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Why Failure Is Necessary for Success

Updated on November 2, 2017
"Our sense of worthiness, that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging, lives inside of our story."

This quote, from shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown, underlines the importance of our integral story.

All our experiences have a meaning and a function.

The bad, as well as the good, defines us. One of the experiences that can impact us deeply is failure; moreover, that is an experience we don’t easily accept or include in our life story.

Nevertheless, failure has its role in our lives, it creates confusion, it changes mindsets, and it builds resilience.

Dr. Brene Brown
Dr. Brene Brown

At first, you are disoriented

To be sure, one of the recognized effects of failure is confusion. It might even transform into pain.

Defeats in our formative periods greatly affect and bewilder us. The worst scenario is the one of children facing life experiences unguided. The world around them is not yet completely comprehendible, they can not offer themselves the best answers.

Nevertheless, confusion can affect us as adults, too. That happens when we fail at something crucial. For example, when we fail at love. That is one of the utmost difficult failures. Our brain tries to create explanations, to discern the chaos. However, this issue is too subjective and sensitive. We can not go back to being the people we were before, and moving on requires the courage we might not believe we have.

Also, it is essential to talk about times we fail so repeatedly that it disturbs us, even though the situations we fail at are not crucial. For example, when in the period of a year we set goals that we miss. We don’t pass the driver test in February, we don’t achieve the promotion in June, we don’t save enough money to visit Miami, and we don’t move to another town. By the end of the year, we are sour and frustrated.

Therefore, disorientation is one of the principal effects of failure.

Dr. Brene Brown Rising Strong
Dr. Brene Brown Rising Strong

Failure makes you see what is important in life

Hence, failure changes our mindsets.

We, generally, enroll in activities believing we will succeed. That is the essence of why we act. We want to produce a result, to create something, or to change something. For example, we take driving lessons in order to obtain the driving license.

Failure will alter that mindset. Success will take a secondary place while we become aware of how we function. Philosophy will come to light, making us wonder why we desire what we pursue. Practicality will join in, teaching us how to excel at managing ourselves.

We now understand that acting is failing. Whenever we want something, we must pass through failure.

Another pre-failure mindset is the one of judging our capacity. No matter what causes our setbacks, we offer ourselves estimates. We might begin to believe that driving is not for us.

Yet, in time, a correct post-failure mindset will be that our capacity is alright, it’s our attention, our determination, or our other skills that we need to perfect.

Letting go of self-judgement is an excellent outcome of setbacks.

On the other hand, if pre-failure we believed we can do anything, defeat will teach that we are not invincible. That there are situations that require too much time to be learned and are not crucial. That there are things we are not naturally gifted at. That people will not always appreciate us.

Thus, set-backs change our perceptions about ourselves, about others, and about life.

Dr. Brene Brown The gifts of imperfection
Dr. Brene Brown The gifts of imperfection

Explain confusion instead of living it

Lastly, as an outcome of the other two effects, failure builds resilience.

We live in confusion, after that we struggle for answers. We repeat and repeat this scenario. Yet, at some point, we arrive at the answer that best fits us and builds our character.

We learn to explain confusion instead of living it. To continue the example of the aspiring driver, by clearing confusion and changing their approach, they realize that driving is something they are set on and something they can do. They act differently, they evaluate every action, and they change until they reach a result. They have learned to build on their failures.

Also, we understand that action and effort are the antidote to failure. We can not place responsibility on others. It is inefficient to blame ourselves. It is efficient to attempt. For example, love is a higher state. It is our efforts of understanding and of connecting that can lift us to its level.

Furthermore, we learn the valor of perseverance and tenacity. We learn that we achieve what is essential for us, passing through struggle and stress. Such as aiming for a job that really fits us and not getting it, then aiming again, and again. Learning to play a sport, or just trying to get better at fitness operate the same way.

We learn to direct the way failure impacts us.

On the whole, failure is a bitter teacher, there are moments when it might break us.

However, it will change us in ways passivity or disengagement never can. By passing through it, we will develop essential skills. By understanding and accepting our set backs, we will develop the courage to engage what is relevant for us.

We will learn the meaning of hope, perseverance, and grit.


Dr. Brené Brown - The gifts of imperfection, Rising strong

Dr. Kelly McGonigal - The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It


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