📆 September 3, 2023 | ⏱️ 3 minute read

Failing Forward

Let’s talk about failing forward. It’s the idea that, rather than seeing failure merely as a negative, it can be reframed in the positive as a learning opportunity on the road to eventual success.

The problem is that everybody wants to be successful in life, according to whatever their definition of success is, but they don’t want to fail first. We all know why. Failure can be embarrassing. But success and failure are like yin and yang. They always go together. So there are basically two strategies for goal-pursuit in life:

The first is to do nothing with regards to your goal. It might seem like a dumb strategy since you’ll never succeed in that goal, but it has a major benefit that’s often overlooked: you never face the embarrassment of failure. You can’t be criticized or mocked for decisions you never make. So you don’t allow yourself to fail at anything others may judge you for, but you end up with major regret later in life.

The second strategy is to attempt your goal and risk making mistakes, failure, and embarrassment. Other people may mock you, ridicule you, and try to discourage you, but you resolve to try despite all that. Every time you fail, you learn from your mistakes. As time goes on, you grow a thicker skin. The naysayers don’t bother you as much. You stop fearing your own failure. And even if you don’t ultimately achieve all of your goal, you still develop resilience, gain confidence, and you don’t live the rest of your life wondering “What if I had tried?”

One thing that people who are wildly successful have in common is they tend to have a lot of failures under their belt. But they succeed now precisely because they failed so much in the past. They understand from firsthand experience how necessary and important failure is.

Much of society doesn’t seem to share this understanding though. Instead, it ridicules people for their every failure, even when they’re failing forward. The strange thing is that people are so quick criticize others’ failures even when they have no personal stake in the outcome. Why? I’m no social psychologist or anything, but I think that the people who criticize others for trying and failing at something do it as a way of dealing with their own feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. What they’re really afraid of is it that you eventually succeed and prove their chosen strategy of saving face to be pathetic.

Now I’m not saying there’s no place for criticism of failure. Of course there is. But as a society, we really need to start recognizing that some amount of failure is inevitable and necessary and value it more.