The Short and Timeless Guide to Overcoming and Using Failure

by Henrik Edberg

Image: / CC BY-ND 2.0

“No man ever achieved worth-while success who did not, at one time or other, find himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.“
Napoleon Hill

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
Michael Jordan

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
C. S. Lewis

Failure can be quite the problem. And the fear of it can be paralyzing.

So what can you do to motivate yourself to take a chance, to overcome possible failure and to use it to your advantage?

Here are a few timeless words of advice.

Redefine failure.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Beckett

“An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.”
Charles F. Kettering

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford

Failure is something that may need to be redefined within your mind. It’s not something to attach too much meaning to. But people do though.

If you look at successful people then you see that they have an abundance mentality. They know there are new chances and opportunities if they fail. And that there are lessons to be learned from failures. Those failures are necessary to achieve success. Without them you don’t get the feedback that is essential for your future success. And by making mistakes for yourself you get experience. Reading about someone else’s mistake or knowledge isn’t the same thing as experiencing it for yourself.

Failure is a learning experience. It can help you. But first you have to try. Without trying you aren’t going anywhere.

Accept it.

“A lot of new obstacles are coming, a lot of new feelings are coming, … I’m just taking it for what it is and learning from the mistakes I had this year.”
Michael Phelps

Acceptance is very helpful when you make a mistake or fail. You can resist the failure/mistake and beat yourself up. This creates a lot of inner suffering and new resistance. And that makes it emotionally harder to keep going and trying since you associate mistakes and failure with so much pain.

Acceptance is a more useful approach. It can help you to release yourself from slipping into old, conditioned patterns of self-hurting behaviour when something “negative” happens. You can instead see a situation such as a failure with fresh eyes.

And instead of beating yourself up or feeling sorry for yourself you can see the situation in a more positive and constructive way. Like for instance by looking for the lessons or the positive stuff in your failure. One of the greatest things about acceptance is that it can give you freedom from your old behaviour patterns and “you acting as you have always done”.

Take responsibility.

“A man may fail many times but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”
John Burroughs

A very good point. As long as you own your mistakes and failures you can still learn. You can still adapt and find a better course to take.

But when you start blaming everyone or everything else then you don’t just look like a bitter failure. You also give you power away. The power over what you have learned so far and the power take action and do something. When you give that away it’s like you are sitting down on your hands and just giving up. You don’t have any power to move forward anymore.

Build inner strength.

“Failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for great responsibilities”
Napoleon Hill

Failure and rejection won’t kill you. You may think that it does and it may feel like it almost will just after it has happened. But it won’t. Instead it makes you stronger. It makes you more confident in yourself. Because over time, by piling up the failures you truly understand that this isn’t such a big deal. You have handled it before and if it comes up in the future you know that you can handle it again.

By failing you build inner strength and gain understanding of how things work. This is crucial to be able to handle bigger responsibilities in life and to be able to grow.

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Self Improvement Explained March 17, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Failure is taught…

Someone sometime in your life told you that (blank) is failing. And most likely that person was an authority figure in your life, i.e. teacher, parent, maybe even Barney. So before you term something failure, question it.

Henrik, taking responsibility is very importnant


Ryan March 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

The Michael Jordan quote resonates with me as I’m a big basketball fan.

Every failure is an opportunity which God wants us to learn from.

I feel that people need to learn how to fail. To feel that it’s OK, to accept it, and to take the seed of equivalent benefit from it, as Napoleon Hill stated.

7times77 March 17, 2010 at 5:39 pm

“There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. ” – Anthony Robbins

Wait, but there is one failure! To see failure as a failure! :)

Vickie Elmer March 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Nice post. Thanks for sharing it.
Learning from your mistakes, and then learning to move on and rebuild are crucial skills for anyone. I like your use of quotes in this post.
If you’re ready to start your career comeback, I offered some advice in a recent Washington Post article available at .

Armen Shirvanian March 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Hi Henrik.

Redefining failure sure is a smooth one that works out well. I see it happen all the time. The smart person who redefines failure as something else, like a learning experience, doesn’t feel pain related to failing, and is able to bounce right back, with other people wondering how they did it.

Acceptance is one that is tougher for folks who do that redefining of failure, because some redefine failure specifically so they don’t have to accept it in any form. However, there are times where acceptance saves a lot of wasted energy, and then a new attempt can be made from scratch. It is a bit slower process, but it needs to be done to be realistic in some instances where the failure was too direct.

Napoleon’s quote about failure preparing us for big responsibilities makes sense. When you fail early on, you are later the person who has valuable experience when others don’t, and so you become the one in charge, for reliability and efficiency purposes.

Chris March 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

It’s true, failure shouldn’t be viewed as most of us view it. It is a lesson and a hint that we need to maje a change which will benefit us. Failures are Experiance.

floreta March 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm

one thing that helps me is knowing that this isn’t permanent and things will change. also, that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Kristen March 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm

This is just what I needed to hear. I have been having trouble with a college class and have been so afraid of failing. I knew that I would be able to take the class again if I did fail the first time, but I wasn’t ready to admit that I had made mistakes. Now I have come to realize that I have no one else to blame for my mistakes, so it’s better to just accept responsibility and move on. Thank You!

