When failure is misunderstood

What if “fail fast, fail often” is wrong?

Quote on a misty background, reading "What if you fail? You will. Then, you move on."
Credit: Unknown
This story was originally published in 2014. It was updated for accuracy and clarity in January 2024.
“Fail fast, fail often”

The, now famous, phrase originated as a startup ideology that has significantly lost its meaning to a lot of people over time. Many seem to believe that the actual goal is to fail. I think that’s rather missing the point.

Failure isn't a goal ,  but the idea behind ‘fail fast, fail often’ is that we're quite terrified of failures, large or small. We panic and stress. We worry and hide from the stress we create, formed by the pressure of constantly trying to succeed.

This pressure shouldn't be seen as normal and in certain situations it can cause serious mental and physical health issues. The trouble is that most of this pressure is self-inflicted — well, in a sense. We feel that society is constantly applying pressure for us to be the best, and always succeed.

But we know that life isn't like that. Despite all our appearances, failure does happen, sometimes through no fault of our own. External circumstances, unexpected events and, to be honest, naivety all play their roles in these failures.

Maybe there could have been something that we could have done to avoid what happened, and as tough as the situation may be, we can learn from it. There will always be an angle where, instead of letting guilt, regret and stress rule your life, you can reframe the situation and find a positive.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see. It may not be immediately obvious. It may take a long while before you can see it. But, it will be there.

We often worry about what others will think of us if we fail. What we don’t recognise, though, is that when the people around us fail, we barely register it. We don’t view them as failures. In fact, we generally have greater respect for them when they find a way to bounce back. We need to treat our own circumstances this way too.

Being able to break the shackles of the social pressure to succeed is important. Taking risks, being emboldened; these are the aspirations we want. Instead of aiming for failure as though it were some holy rite of passage to success, we should be empowered, knowing that if the worst should happen and we fail, we take the lessons and continue on our path to our own success.