Re-frame Failure

As the end of the year slowly approaches, many take the time to evaluate the year that was. In the evaluation of this process, I have found that people form two basic camps: either the year is seen as a raging success, or as an epic failure. These views then become very apparent to those around them, as this information is shared on all social media sites. After some time viewing this process, I came to a disturbing realization – that people tend to think like this in most aspects of life, and not just when it comes to evaluating the past year.

The fact that people only evaluate their life experiences in these two broad terms, either a success or failure, made me realize that people may have a misconception with regards to what these two terms may mean.


The Oxford dictionary defines failure as “the lack of success or the neglect or omission of expected or required action”, whereas success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. This means that we, as a society, put no importance on developed knowledge, or personal growth – we merely measure ourselves and our experiences based on a mindset of “did we achieve the intended outcome set by either ourselves or the community at large?” Thus not taking into consideration what was achieved in getting to that point, or what had to be sacrificed to achieve success. This reminded me of a story I read.

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the woman his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

“But, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

Quoted from How to charge, one of the archived posts on 1099 — “the magazine for independent professionals.”

Your success in life is not seen as the few seconds you are in the limelight, being able to complete a task to perfection, but should rather be defined by the obstacles you have overcome to reach that point.

When we are able to view success and failure based on these terms, many would be surprised to find that at the times they have seen themselves as an utter failure, they were actually a success story.

Here are some great ways to see “failure” differently.

  1. Failure is just feedback: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Edison. Through perceived failure, we are not always aware of how much the “failing” process teaches us. If Edison did not fail so many times, he probably would not have a full understanding of how and why his creation works in this way.
  2. Failure is personal development: most people have a hidden talent; however the problem with hidden talents is just that… they are HIDDEN. Unfortunately for most they will stay that way due to the fear we have of failure. Making mistakes, or failing at something, might just be the road to finding a talent.
  3. Failure is your first attempt in learning: failure may very often mean that we merely have a knowledge gap. This does not mean we are incompetent or stupid and it is something that can be easily rectified. Therefore, learn more about whatever it is you want to be successful at.
  4. Failure is a step forward: ever heard the saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained”? If you have failed at your goal, it means that you have at least attempted to achieve your goal. Someone who has never failed has never tried and thus will always wonder if they can achieve it.

I would like to leave you with this quote of Albert Einstein – “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”. Therefore do not judge your year, your life or your talent on what outcomes you achieved, but rather on what knowledge you gained from it.


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