The Necessity of Failure in Achieving Success

Article by: Stephanie H.

Edited by: Kody T.

Visual by: Manuel L.

Failure is a vital part of success. However, it may be best achieved in environments where the consequences are less severe. The concept of failure is often associated with many negative connotations and is often linked to fear and anxiety. Whilst the concept is defined as simply the lack of success, Ms, Patrikios states that the “definitions of failure may be different, but the outcomes can be the same”.

Students’ attitudes towards failure, both in ISM and outside, are primarily negative. It stems from culture — in our minds, “there is some perfect ideal”. Because of the closed community that we are in, Patrikios states that the only thing that we have to “compare ourselves to are our peers and the people within our community”. With a “broader frame of reference” and the ability to “see beyond”, more people would be able to see that “variety is the spice of life and we can’t all be perfect”. There is so much pressure to live up to the expectation of perfection, and as a result, failure is seen as a barrier from that expectation, not as a “step towards success”.

According to Professor Martin Covington at The University of California, the fear of failure directly links to perceptions of self-worth. This perception is often protected by the belief of competence and the ability to convince others of it. If failure is achieved instead of success, for many, this indicates unworthiness. However, despite the unwanted negative emotions, a recent study at the University of Kansas School of Business claims that emotional responses to behavior may improve future results in related tasks.

Noelle Nelson, an assistant professor of marketing and consumer behavior states that the rationalization of failure is “sometimes counterproductive”. The negative emotions of failure help guide future decisions in a more positive way. However, Noelle also admits that certain types of thoughts may hurt more than help.

Whilst failure should be seen as a way to learn from mistakes and to grow and develop our abilities, I also believe that failure, in certain situations, can be more harmful than helpful. Covington’s “failure-accepting students” are those that have given up trying to succeed and are the most difficult students to motivate due to internalized failure. Failing too many times can lead to a loss of self-worth and belief in personal abilities, therefore resulting in a loss of motivation and the ability to achieve success, especially when presented negatively. As James Atlas once wrote, “maybe we do not all have the luxury of failing”.

Maybe, failure is the difference between fulfillment and dissatisfaction. For example, Van Gogh only sold one painting his entire life and had symptoms of manic depression. And whilst the two may not be explicitly linked, studies have shown that the loss of self-worth can often lead to low self-esteem and are more likely to experience social anxiety which may lead to symptoms of depression. Additionally, people with low self-esteem tend to be more troubled by failure due to the tendency to experience more overwhelming negative emotions.

So maybe whilst the goal is not to fail for the sake of learning, the possibility of failure should always be acknowledged and accepted and should be seen as an opportunity to succeed. As Patrikios states, “even those who are doing well academically, they are still experiencing failure, just at home”. Whilst we may not all have the opportunity to fail privately, maybe the best environment to fail in is one where the consequences do not really matter.