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Finances & Money

The only failure is failing to learn

While listening to our priest’s sermon during Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of father I might be, if the calling ever comes. I wondered whether I would be a demanding father, never accepting failure from my child, or if I would be more like my own father who didn’t focus on failures, but instead encouraged me to try harder. I resolved in my mind that I might be a mixture of both, but in a good way.


I had the brilliant idea that there’s only one kind of failure in life. You may give up on an endeavor, or you might be defeated by someone more capable, but you only fail when you don’t learn from your defeat.

Growing up, I had to deal with a lot of failure caused by both my lack of patience and my low self-esteem from my weight. For example, in high school, I gave up on 4 years of elementary school football experience because I couldn’t hack the summer training camp. I regret not participating in a physical activity through high school, but looking back, it wasn’t a total failure.

In 2006, Stacie wanted to run a marathon before she turned 30. Knowing my penchant for failure at physical activities, I cautiously volunteered to sign up and train/run with her. I never ran more than a mile before that day, and our first training run at a local track was, shall we say, painful and embarassing. But I didn’t quit. I ran that 26.2 mile marathon and finished. And I plan on running another one in 2010.

See, the thing I learned from from giving up in high school was that I did have the physical potential to succeed, but I needed the mental fortitude to push myself harder. So when I began training for the marathon, I let my body do the work while the true battle was in my head. After 5 months of training hard, I recall more of the mental fights than the physical pain.


Just like I’ve trumpeted learning from your mistakes many times on this site, I also suggest looking back on what you consider a failure and determining what you can learn from it.  In college, I interviewed for dozens of post-graduatation jobs, but only got 3 offers for site visits, and only 1 job offer. But I didn’t get totally down on myself because I tried to learn from each interview how I could do better on the next.

Since I now have a great job, a good home and an awesome wife, I’m able to look back on all my defeats in a different light. I can see that each perceived loss was really a gain because it changed who I am today to be a more confident, capable and mature person. When something at work or home doesn’t go right, I now look at it more closely to figure out what went wrong, then try to avoid repeating my mistake or using it to accomplish the task better the next time.

So when you think you’ve failed at a task, consider that you’ve only really failed if you absolutely cannot learn from the defeat and thus cannot find a way to improve yourself. You’re allowed to get down on yourself (it’s only human to do so), but don’t dwell on your loss too long. Quickly review what you could have done better or differently, or what deficiencies you had, and try to grow that piece of yourself.

Comment back and tell me what challenges you’ve faced, learned from and how you’ve become a better person!

About the author

Clever Dude


  • In order to learn from your defeat, you need to open your mind. Not opening your mind, and repeating the same actions that caused the defeat in the first place, is irrational. Giving up after one defeat is quitting. Giving up after repeated defeats shows an awareness that you’re doing something wrong. This should lead to self-evaluation, and lead you to change your actions, resulting in overcoming your defeat.

  • Failure and learning go hand and hand, and although no one wants to fail, you can learn a lot. Looking back on both work related or personal successes and failures, you can always learn from the events. Even if you could go back and do it over, would you? No, because you wouldn’t have grown from the experience.

  • What an interesting post! This is all very life coach of you Clever Dude!

    Let’s see, I guess the best example from me is that I’ve learned anything is possible if you really put your mind to it. I think you also demonstrated that pretty well in your own case with the marathon. There may be a lot of mental battles going on, but ultimately, you did it. In my case, it was my freshman year of high school. I was invited to attend a summer long conference that was by special invitation to students within the top 15% of their classes. Along with the prestige came the expense. My parents told me I couldn’t go because I wasn’t working and they didn’t have the money to send me.

    I learned that if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I spent the entire three months prior to the trip raising money…I went door-to-door asking for donations or offering to complete jobs for money. I mowed lawns, watered the grass, walked dogs, washed windows – tasks my mom had a hard time getting me to do, I did without complaint. I raised the money and attended the conference. It was perhaps the best experience of my life. Anytime I feel like quitting, I ask myself if I’ve fully put my mind to it because, nine times out of ten, the reason I’m failing at something is because I haven’t committed to it.

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