In my persuasive essay, I argue that so-called common knowledge about how failure builds success is wrong. I argue that people are drawing incorrect conclusions based on very obvious empirical evidence that says failure, especially repeated failure, is debilitating rather than inspiring or success building.
The idea that people need to fail many times to succeed does not mean that failure is a good or helpful thing. In fact, repeated failure may simply be something a person has to endure before finding success, just like how a boxer must endure thousands of painful hits before becoming a champion. (Sandage, 2005)
People often quote the fact that Thomas Edison manufactured over 3000 failed bulbs before inventing the light bulb, but these same people seem to ignore the fact that Edison was a poor bulb maker. A smarter person, a more creative person, or even a luckier person may have invented the light bulb with just 500 attempts. (Nielsen, 2015)
People often state that it was Thomas Edison’s resilience and ability to learn from his mistakes that made him successful, but there is no proof of that. A person may wish to teach a dog to talk, and such a person may try thousands of times and learn from each experience but will never teach a dog to talk. Edison was motivated by his quest to fill a need and invent something that would make him richer, but his failures had nothing to do with his success, and his success was in spite of his failures.
People do not always learn from mistakes. If failure and mistakes were valuable, then homeless people and dropout drunks would be highly successful. Not only do people fail to learn from their mistakes, but they often learn the wrong lessons from their mistakes. When one partner cheats on another in a relationship, the victim often becomes more suspicious, untrusting, and more possessive with subsequent partners. The victim learns not to trust partners, which is the wrong thing to learn, and which then damages future relationships. (Schofield, 2008)
Mistakes are not progress. Some people say that mistakes are progress, but there is no proof of that. We are told by Napoleon Hill books that each failure and defeat offers a lesson, but this is rarely true. You learn far more from success, and many times our failures and defeats have nothing to tell us. Some say that failure teaches us what not to do, which some consider to be progress, and is a valid point in the scientific community, but science and success are not the same things. Science involves pooling knowledge so that people may avoid repeating failed tests, but such knowledge may take tens and maybe hundreds of years to become useful. Even people who learn from others have no real basis for success because everybody is different, everybody has different experiences, and the world often offers different circumstances for each individual’s success or failure. Learning how “not” to do something is not good enough if success is the end result. (Colarusso, 1992)
Failure and defeat is often unfair and often has nothing to teach. People will often cite that luck plays a part in success, but the fact that failure may involve bad luck seems to be ignored. One may say that somebody was unlucky when they fail, but their bad luck is rarely noted as the genuine reason for the failure, and yet bad luck is often the real reason why somebody failed. The many attempts to reach the planet’s poles are stories mired with bad luck. What the travelers were doing was correct and needed to be repeated, which means their failures had nothing to teach. It is possible to do everything right and still fail, and that is why learning from failure and defeat is usually pointless. (John Sommers-Flanagan & Rita Sommers-Flanagan, 2012)
Fail enough times and you start to fear failure and even learn to avoid it. The biggest problem with this is that the fear of failure is so insidious, and it grows so slowly, that people are almost always in denial as to if they have it or not. People watch YouTube videos on success and read books on success, and they skip over the sections about fear of failure because they think it doesn’t apply, but people who have failed many times will often have a very deep and rooted fear of failure. Such subconscious fears may make people avoid situations where they may succeed, and it may even make them self-sabotage themselves. The physical side is also very real to the point where some people become very tired or very restless when they start to see success on the horizon. Others feel ill, angry and even panicked when success is on the horizon because their brain links “Trying” and “Continuing” with failing.
Failure and defeat is like a poison, and some people can take more of the poison than others. However, the idea that failure is a good thing is ridiculous. In every case, failure is simply something a person has to endure in order to succeed. Failure is not an ingredient in the recipe of success, it is a horrible side effect that often breeds more failure, defeat and despair.
Sandage, Scott A. (2005) Born Losers: A History of Failure in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2005.
Calvin A. Colarusso (30 September 1992). Child and Adult Development: A Psychoanalytic Introduction for Clinicians. Springer. p. 88.
John Sommers-Flanagan; Rita Sommers-Flanagan (10 February 2012). Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice: Skills, Strategies, and Techniques. John Wiley & Sons. p. 361
Nielsen, Kelly (2015). “Fake It ’til You Make It: Why Community College Students’ Aspirations Hold Steady”. American Sociological Association. 88 (4): 265–283.
Schofield, Jack (17 October 2008). “All your FAIL are belong to us”. The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 December 2013. Retrieved August 9, 2009.