Does Failure Really Exist?

by Jonathan

no failure

Have you ever held back on doing something because you were afraid of failure?  Most people have!  Let’s face it; no one likes to fail.  None of us likes to feel like we’re ineffective, weak, or lacking in any way, and that’s exactly how failure makes us feel.

However, you may be surprised to know that failure doesn’t exist – until YOU say it does.  In the dictionary, failure has several definitions:

1. A failing to do or perform
2. A state of inability to perform a normal function adequately
3. A fracturing or giving way under stress
4. A lack of success

Look carefully at those definitions and you’ll probably realize they have one thing in common when it comes to goal achievement:

Failure is only a type of perception

If you believe you have failed, then you have.  If you believe you don’t have the ability to succeed, then you don’t.  If you believe you can’t handle the pressure of achieving your goals, you can’t.  If you believe you’re not successful, you aren’t.  Failure only exists in your own mind!  The moment you decide to give up or stop working toward your goals, failure is born.

But what if you never do that?  What if you continue working toward your goals, one step at a time for as long as it takes?  There’s no failure then, is there?

This insight should be very encouraging if you’ve been working toward goals and have not yet seen positive results.  If you keep going and continue making whatever adjustment are needed, how can you fail?

3 tips to help you stay focused on your goals

1) Never give yourself an out. Most people give themselves an out without even realizing it. It’s called a fade out!  They are willing to work hard on achieving their goals, but only until the going gets too rough or their motivation dwindles.  Don’t do that!  Commit to making your goals happen, no matter what!  Never quit, never contemplate admitting failure, and never lose your inner determination.

2) Don’t get hooked on a specific timeframe for completion. It’s a good idea to set a general timeline, but be aware that some circumstances will be beyond your control. You can never say for sure exactly when your goal will be achieved.  If you lock yourself into a very restrictive timeline, you might be setting yourself up to feel like a failure!  Instead, get a general idea of when you’d like your goal to be completed, but then take it one day at a time and focus on making progress instead of reaching the finish line in as little time as possible.

3) Finally, be sure that you don’t view obstacles and setbacks as failures. The two are completely different.  An obstacle, setback or delay means only one thing:  it’s not time for your goal to be completed yet.  That’s it!  It doesn’t mean you failed; it doesn’t mean you’re weak; it doesn’t mean you’ll never achieve your goals.  It simply means you’re not done yet.  You’ve got to keep moving forward and find a way over, around, or through the obstacle.

How does eliminating the fear of failure make you feel?
What would you try to accomplish if failure didn’t exist?
The lines are open!

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

james

I agree. overcoming the fear of failure is one of the most critical steps to life success. the only failure in anything you do is when you give up. otherwise its just a stepping stone on the path to success

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hey James, I like the stepping stones metaphor. Even if we get off course a bit, we are still learning and gaining experience. It’s all part of the process.

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jonathanfigaro

Failure only exist if you accept it.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Jonathan, I don’t even use the word most of the time.

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Franklyn Anderson

I think the only time we truly fail is when we give up or as you say “accept it”. When does something become an unhealthy obsession though? At some point, reasonable people give up.

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Dandy

Hi Jonathan,
I believe that success is a personal thing. We each have our own definition of what success is to us. For me being success means being happy, positive, kind, giving. Failure is indeed a perception. We can change how we see our obstacles. Thanks Jonathan!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Dandy, thanks for bringing up that success is a personal thing. I certainly is and we should never try to adopt someone else’s version of success. It need’s to be personal to be meaningful. You might like this article: What is Success?

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Steve-Personal Success Factors

I think you mention a nice balance. It’s not good to get too hooked into a time frame for goal completion. And it’s good to be flexible. But then, there are those individuals like myself who can be a little too flexible at times, and it’s helpful in my case to put some kind of a flexible time frame on my goals.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Steve, I am a big believer in time frames and find them very motivating. The problem that some people create is when they are so locked in to a completion date that missing it is viewed as failure. It’s like the difference between futures contracts and stocks if you are familiar with the financial markets. It’s an unhealthy all or nothing, do or die scenario.

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Sandra Lee

Jonathan, I really like the advice to not get hooked on a specific timeframe. I know that I tend to be unrealistic about timeframes. That already can set you back!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Sandra, it seems that everything takes twice as long (at least) and cost twice as much (at least) as we think it will. Succeeding at our endeavors means we need a reasonable degree of flexibility.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap

Hi Jonathan. I think you only fail if you don’t get something out of the experience like fun trying or learning something. I guess it depends upon how you define “failure”. I do believe that sometimes you just aren’t going to achieve a particular goal or that you will change your mind and decide it’s not worth the price. I don’t consider that a failure; it’s another life experience.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Stephen, I totally agree with your evaluation. Even our goals can be adjusted along the way. What we end up achieving might be different than what we were originally aiming for. But we probably altered our course for a very good reason. This means that what we accomplished actually has more value in our life than what we thought we wanted at the beginning.

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Alex Blackwell

Jonathan,

Thanks for the nudge not to give up. After reading your post, I’m reminded of the expression, “Burn the Boats.” When we burn our boats then failure is not an option – we must stay the course; therefore, failure can’t exist.

Alex

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Greetings Alex, the greater our commitment the fewer the boats!

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Shailender

Hi Jonathan, I like your 3rd point that “don’t view obstacles and setbacks as failures”. This is something which always makes us feel weak and incapable of doing something. Finally we give up to tring to achieve our goal. Nice advice….

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Shailender, the more we break those obstacles down into little hurdles, the less intimidating the will be. Then we feel stronger and more capable of pushing forward.

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Stuart

Thanks for sharing this amazing insight Jonathan!

