and while we may entertain the theory, actually applying it to our own lives is far more troublesome.

When we are very small children, we don’t even recognise failure. We simply keep trying until we accomplish what we wanted to, whether it be walking, tying our shoelaces or learning to speak, we just get started and keep going until we get it right. As we get older, we notice that others feel shame and shame others for failing, and we learn that behaviour and start avoiding failure ourselves.

I’ve struggled with it myself over the years and even when I know there aren’t any real consequences, I am still avoidant of failure. On the positive side, when I see myself making a mistake I take steps to prevent it from happening again, on the downside, I am not taking responsibility for my mistakes as often as I would like to.


Today while reading the book, Black Box Thinking, I came across an analogy that really struck a chord with me. Success is like the tip of the iceberg, with a huge mountain of failure submerged beneath the water. The failure that we don’t see is what makes the success that we do see possible. Even if the failures are not our own, it is likely through the failure of others that our successes are possible.

And with that image, I feel more confident to fail.


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