Five ways to fail better

A friend of mine recently reminded me of the famous Samuel Beckett quote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Five ways to fail better


If there’s one thing we can all improve upon it’s failure. That’s because we’ll always have opportunities to practice. Failure is unavoidable—it comes in the doing and the not doing. So we might as well get better at it.

Here are five ways:

  1. Get back up. Okay, that’s obvious. You can’t learn from failure if you don’t try again. But failure, even when it doesn’t come by our own choices, can often make us more cautious to take the next risk. How quickly do you rebound from failure and disappointment? How quick are you to forgive yourself or others for past mistakes?
  2. Crack the books. Gordon MacDonald once wrote, “Failure is a master teacher if it has a willing student.” It’s tempting to shake off the last failure and move on. But that would squander an opportunity to sit down and write down what the teacher had to say. What did you learn from that last stinging set-back?
  3. Budget accordingly. Any worthwhile venture (or relationship for that matter) will have episodes of failure. Allow for it. Never set an expectation of absolute success. That’s perfectionism—another form of failure. Instead, begin expecting to improve. As GK Chesterton put it, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Is fear of failure (or perfectionism) keeping you from something worth doing?
  4. Flaunt weakness. Maybe ‘flaunt’ is a little strong. At least share your failure by talking to others about it. You’ll not only learn  invaluable perspectives from others, but you’ll learn something even greater: the virtue of vulnerability. Few people possess the inner confidence to openly discuss their failings. Be the few. Who will you talk to about your most recent failure?
  5. Build a bridge. When failure strikes the heart, it’s tempting to make ourselves walk the plank. We prod ourselves in judgment with the sword of self-deprication: That was so stupid. I’m such an idiot. Planks have no future, however. Instead, build a bridge  by reframing the episode as an “opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” as Henry Ford put it. What’s a more hopeful thing you can say about yourself that will bridge you to a more successful future?

My next opportunity to fail—and yours—is just around the corner. No matter. Let’s improve our GPA by it, receive that teacher, and fail better.

What are other ways you’ve found to fail better?

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