Failure Is Success In Progress – How To Overcome It?

Imagine this! The examination which will determine your future career path will be held next week. You want to be admitted into a medical school. So you put in long hours to study, you even have to miss your close cousin’s wedding because you need to prepare for the test. After the result comes out, it turns out that you fail to achieve the appropriate result to enter a medical school. 

Or perhaps you are preparing for an interstate theater competition. Your team has managed to become the winner for three years consecutively, so you hope that during your senior year representing your school in that competition, your team will be announced as the winner again. However, it turns out your team fails to win the first place. 

Psych2goers, first and foremost, let’s define failure. 

The definition of failure differs person to person, and it is most probably based on your values and expectations. Sometimes, we take on the definition of success imposed by our family, friends, or society. 

Let’s take a look at how a world-famous innovator, a man who invented the light bulb, Thomas Edison defined failure, 

“I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” 

Despite our varied definition of failure, the one common thing that we all share is – each time we fail at something, initially we shrink and we may feel hurt. 

So, Psych2goers, let’s look at several ways on how you can change your perspective on failure, so that you can overcome it easier:  

  1. Failure is your biggest teacher 

Society puts a greater emphasis on success rather than failure. In this era of social media, people often showcase their highlight reel of their lives, and rarely people post about their failures. According to a research conducted by Madsen and Desai (2010), failure can be your biggest teacher in life. It is found that oftentimes the knowledge that a person obtained from achieving success was temporary, whereas the knowledge gained from failure lasts longer. To demonstrate the point, a comparison between the flights of the space shuttle Atlantis and the Challenger was made. In 2002, a piece of insulation broke off from the space shuttle Atlantis and caused damage to the left solid rocket booster, however the incident did not hinder the space mission. There was little follow-up or investigation following the incident. A year later, during the flight of the space shuttle the Challenger, another piece of insulation broke off, and consequently the incident destroyed the shuttle and caused death to its seven astronauts.  This tragic incident prompted a major investigation which resulted in 29 recommended changes to prevent future disasters.  

In other words, we should view failures as invaluable learning opportunities. 

2. Failure lets you to be kind to yourself 

Let’s imagine…what if your life is only made of a constant stream of success? You obtain a good education, you have a great, high-flying job, you live in your dream place with your equally successful spouse. You are living the life of “success” that most people coveted. What if you never experience a failure that throws you into the darkest hole in your life? When we never really, truly experience the grit of failure, most of the time we take for granted the things that we always have in our lives. 

When we experience failure, we will try to re-evaluate the important things in our life. You tend to switch your focus from less important things to those that actually matter to you. It’s a great chance for you to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Instead of judging and approving yourself based on what you have accomplished, you learn to accept yourself just for what you already are. Dr. Kristin Neff, a strong advocate for self-compassion, has published a study on self-compassion in 2005. Based on that study, students who practice self-compassion after failing in an examination will proceed to study harder for future exams. 

3. You can know success only if you have experienced failure 

Have you heard of the saying that, only through sadness, you will appreciate and notice joy? Similarly, by experiencing failure, you will obtain a better perspective on success. Success is built upon the knowledge of what works and what does not work. The accumulation of failures that you experience in your life enables you to develop a sense of what should work and what does not work. Thus, you are able to focus on the right solutions. 

This perspective on failure actually makes Michael Jordan, a world-renowned basketball athlete that he is today. 

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot … and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”

(Michael Jordan)

4. Sometimes what you think is a failure is really not

Do you know, some of the most groundbreaking inventions in our history happen when the inventors were experimenting on something else entirely. For example, the inventions of super glue, microwave ovens, pacemakers and even penicillin, happened when the scientists actually failed at what they initially tried to do. Well, at least at that time they thought it was a failure. However, fast forward many years, those inventions are considered as the most significant inventions in our history. 

5. Failure is an impermanent situation rather than a permanent end to your path 

Psych2goers, when you are faced with failure, it is not a permanent end to your journey. Indeed, failure is a very real experience, however it is not a final destination, rather it is another event in the course of your life. Think of failure as a preparation for you to achieve success in the future. 

Take a look at the life of Jack Ma, for example. In a public event, he told the story of multiple failures in his life: to be the only one from the 24 applicants of not getting a job in KFC, or when he was rejected to become a server in a hotel when his cousin did, or when he was rejected from getting into Harvard, when he applied for 10 times. Jack Ma reflected that these failures that he experienced in his life, prepared him for the path to become a CEO later on. 

Final Thoughts 

Psych2goers, sometimes when you face failures in your life, you may become debilitated. Perhaps you struggle with a failed marriage, or maybe you have a failed business venture. Therefore, it is best to seek professional help in order to help you bounce back from your failures. 


Madsen, P. M., & Desai, V. M. (2010). Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Academy of Management Journal, 53(3), 451-476.

Neff, K. D., Hsieh, Y.-P., &; Dejitterat, K. (2005). Retrieved September 20, 2021, from

Riggio, R. E. (2011, April 18). Failure: Necessity of invention & essential for success. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from

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