Joé Des Ruisseaux-Langlois April 20, 2010 at 1:03 am

You know, last semester I failed a math course at 54%…
We had the worst teacher ever and almost half of the class didn’t pass, and I think I’m the only people on 15 that didn’t blame the teacher for his failure.

That made me so powerful, it gave me so much energy, to simply realize that this is MY fault and nobody else’s, it made me realize that I create my destiny, good or bad. So I decided not to blame anyone and keep my head up, I wanted to excel in the same course the following semester…

A lot of people didn’t belieive me, they didn’t accept the fact that I dared even dreaming of having a good grade while they were still crying on their fate.

Guess what, I’m doing this math class again, and my total average grade is 96%, people that failed and didn’t take responsability have around 75% ;)

Amanya Jacobs March 18, 2010 at 1:25 am

You’ve made the subject of failure and inspirational one. I like your basic steps, too: Redefine, Accept, Take responsibility and Build inner strength. Thanks for posting this valuable perspective.

Josten March 18, 2010 at 5:48 am

i agree that experiencing failure is more valuable then reading about it happing to someone else. I’ve learned to accept failure more and more. Knowing that it is only temporary not permanent. It’s also helped me notice more opportunites that i would’nt have before.

rob white March 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Great stuff. One of my personal favorites from Winston Churchill: “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”
This has been a big one for me lately in my own writing endeavors (and believe me, I’m being tested by the universe). Life never imposes a negative program on anyone. Failures are not meant to be indications of your insufficiency. The difference between those who fail and lose and those who fail and win is that the winners go from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm; they maintain this enthusiasm by making it a habit to learn something new from their failures.

Rich March 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Hi Henrik,

In addition to accepting that failure is a positive, I would add that you can learn to fail better! By learning to identify early on when things are not work you can spot the tell-tale signs, try and change course, and assess at the time what you could have done better – often a lot easier than later when the wounds are wide open!



Tim DeRoche March 18, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I think Wayne Gretzky said something like, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”

Annie March 18, 2010 at 11:42 pm

how sweet do we know success to be until we have experienced failures? I believe failures are a necessary part of learning and life.

Susan Liddy March 19, 2010 at 1:31 am

There was a time in my life when I feared failing so much that it either paralyzed me or put me into overdrive. Funny to have such opposite responses, huh?
When it paralyzed me, I would decline opportunities and give up on things. When it put me into overdrive, I would take on too much and try to get it all done perfectly.

The fear of failing actually put me more at risk of doing it.

So, in addition to redefining it and embracing that it’s a pathway to lessons, it also helps me to understand that when I am in fear, I am more apt to CREATE what I fear than protect myself from it.

Clinton Skakun March 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Tony Robbins said, “Failure is on the other side of rejection.” Entrepreneurs say for ever “no” you get you get closer to a “yes.”

Free self help March 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Loved the post, one of your best yet and I totally agree. In my opinion there is no success without failure first

Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

I love the quote by Henry Ford because I totally believe that what many people call failure is nothing less than an opportunity.

personal development guru March 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Hey, I’m a personal development coach at, and i find that a lot of people claim to be perfectionists as a means of never excelling, or actively pursuing their goals. They hide behind the idea that no matter what they search for it is not possible, as perfection is merely a frame of mind, and thus, have nothing but failure awaiting them.

David Rogers March 29, 2010 at 6:14 pm

When you posted about failure two years ago it prompted my own post on the topic, and the same has happened again! This concept of failure as a learning experience is overplayed, and I disagree that failure makes you stronger and more confident. Yes, we should learn from our experiences, good and bad, and we won’t always succeed. But ruminating on failure is never going to feel good or be helpful, in my opinion.

Mary March 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Hi all

I happen to agree with David that failure does not always make you stronger and more confident. I had a spectacular business failure two years ago at the beginning of the current recession, and it sapped all my confidence in myself, in how I make decisions, in my gut instincts, how I read people and my self trust.
I am usually a very positive thinking person, and believe in karma, goodwill, peace, taking responsibility for our own actions and learning from mistakes, but really – I cant for the life of me figure this one out!

I dont know what I am supposed to learn, except that I lost all my money, my marraige broke up (but thankfully is slowly recovering), my teenage daughter developed some scary psychosomatic problems due to the stress she witnessed in her parents relationship (she is much better now thankfully) and overall it felt like being hit by a huge boulder, and being shattered into a million pieces. I can handle the financial hit, but the hit to relationships was terrifying.

The whole experience has left me second guessing even the most trivial decisions I make, lots of confusion and a feeling of detachment when I feel the stress levels beginning to rise.

There probably is a positive lesson in there somewhere, and maybe I just cant see it right now.

Mary March 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Yes please

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