“On Failure” Response

There are many people who believe in the learning power of failure. However, I believe it would be better to not fail in the first place than to fail and attempt to recover.

Jester’s thoughts on failure

I refuse to welcome failure. I abhor and fear and detest failure. I do believe that failure is wrong; I cannot embrace it, I cannot welcome it. My entire rationality and worldview is based on an utter and complete denial of failure.

Students fear failing. This is because failing has consequences, be they from parents or the long-term impacts of a lower score, grade, GPA. I deny the fact that failure is a motivator, or that failure is the only way to grow. If you take someone who has never failed, have they never grown? Failure is not somehow connected to growth. In my opinion, failure is evidence of a lack of growth. The school and test system dictated to us by the county is not unfair; it may have its faults, but students are for the most part notified of their assignments days if not weeks ahead of the examination date; teachers are available for help; students are given adequate time to address whatever problems they may have. If the student himself has chosen to put in the necessary work–and that is the conscious decision to do homework or not, to pay attention in class or not, to study or not–then there is no excuse for failure. By failing, the student or person has shown that they have chosen to not put in the work, to make poor choices concerning their studying habits, and thus show a lack of growth as failure.

There is a cultural undercurrent of acceptance of failure, somehow propagated by both the students and the adults. The children, when they chose to fail, are protected from the consequences of their failure, of their lack of growth, by parents and teachers wishing to protect them from a harsher reality–and also trying to protect themselves from their own failures as teachers or parents. As standards have increased and performance has fallen, this system has become more and more enforced in society. There exists a strange dichotomy between denying and accepting failure. Unfortunately, the acceptance of failure is become popular; people have written memoirs and recited countless speeches about how they accepted their failures or shortcomings and moved on–most frequently, Thomas Edison is cited. Edison supposedly attempted 10,000 times to make the lightbulb, eventually saying that he actually found 9,999 ways not to make a lightbulb. While many people have said this is Edison accepting his failure, I postulate that this is really a denial of failure. This is a man so desperate, so fearful that he could not stop. He did not persevere through accepting his failures; he persevered through an utter and complete denial that he was or ever could fail. In his eyes, he never failed, shifting the blame to other circumstances. Edison could not accept failure and so chose not to acknowledge it; his life’s work was really just avoidance of his own failure.

I believe the utter goal of any person should be to avoid failure. To put in time and work and effort so as to never be in a position where failure could affect you. I believe that failure is simply evidence of something that you could have done better, not that it is a motivator. I am far more motivated by the fear of failure than by legitimate failure. While this may be a personal mindset that does not represent a majority of the population, I still hold to it.

I have twenty-five hours of workouts a week. I currently have three AP classes; last semester, four. I know as well as the next person the struggle of looking at a clock, then back to your homework, then back to the clock, and then to the ceiling to wonder why you are doing what you are, why you sacrifice sleep and time and social opportunities in favor of more effort, more pain. When I look at the clock and see there is only four hours till I need to wake up for morning practice, I do not persist in my homework because I failed a quiz the day before. I continue to work and study and think critically about problems because I am afraid of the possible failures of the next day. I am not bothered by the failures in my past; I am terrified of failing in the future.

I fear the future. This, to me, is better than being ashamed of the past. Life is a divergent path, thus the choices I made yesterday, my negligence and shortcomings have a limited impact, whereas the choices I make in the future have an unlimited level of impact.

My rationale is essentially a self-defeating prophecy. There is no conceivable opportunity to win or to stop the cycle; there will always be the future to prepare for, the future to work for, the future to worry about. And yet, is this a bad thing? I am much happier seeing the fruits of my labor than the desolation of my failures.


  1. You have stated that the “frame” of your decision making is fear. You fear failure. I was right there with you in high school, let me tell you. I feared I wasn’t actually that smart, that I needed to balance my course load to seem rigorous but ensure high grades. That way, people wouldn’t find out out how “not smart” I was. I saved face through hard work and limiting my risk. That worked great on one level – I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, right? But I limited my growth as a human being by not taking Physics, Calculus, and I didn’t learn that I could fail and still be a good person worthy of love. I had to learn those lessons much later, in addition to learning that UNC probably wasn’t the best school for me. Too late. Look up, look long, and seek failure out. That’s where your “growth edge” is. I wish I had.


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