I view failure as something that is necessary before success; it’s very tempting to view failure as ‘the end’, and not to keep going because things haven’t worked out. But, failures are setbacks on the road, which can be overcome one way or another.

Take care :-)

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Stuart, I have always liked the example of Thomas Edison. Before inventing the light bulb he made 10,000 attempts that didn’t work. When someone asked him how he kept going after so many failures, he said: “I didn’t fail. I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Now that’s the attitude of success!

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Ryan Jenkins

Solid post!
I too think that failure only occurs when we quit. When we decide to stop progressing towards the goal or vision.
Bolting the back door and moving forward tends to help me the most with limiting failure.
Thanks Jonathan!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Ryan, I use that approach also. If there are no other options then we just keep moving forward. Works for me!

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Chris Akins

There is no failure only feedback.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Extremely well said Chris. That’s it exactly and I really appreciate such a concise evaluation.

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Nea

I totally agree that failure is all about perception. Many of the things we view as failure are just detours and rocky roads along life’s path.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

I see it the same way Nea. If we focus on setbacks long enough, they begin to feel like failures. If we learn from them and adjust our course, we eventually get over the hump.

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Marty

I like this article because it is a real challenge. It’s a tough mindset to break out of although it getting better for over time. I’m working on some meditation to assist it and doing my best to practice what I preach!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Marty, changing our perspective on this level is a genuine challenge for most people, so don’t feel like you’re all alone. And you are right, it does get better over time.

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farouk

I agree Jonathan, failure is only an illusion, it does not exist unless we say it does. Quite inspiring , thank you :D

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arina nikitina

Setbacks and obstacles are opportunities always in their masquerade ball get-up! What’s important it we stay positive and determined to achieve our goals. Make setbacks turning points to a slightly different road or a short-cut – thus, we become more creative and venture to new discoveries. Make obstacles a big boulder on the road, if only to remind us that hard work, patience, overall health and determination must power us at all times. But climb over it or around the boulder. Just never stop. Failure, after all, exists when we acknowledge it to be. But if we look at such differently, it disappears and we have a better view of what’s ahead. An inspiring view, actually. :) Great one… another great one, Jon!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Arina, I liked all of your illustrative metaphors but this one was special: “Make setbacks turning points to a slightly different road.” That is an outstanding way to put it.

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arina nikitina

Thanks, Jonathan! Appreciate your kind words!

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Ryan

The best thing I heard about failure is actually similar to what you said, that there’s no such thing as failure. Only if you just give up. But reframing it as either success or learning lessons. “Failure” is just a learning lesson to tell you that you might need to adjust or change something. Or maybe you’re not even doing anything wrong, it just needs a little time to catch on.

It feels much better to think of it this way, IMO. Why do we need to beat ourselves up? Just focus on the positive and on the goal.

Nice article!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Ryan, the viewpoint that not producing the desired result is failure rather than part of the learning process seems to be part of our productivity oriented culture. As soon as a child enters school they learn that doing well on tests brings approval and not testing well makes them something less than they should be. In some families it even starts before the kids start school. That’s a lot of indoctrination to overcome!

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Anna

Hi Jonathan,
I read the following with great interest:
Quote:
If you believe you have failed, then you have. If you believe you don’t have the ability to succeed, then you don’t. If you believe you can’t handle the pressure of achieving your goals, you can’t. If you believe you’re not successful, you aren’t. Failure only exists in your own mind! The moment you decide to give up or stop working toward your goals, failure is born.
Unquote.

I have always believed in myself and trusted my own own judgement, failure is not really in my vocabulary, but despite never believing in failure – so far I have failed.

Despite this I still have hope that one day I will succeed, hopefully while I am still young enough to enjoy it, despite failure I also suffer from determination.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Anna, here’s a question we can all ask ourselves when we fall short of our intended result: Have I failed or have I just learned one more way that won’t get me where I want to go? Do you see the difference? A very important element of success is learning what not to do. More often than not, success involves a process of eliminating what does not work until we discover what does work. You determination will pay off.

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Steve

I found this excellent post by searching for ‘failure does not exist’. I guess i wanted confirmation that it doesn’t so I did a search on Google for validation, so to speak (a great metaphor for getting what you look for if ever there was one – hee!).

I kind of get what you’re saying, Jonathan, but I’m not sure it’s completely hit home yet. (E.g. questions like what about someone who marries then divorces (then marries someone else, I suppose it goes…) or what about winning Bronze rather than Gold at the Olympics?)

I know I have made ‘failure’ very real in my life, and when I’ve ‘failed’ I’ve made sure to label it like that so that I never ‘go there’ again. I now know that that’s nonsense, that the end of a relationship does not mean ‘failure (for example).

Anyway, thanks. It will sink home soon I’m sure, this important life message, and I know I will then embody it…

Steve

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Jack Foley

I think everyone should fail as much as they can and never let the failure deter you from trying. We must get used to failing as this will ultimately enable us to succeed..

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Ken Wert@MeanttobeHappy

Powerful thought, Jonathan! Failure is a mindset, a reality only insofar as we make it one. I love the story of the man who lost the company he worked for $6 million. After the loss and knowing what was going to follow soon anyway, he walked into the president’s office with his resignation letter. As the letter hit his desk, the president and CEO of the company asks, “What’s this?” The employee answers and the president pushes the letter back toward the man saying, “We just invested $6 million in your training and now you want to leave us? I won’t accept it!”

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Ben

Those times i’ve let go of the fear of failure i’ve learnt so much from them and went on to crate something positive.

I agree that you haven’t failed unless you give up, so I plan to keep going until I achieve my goals!

-Ben

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Johngary

Hello,
I feel failure doesn’t come from outside, it is only from within. If we increase our mind power, it will be easy to defeat it.

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