Four toxic attitudes to failure that stop us from succeeding

Stories of success are interwoven with our childhood. It’s the God-given right of any hero of any tale to succeed. Beast wins over beauty, Simba reclaims his rock and Cinderella wins a shoe fitting contest. Success is the eventual outcome of the Western narrative – and without this eventual culmination of effort, this pivotal validation, we’re at a loss to understand the story’s purpose. How can effort be significant if it isn’t eventually crowned? What good is trial and toil if it doesn’t raise our status or expand our material worth?

Our attitudes toward success and failure can be quite debilitating. Disney isn’t entirely to blame; we all perpetuate the idyllic fiction, that any outcome must be clearly etched in terms of success and result. We have a toxic view of failure because it’s the converse of success, and too often we consider the relationship in binary terms: win and loss, victory and defeat, yes and no. We either emerge on top or sink into the ceaseless void of anonymity and shame. But success and failure are muddy terms, and they reside at non-opposing points in a very open space of interpretation.

1.     We’re a failure because we fail.

This is the most damaging trope of success and failure. If success makes us a winner, then surely failure makes us a loser? No (and don’t call me Shirley). Failure is a stepping stone to success. Few people that truly succeed do so without failing at least a couple dozen times. It’s rare that a stranger to loss and self-doubt, the sort that makes us question who we are, will eventually find success.

2.     Failure is the end.

If failing doesn’t make us a failure, which it doesn’t, then similarly it can’t be the end. It’s simply a marked point on a journey where, hopefully, we gain new insight and learn valuable lessons. Failure provides the sort of elucidation that success cannot. It’s in our moments of pain that we gain new clarity and understand the change necessary. Unfortunately, this is more apparent in retrospect than when we’re living the failure.

3.     Failure cannot be washed away.

Many of us feel that our failures are so acute that we’ll never be rid of them, as though they’re a stain we’re forced to bear for the rest of our days. But failure’s only indelible mark is in the lessons learnt, not the stigma gained. Our minds are our own worst enemy. We can stew over failure until we find ourselves in a form of quick sand, continuously contemplating the what ifs and absorbing the experience in negative terms. Even in our attempt to justify our failure, we often take too much on our own shoulders. When things don’t work out, take time to understand why – learn from the experience and then leave it behind, taking only the lessons onto the next step.

4.     Success is all that matters.

We live in a capitalist society. Every success has to be attested to by our stature and wealth. A portfolio of failures, no matter how valuable the lessons learnt, isn’t likely to impress a stranger. Lessons are intangible, whilst flashy clothes and wads of cash are much more effective tools for garnering external praise and appreciation. But this is empty praise and appreciation, and it means little to your story. An individual can be a complete failure until they’re a complete success, and all the moments of failure gain new appreciation. Sadly, we’re usually more interested in the end of the story over the middle, but that doesn’t mean everything that comes before isn’t necessary.