Stop Shaming Failure

Published on 10/10/2020

Somewhere, sometime, we decided that failure was bad. We stopped focusing on whether someone gets back on the horse, and instead judged them for falling off in the first place. We began to consider failures as embarrassments. It was egocentric of us, as rationally we knew others fail, and that it made sense to fail, yet we still refused to grant ourselves the same slack. We started shaming failure, viewing it as a reflection of character or will.

“You just didn’t want it bad enough.”

But sometimes we do want something, we want it so much but still don’t get it. And that’s life because if everyone got it, it wouldn’t be worth the same amount to us. Yet we still feel embarrassed by failure. We keep it to ourselves, letting it rot away within us. And it’s a cycle, as by keeping it to ourselves and not discussing it, we further promote the shameful concept of it, and stop others from sharing.

Failure is not a bad thing. Failure has many purposes:

1. Failure lets us question how badly we want something.

I recently applied to be a spinning instructor and went to the audition, absolutely terrified. I was so sure I wanted this, I rehearsed for hours and dreamt of getting it. But then the audition was a disaster, and it took everything for me not to burst into tears until I finally left an hour later. No big surprise but I didn’t get it. They, and the few people I told, all said I should keep practising and try again. But I haven’t, and now I realise maybe I don’t want to. Because if the idea of going through that audition puts me off the job would follow, perhaps I don’t want it enough. Failing let me actually determine whether I want this.

Of course, you’ll be disappointed to fail. You’ll need time to lick your wounds and pick yourself up. But after you do, if you’re unsure of whether you want to try again, that says a lot. Maybe you needed the failure to realise that.

2. Failure separates the determined.

Because if you do get back up and try again, that says more about you than if you got it in the first place. The people who keep trying are the ones we look to for inspiration. You can’t know your strength until you are knocked down. I want to be a writer, and I’ve received dozens of manuscript rejections, and I’ll probably receive dozens more. It sucks. It sucks, and I barely talk about it, because I feel like I am failing, like I am not good enough. It makes me question if I’m good enough to be a writer. But maybe being a writer isn’t just about being the best in it; it is about wanting it enough to keep trying, to be so determined that you wait for your chance.

Talk about your failures, because that shows your strength, as you keep trying.

3. Failure grounds us.

Failure is incredibly human. It’s a reminder that we have limits that we are imperfect. Thank goodness we are, as if we were good at everything, we wouldn’t enjoy specific things as much. The areas we excel in bring us a bucketload of serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter. The low of failure only accentuates the high of success. You could not be successful if we did not have failure. We would be plateaued, stationary, without the gorgeous highs and lows that create us. Failure ensures we never stop giving all of the efforts, as not everything will come easy. We can’t get too comfortable, so we need failure to rock the boat.

4. Failure connects us.

As much as we keep failure to ourself, it is a prime moment for human connection. It a chance to reveal our weakness, and by sharing that we allow someone else to see us and to empathise with us. It’s harder to empathise with someone who is always doing fantastic, jealousy may give way. Think of wolves or dogs, how they will roll over and bare their neck for the other animal. This is their most vulnerable point, and by displaying it to the other, they are declaring themselves subordinate. Dogs will follow this by playing together; they do not need violence or territorial behaviour. Show your neck to someone by being open about failure. Because they have failures too, and by bringing them into the conversation, you allow them to do the same.

5. Failure teaches you.

Failure highlights your weaknesses, which can be incredibly confronting. But wouldn’t it be worse to not be aware of these weaknesses? To let them hold you back without realisation? Failure isn’t rejection; it’s highlighting the areas for improvement. Like I said, no one is perfect, and failure simply shows us where we can improve on imperfections. Take failure as a lesson. Allow yourself to be disappointed, but then consider what lessons you can take from it.

My manuscript was rejected. Do I need to look at my cover letter? Do I need to consider a new project? Do I need to test my synopsis with others?

I failed my driving test. I am unsafe for the roads at the moment. Do I need to work on specific things, or is the issue in my confidence?

You got rejected for a job. Are you sure want to pursue that job or is a tiny part of you almost relived? Find out what influenced their decision, what can you do better next time? When you get your next job, the relief will be far greater and more satisfactory.

How to use failure to your benefit

Failure is only failure is you learn nothing from it. But if failure leads to growth, then it is an invaluable lesson, and a step towards your success. You have to choose to use failure, to accept it.

1. Allow yourself to be disappointed. You deserve to be sad or angry, don’t repress this or it will only worsen. Give yourself an evening to sit on your couch and eat ice cream. Tomorrow is when you push on.

2. Learn from it. Can you ask for feedback? Can you get other opinions? Highlight where you went wrong and how you can do better.

3. Talk to your friends or colleagues about it. Help to normalise failure, and they may also have experiences to contribute or guide you in the right direction.

4. Decide if you want to try again. Don’t just assume you do, but think about it. If you do want it, then do it. Don’t let anything stop you, especially not the fear of failing again. Failing twice is no more embarrassing than failing once, in that they’re not shameful.

5. Keep pushing until you reach success, and then credit the failure as part of it.

Failure is a gift of life. That sounds corny, and it is, but that doesn’t deter from the veracity of it. Everyone needs a good dose of failure, and it makes success far more delicious. But you’re only failing if you keep these things to yourself, as then you make yourself and others alone in our losses. Share your failures, because they mean you tried, and that is an incredible thing in itself.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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