Sign up FAST! Login

How do I learn to fail better?

Stashed in: #greatness, FAIL, Best PandaWhale Posts, #success, Practice, Learn!, Rejection, Brain, Think!, @cdixon, Kaizen

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Trying to practice failing. I've come to the conclusion that I'm bad at discussing (embarrassed by?) my personal failures. I've always been good at learning from failure via introspection, but I think If I can discuss my failures w/ others I would learn more faster and reduce the chance of making the same mistake twice.

This manifests in odd places. For example: I love participating in open source SW, but am hesitant to check in code to github unless I've thoroughly tested it. In practice this means I just don't commit code that often.

Anybody have any strategies for getting over failure paranoia or failure shyness?

It is very human to have such feelings: you're exposing your weaknesses to others.

In my experience, learning to fail takes practice. You have to fail many times before you become comfortable with failure.

How can you practice? Set a goal to fail at something everyday.

The easiest way to do this is to keep asking for things each day until you get a rejection.

That's right:

Get rejected every day.

Chris Dixon is more blunt:


Although this form of failure is very modest (as opposed to checking in code not fully tested) it has helped me to overcome shyness and also to realize that rejection does not mean the end of the world.

Only once you're comfortable with failure can you strive to do something truly great, because you realize it's not failure that holds us back. It's fear of failure.

Tough but great encouragement.

Thanks! I note that it is still hard for me, and i struggle, but it is very much worth doing.


And breathe. Just breathe.

Is it really fear of failure or fear of success? Sometimes I think that they are two faces of the same coin. What if you never publish your code or writing or whatever creative output you dabble in because you're actually afraid of being successful and what that means? Yeah, it sounds nuts:)

Adam, you know how I struggle with publishing. I finally figured out I don't struggle with the actual writing (well, occasional writer's block) but I actually struggle with perfection and publishing and putting myself out there. What if people reject it? And worse, what if they really like it? What happens next?

The fact that I have been successful in writing and publishing makes it worse. How do you top or equal your last success?

And caveat: There are several conversations here on 106 Miles that in all likelihood discuss the points I have just raised. My apologies for redundant and/or boring content. Thanks for reading, all!

Basically: be calm.

Nobody cares if people reject it.

Nobody cares if people really like it.

Nobody cares if you top or equal your last success.

Nobody cares because everyone is fighting their own battles.

So do not worry.

Worrying is just suffering in advance.

It's hard enough to just get someone to pay attention.

Fear less; do more.

Act while thinking of the words of Robert H. Schuller:

What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

See also on Quora: Does a person learn more from failures or successes?

Summary of my answer there: failure to learn is learning to fail.

Scientific American thinks brains learn more from success.

Science Daily thinks organizations learn more from failure.

In other words, it's unclear that you as an individual need to fail. What we really need is to lose our fear of failure.

Calling it "failure" might be problematic. My grandmom didn't call lies told by a 4 year old me "lies", they were "fibs" and maybe we could all learn something from my grandmom (other than how to make awesome oatmeal cookies.) "Failure" is a pretty harsh word. A while back I posted a study (tried to find it for the past 10 mins but I'm approaching 3000 posts and basic keywords ain't cutting it anymore) that said approaching challenges with a growth/learning mindset was better than a competitive-pass/fail mindset in many ways. We all have the tendency to see the thing right in front of us as the end-all-be-all and need to realize that very very often it's just a learning opportunity for the much bigger challenge to come.

This reminds me of a line from Denis Waitley,

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.”

The key as a perfectionist is to learn to let things not be perfect. Don't paralyze yourself. This can include the good enough, but it should also leave room sometimes for things to actually be bad. In many ways it's easier to improve on bad than to improve on good enough.

And when you're comfortable failing, here's a way to make sure you're getting better every time:

I've been thinking a lot about "failure" in the context of the lean startup movement. It's actually pretty easy to say that you will ship a minimum viable product and iterate quickly and all that... but in practice, especially for engineers, it means that you will be EMBARRASSED EVERY DAY. In front of all of your friends, enemies, frenemies, competitors, and god. If you take a week off to go on vacation or to a conference or fix non user-facing bugs, the embarrassment will accumulate to the point of humiliation.

I dunno about other founders or team leads, but I've never gotten over this! I'm not sure it's good to get over it. I still feel sheepish and horrible about letting certain of my more critique-prone friends see PandaWhale, for instance. And yet... isn't embarrassment one of the forces that makes us work harder?

"Launch early enough that you’re embarrassed by your 1.0 product release," said Reid Hoffman in his 10 rules of entrepreneurship.

As far as the lean startup movement goes, I re-read Eric Ries's post Good Enough Never Is:

The minimum viable product is a test of a specific set of hypotheses, with a goal of proving or disproving them as quickly as possible. One of the most important of these hypotheses is always: what will the customer care about? How will they define quality?

One common worry is that this might lead companies to “release crap,” shipping too soon with a product of such low quality that it alienates potential customers and, thus, causes entrepreneurs to abandon their vision. This critique combines two misunderstandings in one... (read more)

So you're right, Joyce -- by definition, people should think your product can be improved or you have more than a Minimum Viable Product.

If we have no embarrassing bugs or bad code, we're waiting too long to ship.

I wonder is part of the problem is conflating failure with embarrassment... Is there a better word or term to use?

I wish we didn't call software defects "bugs" because "bugs" are cute little critters.

I've often hear failures called "missteps" or "errors", which don't feel as embarrassing to me.

Kathryn Schulz has a TED talk On Being Wrong:

She makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility.

Listening to this...

so many good tips here. Thanks everyone!

When all else fails, consider FailCon:

Matt and everyone - Thanks for this convo! Lots of golden nuggets to reflect upon and digest:)

Along with all the other stellar mentions, I'll throw in:

I've never tried it in such a structured way (although I'm tempted to) but this person has, and he' blogged about it:

You May Also Like: