How To Fail Successfully

What is the thing that makes any adventure terrifying and exhilarating at the same time? What word is the most important key to success, yet the biggest obstacle as well? What one word, if conquered and mastered, will allow you to consistently break through boundaries and find success? I'm talking about failure.

Elizabeth Day, author of “How to Fail’ believes that failure is essential for us all to lead positive and ultimately enriched lives.

“Failure is a fact of life. It happens to us all. It is the way we respond to it and the emotion we attach to it that defines how we feel about it. Which is why when something in my life goes wrong, I always try to seek out the positive. Failure is less scary when I can remind myself of the unexpected joy that has come my way because of it”

Elizabeth Day

Elizabeth Day


Millennials are protected from failure at an early age. Modern parenting and education systems protect children from the overwhelming negativity of feeling ‘not good enough’ until children are older and more able to cope with not succeeding at something or being beaten by another who can do the task better or quicker.


As a “Baby Boomer” I grew up in a harsher school of thought. Sports days celebrated those who could run faster, jump higher, throw further. Exam results were pinned to notice boards for all to see - jubilation for those at the top, humiliation for those at the bottom. For the academic and sporting achievers school was a place of belonging, of validation. For those who struggled school life was miserable. For the vast majority of us we found somethings we were good at, needed to work harder at, hated, were rubbish at and some subjects and sports that totally perplexed us. An important lesson we all learned from kindergarten to college though was ‘how to fail’. With the exception of the naturally gifted and every class had at least one (but they were usually rubbish at sport) we all failed at something and publicly! No teacher worried about students feelings, more than happy to share shortcomings and amusing mistakes with the class and sometimes the whole school. Anyone going through the school system in the 70’s will have a story of public humiliation to share. As failure was commonplace most of us who experienced it were able to learn to deal with it. ‘You fall down, you get up’ - it happens to us all. We were also able to balance these failures with our successes. However the old school system was particularly harsh on those who couldn’t find their niche, what they could do well and without proper support these students fell through the cracks. Something had to change.

Psychologists and educationalists alerted parents and teachers to the damage of continuous failure and positive parenting and educational reform followed. But did we throw the baby out with the bath water? Did we do the millennial generation a disservice by not “encouraging failure”?

Learning to see failure as a positive is an invaluable lesson in life. One that prepares us to learn from our mistakes, that can help us achieve more, be better and to be more understanding of others. When we take on a task and do it well, do we ask ourselves what went right? What did we learn from this? When things go wrong we analyse and re-think. Any of us who have put together flat-pack furniture once will be much better prepared to do it next time!! Helicopter parents aren’t doing their children any favours. We learn from falls in the playground, fights with our friends and doing things for ourselves. We learn most from the mistakes we make.

In the USA it is considered an attribute for young entrepreneurs to have failed in their first start-up. Those who have experienced failure are more likely to get funding from banks and investors as they are seen as better planners, more likely to carry out thorough research, review more frequently and most importantly are more likely to listen to advice.

The famous fashion designer, Vera Wang, (pictured below) wasn’t always known for her high-end wedding gowns. In fact, Wang was once a figure skater. But she failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. She then moved on to work for Vogue, but was turned down for the editor-in-chief position before leaving to become a designer.

Vera Wang

Vera Wang

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington

Before launching The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington (pictured above) had a bit more trouble getting people to read her work. Her second book was rejected by 36 publishers. (Yes, you read that correctly — 36.)

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a well quoted piece of advice.

Failing at something does not make you a failure - it’s another step on the learning curve of life that will ultimately make you a more rounder, more fulfilled individual. It’s not always easy to see the positives immediately, particularly if the failure is momentous - a broken heart, a broken dream but in time that failure however heartbreaking may lead to a change in direction, an opening of a new door that just might enhance your life in a way you never thought possible.

If you think about it, failure is just feedback; it’s simply showing you what’s not working so you can find out what will work. It’s necessary and can’t be avoided.

If we didn’t have failure, how would we know what to do next? The process of learning from our mistakes is truly invaluable, and is something we need to run toward, not run away from.

“From the depths of failure rises success”