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5 Reasons Why “Fail” is Not a Four-Letter Word

One four-letter “f” word strikes heart in the fear of most students. No, we’re not talking about that “f” word, but about another which has the potential to derail your academic path and impede your career goals. That word, of course, is “fail.” But is it really such a bad thing? While failure is rarely the intended route, the occasional misstep or full-on stumble can actually have some surprising benefits. In fact, there’s an entire International Day of Failure designated for sharing our collective failures and embracing them as part of life. Still having trouble figuring out what good can come from failure? Let’s count down five of our favorites.

Dec 14, 2015
  • Education
5 Reasons Why “Fail” is Not a Four-Letter Word

One four-letter “f” word strikes heart in the fear of most students. No, we’re not talking about that “f” word, but about another which has the potential to derail your academic path and impede your career goals. That word, of course, is “fail.” But is it really such a bad thing? While failure is rarely the intended route, the occasional misstep or full-on stumble can actually have some surprising benefits. In fact, there’s an entire International Day of Failure designated for sharing our collective failures and embracing them as part of life. Still having trouble figuring out what good can come from failure? Let’s count down five of our favorites.

1. Failure is Useful

Closeup portrait nervous, stressed woman, nerdy scared student with eyeglasses biting fingernails looking anxiously, afraid of finals, isolated chalkboard background filled with math, physics formulas

Cars, cell phones, and textbooks are useful things, but failure? Absolutely. In life, you will at times be unsuccessful. It’s unavoidable. But learning to leverage these failures into wisdom for next time is the very definition of usefulness.

This approach only works if you’re willing and able to look at the experience through a different lens. Instead of evaluating performance purely in terms of the end product, focus on how you can improve instead. This isn’t easy. Failing is not fun. But adopting a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset can yield priceless payoffs.

2. Failure Teaches You to Work Harder

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Sometimes you try your best and fail, but sometimes failure is the result of something else: not trying hard enough. At its best, failure is an indication that you need to step up your study efforts. Luckily, one failure isn’t enough to completely ruin your future; taking quick, efficient corrective action can quickly get you back on track.

If you did give it 100 percent and still failed, all is not lost, either. It may be time to assess whether you’re going about it the right way. Are you making the most use of your study time? Taking advantage of all of the resources available to you? While you may not be able to work harder, you may indeed be able to work differently.

3. Failure Teaches the Art of Humility

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Imagine sailing through life without ever encountering choppy waters. Do you think you’d be a particularly understanding, empathetic or even interesting person? Learning from failure isn’t just a matter of academic takeaways, but also a matter of personal growth and development.

In realizing that failure can and does happen to anyone -- including to you! -- you become a more modest and understanding person. These traits will serve you well throughout your life -- both personally and professionally.

4. Failure Nurtures Flexibility

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You may be familiar with the expression, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Indeed, the most important part of failure is picking yourself back up and giving it another go. The second most important part? Looking at why you failed. This difficult process can reveal invaluable insights into where you’ve been and where you’re headed.

In some cases, looking back may mean discovering a different, more creative approach to take for next time. In other cases, reflecting on your failure may mean adjusting not your process, but your goal.

Flexibility is one of life’s most underrated and yet vitally important personality traits. The occasional failure -- and recovery from failure -- offers one of the most direct paths to developing both.

5. Failure Takes You Outside Your Comfort Zone

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As humans, we like to feel secure. However, if we all lived safely within our comfort zones and never ventured beyond these boundaries, the world would be a much less innovative place.

While putting yourself out there and risking failure takes strength and resolve, the potential for discovery is huge. Not to mention that venturing into dangerous territory helps clear the path for next time.

All in all, there are only small gains to be had in sticking with what you know compared to the limitless potential found when you remove fear from the equation.

One last thing to keep in mind? While you can rebound from most failures, some can’t be reversed or corrected. And that, too, is part of life. Consider Washington Post writer Eve Fairbanks’ thoughtful take on failing: “I think failure has a special beauty to it,” she writes. “Like a piece of furniture that falls apart, a mistake reveals more of its construction — of the efforts and motivations of the mistake-maker — than a success does.”

In other words, is it better to spend your life tripped up in fears of failure, or to commit to living life to the fullest regardless of these externally imposed constraints? The changing of the year is as good a time to let go and shoot for the latter. Who knows where this new way of thinking may lead?

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.