Why Failure is a Part of Success

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I kept a journal faithfully throughout my school years and entered every story writing competition I could. I’d write short poems in the margins of my science lecture notes and even penned comic book stories about all my friends being superheroes. With good grades and stacks of finished stories, I felt like nothing could stand between me and a promising career as a writer.

Except that life interfered. Despite my best intentions, I ended up curtailing my dream once I hit college. Studies overrode novel writing. I picked up a boyfriend, who took up most of my time. I did try to keep writing by submitting short stories every now and again to collegiate magazines, but none of them were accepted. After several rejection letters, I shelved my writing dream in lieu of other pursuits. Once in a while I would find an old 3.5” floppy filled with story ideas and imagine “what if,” but things didn’t get much farther than that. I was unhappy about it, but I felt I should spend my time doing “adult things.” At the tender age of 23, I felt I had failed at writing.

What I didn’t realize at the time, though, is that failure isn’t an end game for our hopes and desires. Failure is, in fact, a part of success. Although a lucky few get to achieve their dreams at a young age, most of us experience severe disappointments on our journeys. Even though these setbacks sting, they also make our dreams more valuable. Can you imagine how you would feel if you had already participated in the Olympics, started a multi-million dollar business, and earned the Noble Peace Prize before leaving high school? These achievements probably wouldn’t mean much to you since you earned them so easily.

Not only does failure give real meaning to our dreams, it also forces us to prioritize what we really want out of life. After failing, it’s okay to realize you want to stop pursuing a goal. I gave up my acting aspirations a long time ago, and I’ve never regretted it. I found out that not acting made me happier. We can’t spend our time achieving everything, so sometimes by giving up one goal, you find how much you enjoy pursuing something else.

I’m not saying that failure is easy – far from it. Failing is the singular hardest thing to do. It forces us to believe in ourselves when others might not, to keep pursuing something without the promise of a reward. Failing means fighting guilt, disappointment, and jealousy, sometimes all at once. It can destroy our self-esteem, making us feel foolish for even trying in the first place.

So yes, failure hurts, sometimes painfully so, but imagine you did everything you could to avoid it. You would never feel these negative emotions, true, but that also means you would have never pushed yourself, never taken a risk, and ultimately, never accomplished anything. Although pursuing a goal doesn’t guarantee success, not pursuing a goal guarantees it will never happen.

So in the end, I did get back to writing. I found that not writing, even if I couldn’t get published, made me more miserable than all those rejection letters. I finished a novel I started in college, and then wrote a second one, neither of which ever got published. It didn’t matter because the sheer joy of writing became its own reward.

Then, something magical happened. A few of my short stories got published. I discovered different avenues of writing – blog articles and marketing ad copy. I had the fantastic opportunity to draft stories for two online video games, neither of which are published yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Every year I keep writing puts me closer to my goal of reaching a large audience of readers. And most surprising of all, I’m doing it in ways I never could have imagined back when I was 23.

Who knows where I will end up tomorrow? It is possible that all my writing income will dry up. I might never get to write for a published video game. These are all probabilities. I do know, however, that if I stop writing for fear of failure, I’ll never achieve anything. That makes the chance of success worth the risk of failure.

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is a full-time mom and founder of Avalon Labs, which provides consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses. She believes in the power of self-reflection and positive change.

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31 Comments

  1. Failure isn’t just part of success,…it is also a part of a whole wellbeing.. imagine a life where there were only success..only day..only men..there can’t be just one or the fun of the other gets lost. We need failures just so that we can enjoy our successes.

    Reply
    • Well put. Without the contrast, it’s hard to appreciate the successes you have.

      Reply
      • I think that even more than the contrast, is that we tend to cling to the success and do what ever we can to spin the setbacks into something good (or at least something good to tell others). Be better if we could embrace walking the middle and not cling to the good nor reject the bad.

        Reply
  2. Hi Deborah,

    I think this also demonstrates a great adaptibility. While it is important not to give up, I think it is equally important to reassess and see if we can progress along a different road, rather than just give up.
    I’m inspired thanks!!

    Reply
    • Kate, it’s true that reassessing can be the hardest part of failure. I’m the kind of person who likes to try a lot of things, but obviously, you can’t expect everything you try to turn into a grand success. Moreover, trying lots of things means giving up on some of them…and that’s okay.

      Reply
    • Kate, it’s true that reassessing can be the hardest part of failure. I’m the kind of person who likes to try a lot of things, but obviously, you can’t expect everything you try to turn into a grand success. Moreover, trying lots of things means giving up on some of them…and that’s okay.

      Reply
  3. Deborah, I am soooo proud of you! Way to go~~you found a way to do what you love and to inspire others at the same time. I personally have no doubt that your writing will continue reaching an ever-expanding audience. In the meantime, thanks for taking so many of us along with you for the ever-exciting, ever-changing, occasionally-failing, constantly growing, ever-learning and *always* wonders-filled ride. :)

    Reply
    • As always, Cara, it’s good to have you at my back. :) Thanks for the encouraging words.

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  4. Hi Deborah. This is such a wonderfully written, personal and touching article. The greatest thing about it is that it felt like you were writing about me. Our stories are amazingly similar and the lesson has definitely dawned on me. Failure, if we must call it that, is really a stone in the road on the pathway to success. Despite all the detours, I found my way back to doing what I love.

