There is no failure, only feedback

Why did I choose this as a subject? Well, what does it mean? There’s no such thing as failure? Of course there is I hear you say. We grow up with the threat of failure. Every time we take a test, it’s pass or fail. Exams at school, driving tests later in life etc. Every time you set out to do something, it’s succeed, or fail, right? Wrong.


Failure is just feedback. You take an exam which has a 40 % pass mark, and you get 35 %, so the exam says you failed. This can make people feel so negative, so down on themselves, but what does it really mean?

All it means is that you wanted to achieve 40 % or higher, that was your goal, but you only achieved 35. So what does that mean? It means you need to work a bit harder, revise a bit more, get yourself ready for the exam, then take it again. You could focus on what you didn’t get, you could get really frustrated and beat yourself up for missing that mark by 5 %, or you could focus on the fact that you achieved a result, not the one you wanted, but you now have more information, and more of a clear idea of how to achieve that higher mark next time. Did you fail? No. You got 35 %. That’s still a result. You didn’t get 0, and even that would still be feedback on the answers you submitted. Either way you just got a result you can work on improving.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Not pass or fail, that’s so black and white, good or bad, right or wrong, but in most cases it’s not as simple as that, there’s more to it, and with improvement, you could improve on your first result and turn it into the one you wanted. Take that result, figure out what you need to do to improve it, and work on that, then when you’re ready, try again, and in all likelihood, you’ll achieve that originally desired result.

I’ve worked with a lot of young people who put enormous pressure on themselves. The pass or fail view is impressed upon young people throughout school, and my belief is that to a certain extent, and to young people who might be vulnerable, this can be damaging and can leave people feeling very negative about their own achievements. I’ve had clients who have come to me and said, “I got a B! Not an A! I wanted an A!” Almost like a B was a failure. Is a B a failure? Of course not!

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s great to push yourself. Having a drive, a goal to push towards is a great thing, not a bad thing, but seeing anything but that exact goal as a failure is a bad thing. I would never, ever tell a young person or any person to stop pushing themselves, to stop aiming high, but I will tell them to be proud of what they have achieved if they had done the best they could.

We need goals to keep us going. We need a reason to get up in the morning and try as hard as we can at something, but we also need to give ourselves credit for the things we do achieve, even if they’re not quite what we hoped. It’s important to be proud of ourselves, for anything we achieve, big or small. So often I have to remind students or anyone to remember what they have achieved. Focus on the have, not the have not. It’s all in the mind-set. We can make ourselves feel so negative just in the way we think and speak. Which sentence makes you feel good? “I didn’t get an A,” or, “I got a B.” The answer should be the latter. Any achievement is a personal victory, something to be celebrated. If it can be improved upon, then that’s something to work on over time, not something to beat yourself up about from the off.

We’ve all heard someone say things like, “I’ve never achieved anything in my life.” Maybe you’ve said it. And to this I say, can you walk? Can you talk? Aside from those with disabilities of course, the answer is usually yes. This is an achievement. So in other words, we’ve been achieving things since the day we were born. For as long as we live we are learning things, and achieving things. Even if you don’t think of it that way, now’s the time to start. If you got up in the morning and made it to work on time, even if you do this every day, it’s an achievement. You achieved your unconscious goal of the morning, to get up and go to work. Don’t you feel more positive thinking of things that way?

So to sum up my ramblings of today; goals are a good thing. We need them to drive us, to keep us moving forward, but we should never lose sight of what we have achieved so far, and what we achieve every day. Every time we’re feeling down on ourselves, we can just stop, and give ourselves a mental pat on the back for what we have achieved, not what we haven’t achieved yet. Remember, there is no failure, only feedback.