How to embrace failure

I hate to fail. I really do. And this is a problem. Why? If we are not willing to make mistakes, we will not learn much. And our lives will not grow but get smaller. So what can we do to change?

Just the other day I hit on something that might be the solution. It is a simple question. Here it is:

“What would you attempt to do,
if you knew you WOULD fail,
but you knew you would
learn, grow, and get better?”
John Maxwell

What’s new about this question?

That sounds familiar. But not quite. I heard another question many times: “What would you do, if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” For me, there has always been a really big problem with that question. It just doesn’t happen. Failure is part of life. So I dismissed that question. But not this one. Let’s dissect it.

What would you attempt to do

It all starts with imagination. Imagining attempting something bigger and better than I am currently experiencing or doing. Note that it is about attempting to do, not about doing it. Because we have not been doing it before, we are actually not able to do it.

When you have never ridden a bike, you will not be able to ride it. However, you would be able to attempt to ride it. Anybody could do this. Anybody could attempt to ride a bike. This is absolutely possible. And the nice thing is that if you attempt it, you could actually learn how to do it. If you don’t attempt to do it, then you will never learn it.

If you knew you WOULD fail

We are still imagining. We imagine failure. What? Imagine failure? Why would I want to do that? Our question is really about reframing failure and becoming immune to a lot of the negative thoughts that can come with failure.

If we attempt things that are beyond our current capacity, it is guaranteed that things will not work out. We WILL fall of the bike. When we face this and accept it, we are much more likely to be able to handle the reality of failure when it sets in.

Instead of saying to ourselves: “How could that happen? I am such a failure!”, we will then say: “There it is. It was to be expected. That is a sign that I am learning and growing. What adjustment can I make?”

But you knew you would learn, grow and get better


When we acknowledge what really happens and make adjustments along the way, we will grow. That’s really great news. As we grow, we get better and our lives get better. This question really changes our mindset from a focus on successfully reaching a goal towards the growth process. And growth is where all good things happen.

Growing into a failure immune mindset

I am very passionate about this question. However, because it is not yet natural, I need to keep this question top of mind. In fact, it is not first answer that we come up with to the question that matters. What matters is to continually ask ourselves this question and change our attitude towards failure. I put that quote into a very visible place and will keep it with me at least for the week.

I just have one question for you today:

“What would you attempt to do,
if you knew you WOULD fail,
but you knew you would
learn, grow, and get better?”
John Maxwell

You can let me know in the comments, I’m excited to hear from you.   

2 Replies to “How to embrace failure”

  1. Your question has been in my thoughts for several days now Gabriel. Your article helps clarify the real question. I would love to learn to scuba as long as failure means I have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I would love to climb a 14,000 ft mountain and skydive, and would be happy to try and fail, but only if failure means I live to tell the story. Your examples define failure as something short of the life and death choices that I thought of when I think of failure. I can see that the question assumes that you live to learn from your failure, but somehow when I framed the question in my mind, the consequences of failure were absolute.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Grace. You are very courageous 🙂 I think it is absolutely reasonable to keep our safety top of mind. I know of one person who is know to do crazy adventures. He does a very intense risk assessment before going into anything new. For me, embracing the possibility of failure shows in the not-so-life-threatening things like creating a course or building meaningful relationships.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *