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Varying Degrees of Success - Dealing with Failure

Embracing failure as well as success is the first step towards achievement. Varying Degrees of Success – Dealing with Failure explores the link between failure and success and how they can both work in our favour. We should not fear failure because we think it makes us unworthy. On the contrary, it is failure and the lessons we take from it which makes us a better person.

The idea of success and the rewards it brings has been the driving force behind man’s achievements since our species took its first tentative steps on this planet. From the first hominids who fashioned tools to hunt for food to a man walking on the moon, success has stood as the ultimate goal of the sum total of our efforts. Indeed, a person’s status in today’s society is often measured by his or her success.

Success brings its own rewards: wealth, adulation and material possession to name but a few of the things that successful people can hope to enjoy. But what about the failures, where do they rank amongst our achievements and why would we rather forget them?

Failure, by definition, is a goal that has not been met or achieved. In short, our effort to achieve a particular goal was not enough or was misdirected. Society tells us that failure is not good and we should avoid it. Telling someone we failed is a no, no! It might make us a lesser person in the eyes of others.

As a teacher, I used to watch my students struggle everyday with the idea that they would either succeed or fail. Success to some of my students was dependent on a number of factors, including the notion that they might get lucky during their exam. But, in nearly every case, the fear of failure played a big role in the student's attitude toward the examination process. Fear impacted on the students in a way that made success difficult to achieve. The students not only needed to study but they also needed to be coached on how to deal with stress under exam conditions if success was not to elude them.

Fear of failure is instilled in us from a very early age. Our parents emphasise, and sometimes over emphasise, the achievements of others to the extent that they expect us, as aspiring stars, to emulate those who have gone before.

Pop Idols, film stars and business gurus are all held up as role models for us to follow. Rarely are we allowed to view success or failure of others beyond the material. Failure to achieve goals, whether they are the ones we set for ourselves or those set by others, will put us at the bottom of the social ladder, such is the nature of our world. The media, our parents and peer groups all reinforce the idea that failure makes us an unworthy person.

I think it is a great shame that society, and the media which feeds it, views success and failure as black and white. It is not. Success is achieved through trial and error and, yes, failure. Without failure we wouldn’t learn anything. Failure is a result. It may not be the result we are looking for but it is a result nonetheless.

If we understand failure as a result then we can take lessons from the steps that led to that result. And here in lies the varying degree of success.

Success is not a single stated goal. It is, more importantly, a set of goals that will lead to the ultimate goal of achievement.

I recall the first time I took my driving test. It was a nerve wracking experience. I was so frightened by the prospect of failing the test that I could barely stop shaking.

At the end of the test the driving examiner handed me a slip of paper saying that I had failed. I was devastated and disappointed. My fear had made passing the test an unlikely outcome.

The driving examiner wasn’t kind either. He had no words of comfort to offer other than to say I should read his comments. His comments weren’t exactly complimentary, but they were useful.

Prior to the driving test I had only one goal, to pass the test. I had given no thought to the process of driving other than getting the car from A to B.  I did get the car from A to B in the test, and in that I was very successful. However, there was a little matter of reading the road and driving safely that I had overlooked. I hadn’t considered all the issues that went into driving a car. I was too busy concentrating on the black and white of failure and success. As a result, fear ruled the day and my efforts were misdirected.

The examiner’s comments helped me to understand where I had gone wrong. By analysing my failures during my first attempt I was able to formulate a better plan of action for my next attempt at passing the test. It worked. I passed the test with flying colours and was extremely happy with my performance. I could barely hide my excitement at having achieved my goal. But then the driving examiner gave me another slip of paper which brought me back down to earth.

The slip of paper read: Driving a car is a lifelong learning process. Everyday is a lesson and everyday is a test. Learn how to drive for life.

I was dumbfounded. I thought I had achieved my stated goal but in reality I had only achieved one goal of many that makes a person a good driver.

The driving examiner, despite his cold demeanour, understood that success and failure are not diametrically opposed but instead form a ladder of experience that eventually leads to achievement.  Hence failure is nothing more than a degree of success on the ladder of life which we must all climb.

In essence, we should embrace the idea of failure as a step towards success. We should not fear failure because we think it makes us unworthy. On the contraryHealth Fitness Articles, it is failure and the lessons we take from it which makes us a better person.

Readers can download the e-book Varying Degrees of Success – Dealing with Failure at

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Joseph is a lecturer in Business Communication and has lectured on the subject of Effective Communication to businessmen and women across Europe and the Middle East.  Joseph is also the Director of Studies at Key Factor , a language training company which he founded in 2006.  His interests are micro farming, reading the classics and writing on social issues.  

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