Losing and Failing are not the same – The Failure Series, part 2

I have been reading and thinking about the idea of failure, and also the comments I received from last week’s post (and thank you to everyone who commented).


You need to try, make mistakes and allow yourself to lose

What you have said, and what is reinforced by what I have read, is how important it is to allow yourself to try even if you can’t do what you are trying to do, to allow yourself to make mistakes, to learn what works and what doesn’t. If you do so, you are not ‘failing’.

There are some pretty well known quotes that reinforce this:

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ – William E. Hickson
  • “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
  • “Winners lose more than losers. They win and lose more than losers, because they stay in the game. ” – Terry Paulson

And of course this one (which we trot out to our basketball playing kids quite often) –


The difference between winning, losing and failing

In essence, the messages I am getting are:

  • Winning is what happens when you make a decision, or take a particular action, and it turns out to be correct or you achieve your goal.

When you win, you learn and you evolve.

  • Losing is what happens when you make a decision, or take a particular action, and it turns out to be incorrect or you don’t achieve your goal.

When you lose, you learn and you evolve.

However –

  • Failure is what happens when you don’t make any decision, take action, or even try.

When you fail, you learn nothing and you stay the same.

So winning and losing can both be steps on the way to success – if you learn and refine and practice until you get things right.

Got it.

So why do many of us fear losing – and chose failure instead?

I can think of a range of reasons (maybe you can think of more?):

  • Self consciousness / doubt – Fear of people seeing you have lost, or made a mistake. If you don’t try, no one would ever know, right?
  • Fear of judgment – Maybe you are worried about being ridiculed, being classed as ‘incompetent’? Maybe this could cause some implications to the way you are treated, or opportunities you might have in the future?
  • Effort – It is sometimes easier to stick with the things you know you can do, rather than practice and learn to do something new. It can also take up time – shifting approaches to the way you run your life may mean other things need to go on the back-burner for a while
  • Longer term impact – depending on what it is you are trying, there can be long term implications, and sometimes these implications may not be be positive. Are you, or others, prepared to wear them?

Many new things require preparation – or in fact, specific training and qualifications. No one is, of course, suggesting you decide to try something that poses a significant risk to your, or others, life, health or property.

However, many of the things we might avoid doing don’t fall into this category. Although we might wish to do them, our desire not to look silly – our fear of what others might think of us – might be a bigger concern for us. And I think that is quite a legitimate concern – I know I feel this often.

But if it is something you have always wanted to try – or believe it is the right thing to do – maybe you (and I) might need to develop a stronger skin. We might have to plan a bit – particularly if it is something particularly challenging – train, practice possibly in a safe environment or in private.*

I read this quote which I particularly liked recently in The Australian (I know – I seem to be branching out from only reading the one paper. Anyway):

‘If we fear failure we tend to take a minimalist approach to our jobs. Take some risks. Sometimes failing spectacularly is the best evidence that we are alive, human and serious about aspiring to the extraordinary. There is no value in being ordinary when you have the capacity to be remarkable’ Shane Rodgers

This all sounds good – BUT…

We need to be prepared to try and lose, in order to ultimately succeed. However, this relies on clearly knowing:

  • What you are aiming to achieve. Are you using other people’s measures rather than what you believe or know to be the ‘right’ outcome? Can the ‘right’ outcome change over time? Might you, and your values, change over time?
  • What a win looks like – are there clear rules? If it is a competition, does the other side actually know, or agree, with your understanding of a ‘win’? And, while not underestimating our potential to achieve a lot more than we might have thought − we may need to slightly temper our goals (even if I trained to the best of my ability, there is no way I could be an Olympic athlete, for instance. However, maybe I could compete in a different level of competition – if that was my goal).
  • When, and whether, you have finished and ‘won’ – some outcomes may take years to prove themselves. When do we know?
  • Whether a win in one area may create a loss, and over all failure, in another. Rarely do we have one solitary aim in life.

In summary,

I think that, based on these definitions of ‘success’, ‘loss’ and ‘failure’  – there is more to it. And, in fact:

You can succeed in your goal – but still fail overall. And, you can lose but still succeed.

I’m reading a fascinating book called ‘Toxic Success’ by Paul Pearson which is bringing this home to me, and I’ll write more about this next week.

Plus, the idea of developing a thicker skin, and also preparing and practicing, warrants more exploration – it is easy to say, but much harder to do. Fortunately, Dr Brene Brown has some great advice on the first (and if you haven’t read any of her work, please do!), and a range of other authors do on the second.

I’d love to know what you think about this. And I can’t wait to share some of the lessons I am learning in following posts, and gain your thoughts too!


3 thoughts on “Losing and Failing are not the same – The Failure Series, part 2

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