    By the way…I’m also including a link here to my recent post on failure. I hope you enjoy it.
    http://blog.self-improvement-saga.com/2011/04/success-failure/

    Reply
    • Great tips in there on how to deal with failure, Nea. Having a positive outlook on how you can channel failure into something productive can do wonders for keeping you doing what you love.

      Reply
  5. We always see success as the reward, but that does not always ensure learning. We can get lucky. Failure is the real teacher and without it, the quality of our success would be greatly diminished. I also like how you talked about the idea of prioritizing. A set back or “failure” is really asking “How bad do you want Everest?”

    Reply
    • It’s true that sometimes we just get lucky when we succeed. Failure is indeed the real teacher. If you still want something badly enough to keep working even after a failure or two, you know you want it.

      Reply
  6. Deborah.

    Thank you for such an authentic disclosure about your journey, bumps and all.

    I am convinced that we need to pass through disappointment to truly make friends with ourselves, revel in appreciation for the successes and gifts, and to clarify our inner passions for work.

    Good on you that you are writing, writing, writing!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the words of encouragement, Susie. It’s bumpy, and I’ve gotten distracted, but I keep at it. Hope you’re finding the same drive in your passions.

      Reply
  7. Hi Deborah,

    Failure is one of the hardest things that many of us struggle with in life. This is mainly because society has conditioned us to view failure in a negative light. But in truth, failure is a vital part of success because it alerts us to what we are doing wrong so that we can adjust and adapt our actions until we succeed. If we realize that failure and mistakes are merely lessons we have to learn in life to grow and improve, it makes it easier to focus on the solutions and what we must do. By doing so, success is only a matter of time.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

    Reply
    • It’s true that we’re conditioned to believe that failure is only a negative thing. When I was a kid, I tried to avoid new things because I would “fail” at them. I mean, you can’t pick up a new skill and be great. I’m glad I’ve gotten past my reservations and tried a bunch of things that have made me more successful on what I do today.

      Reply
      • I wish in school that instead of an “F” for fail, they gave out something like a “PLATH” for potential learning about to happen. :)

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  8. Wow! I could not think of anyone else but myself while reading this! (And I mean that in the least conceited or narcissistic way possible!) I mean, my passion has always been writing too, and I just feel like the doors are opened for a while and then it got shut by the rushing wind the next minute. I really love how you put out all the facts with the experience you’ve gone through, I presume not only writers, but people with other occupations like musicians or even lawyers, too, who are having a hard time climbing their way up, can relate to what you’ve shared. Thank you, thank you, thank you!:’)

    Reply
  9. Nadia, you’re very welcome. :) If our struggles have paralleled, I hope that means you’re rediscovering how writing fits into your life, even if there have been ups and downs. Never let anything set you back, and keep writing!

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  10. Deborah,
    I don’t fear failure at all because failure to me means that I tried something new and it didn’t work. If it was meant to be then I could get another crack at it later in life.

    I am glad to hear that you are earning a living doing something that you like and that you are obviously good at.

    Reply
    • Justin, definitely better to fail than to never try at all, right? At least, that’s how I see it. (And thanks for the compliment. ^_^)

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  11. Great piece, Deborah! Like you and Nadia, writing has been a part of my being for many years. And like you, I let that part of me fall by the wayside along the way to becoming a grown up with a job, two kids and rental to pay. Almost two years ago I realized through various life lessons that it doesn’t matter to me if I ever reach that large audience or not. I just have to write. For myself, to be a better me and be more connected to my inner creativity. Whatever else comes of that is now just a bonus.

    This change of focus has freed me from my own expectations and allows me to enjoy writing and embrace the writing opportunities that come along. It has also unleashed a creativity that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Not only am I writing – from building a small, but engaged Twitter following to blogging and now working on a book that will be self-published – but the creativity is flowing into other areas of my life, too. My work is benefiting, as is my family.

    As a result of my experiences, a big part of my parenting philosophy is to teach my boys the value of failure and the kind of lessons to take away from failure.

    Reply
    • That’s great, Maritza! Glad to hear that you’ve also found a way to weave writing into your life. It’s amazing how the online universe has helped me, and you too it seems. Good luck with all your endeavors.

      Reply
  12. If we only see things as negative, then that is what we will get in return. Failure is a mark of success, it shows us that we were able to go after what we wanted, but most people can’t see it that way because we are too distracted with getting a certain outcome instead of accepting the current outcome as just a stepping stone to our ultimate goal.

    cheers to your success in incorporating your passion into your life :)!

    Reply
    • Good observation that failure is success. It’s a mark of going on the journey, of taking a step forward.

      Reply
  13. Deborah, what a great article! It probably wasn’t easy to write it, but being (publicly) truthful is a great tactic in the long-term strategy of success. Best of luck to you!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Vlad. The article was actually not hard to write, given that I’ve gotten past the idea that I’m not successful. Instead, I’ve decided that the joy of writing and sharing is it’s own reward, no matter what scale and in what context I can do it in.

      Reply
  14. Great article, apprecaited all views from different angles. With failures, it is a part of developing yourself as a person, learning from mistakes, learning from the past, making your future better and brighter. We would not be who we are today, if we weren’t who we were in the past!

    Diane

    Reply
    • Very true that our past defines us. And wouldn’t it be terrible if we closed ourselves from anything where we would make mistakes? I would be a much different person than I am today if that had been my strategy.

      Reply
  15. Great article. Thanks for sharing the truths in this world is not so obvious. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. There is certainly success in failure, how else would you know?

    Reply

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