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Embracing Failure

I was writing my piece on Comparison Syndrome, and something else popped into mind.  It was, Fear of Failure Syndrome (I love syndromes!). Fear of failure – it really does cause a cluster of behaviors ranging from deceptive to paranoid to aggressive.

This is actually one, I’m proud to say, I think I’m mostly over; but I still run up against it from time to time.  It’s been in my awareness for others though lately.  And, it hit home at a previous employer for sure.  It was always interesting watching what people will do and say to avoid being held accountable for their mistakes.

It was an environment rife with blame and mismanagement.  The person I assisted, could never take on any form of accountability, instead preferring to gossip about the mistakes other people made, and, god forbid when I made an error, instead of confronting me, she’d simply badmouth me behind my back.  Other people in the office simply became belligerent if any mention of error was mentioned on their part.  It bred an atmosphere where people were afraid of mistakes, and lashed out in the ways they were patterned to lash out.

I would watch a  person in my last job, who was deathly afraid of making errors.  So much so, that she could not think for herself. Every action was a stop and wait and ask for assistance moment. Oddly enough, she actually ended up making more errors this way, because she depended on anyone except herself, even those who don’t have the actual answers.  As long as she didn’t have to take responsibility for an error and can say “She told me so.” she’s felt good.

Then there is the “I’ll Rescue You from Failure!” person. I have one of those in my life.  He rescues people from themselves all the time.  Sadly, doing so only robs them of the opportunity to fail, and opportunity to grow.  So, in his efforts to be loving, he actually denies them their growth.  He denies himself the opportunity to watch them grow on their own also.  Not to mention, his outward rescuing, is a clear sign he himself, is not a fan of failure, and seeing it on the outside, reminds him of his fears on the inside.

So where does this culture of “no mistakes, no failure” come from? Why are we all so programmed to hate it so much, avoid it, push it away, give it to others? I think that some of it is tied into vulnerability for sure.  We don’t want others to see what may be considered a failing or fraility, and instead of exposing ourselves to be fully human and asking for help or admitting mistakes, we become rigid, fixed, perfectionistic of ourselves, and, as it happens in all things we do to ourselves, we do this to others also.

Another aspect is fear and expectation.  We have lived in a “Slap on the Wrist” for any mistake, Puritinized society for so long that we are programmed to hate errors.  We have been punished for them.  Some people fired.  Some traumatized.  So we’ll do anything to avoid looking like we did anything wrong, or are even capable of such a thing.

The irony of it is, people NEED to fail.  We need to fail to realize that we CAN do it and survive. We need to do it to move forward, learn from mistakes, continue in our ability to take risks. The fact is, the more you want to succeed at something, the more willingness you need to have, to fail.  To screw up. To blunder horrendously.

There needs to be a shift in thinking.  In fact, I think there should be Failure Conferences.  Hey, what a great idea! I think people should come out of the Failure Closet and admit how much they had to blunder to get where they got in life.  I want to see failure touted proudly. YAY, I MADE A MISTAKE, and THIS IS WHAT I LEARNED from it! How refreshing would that be? How refreshing would it be, instead of being chastised by a superior, we got “okay, great, now what did you learn from this mistake?”  Wouldn’t that be way more helpful?

Personally, I’ve made a fair number of mistakes in life.  Personal ones, and professional ones.  So, I forgive myself, and I thank myself, because without any of them, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t know what I know.

So blunder with a smile – your failure, is just fertilizer to further growth.  And, that’s awesome.


About Trish Noble

Trish Noble. Dreamer. Writer. Artist. Thinker. Ponderer. Observer. Spouter of Opinions.


  1. Thanks for a great post. Failure is critical to growth. If we’re not failing, we’re not stretching ourselves or learning anything new.

    There is some hope that this concept is being embraced by some real leaders in the world. Engineers without Borders is an amazing organization, world renowned for their work, their impact, and their integrity. Like all Not-for-Profit organizations, they must produce an annual report. A few years ago, they made a significant change to how they report out. They now publish their annual “Failure Report”….. because, “EWB believes that success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes.”

    Cool, huh?

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