There is not a failure or a virtue of failure, there is a multitude. There are the failures that help us to persevere and those that guide us to another path, those that sharpen our will and those that help us to let go. But it seems that there is a constant among those who have experienced repeated failures: they get up faster and better.

It is easier for them to overcome failure. It is even striking to see the number of well-known people, whom we admire, who began their careers with failure. Some of the esteemed people quote us in all areas: Thomas Edison, Serge Gainsbourg or Roger Federer!

It is because we are free to choose that we fail. Unlike animals, which, driven by instinct, do what they have to do and generally do it well, we humans are “free to deceive ourselves, free to correct ourselves, free to progress.”

1- Failure To Learn Faster

Charles Pépin (French author) tells the story of Richard Gasquet and Raphael Nadal. Since childhood, Gasquet has been succeeding and has a bright future ahead of him. Nadal, on the other hand, was beaten by Gasquet in a Major Junior tennis match and then faced numerous obstacles. Years later, the first one became a great player, but no more. The second has become one of the best players, number one in the world for years. According to the author, they were these failures and obstacles that allowed Nadal to become so good, questioning his tennis talent very early and forcing him to develop particular qualities.

“Fail fast, learn fast”, as the American entrepreneurs say.

Failure allows us to confront reality, forces us to analyze it in order to find a better way. And the sooner we do that, the better we get there and the more responsive we are to the events of life. Those who fail, and sooner rather than later, do better than those who do not.

But this state of mind is far from Universal! The difference in culture is enormous between the countries where the failures are branded as trophies (for example in the United States).In France, for example, “To have failed is to be guilty. In the United States, it’s to be bold. ”

2- The failure as the only way to understand

“There is no original truth, only original error.” Gaston Bachelard

original error

According to Bachelard, this is what the great scientists have done and are still doing: they begin by making a mistake by making a false hypothesis, then they develop experiments to test and correct their understanding. Thomas Edison tried thousands of times to walk his incandescent light bulb before succeeding. He didn’t give up on the way, because he was fascinated by what he was learning from his many failures.

As Einstein said, validating a theory through experience does not prove that it is true, because the experiment that will show that it is false may not yet have been carried out! Conversely, invalidating a theory by experience proves that it is false. So we learn more and more definitively from failure because it allows us to progress.

Unlike science, the school, at least in the French system, does not value failure at all, which is seen as a lack of work, motivation or even intelligence. The PISA surveys show that young people in France are so afraid of making mistakes that they prefer not to respond rather than respond falsely, even though their knowledge is above average!

Let us see failures as necessary steps to success: the fear of failure will no longer paralyze us and we will suffer less. We will be able to overcome failure more easily.

“What turns a” normal “failure into a painful failure is; the feeling of failure.”

3- The Crisis as Window That Opens

What if failure is not an end but a beginning? In Greek, the word “crisis ” means that two elements separate, creating an opening, a space in which it will become possible to read something.” This is an opportunity to discover what has been hidden from our eyes!

It was by studying on the dysfunctions and diseases of the human body that scientists have discovered how it functioned. did we ask ourselves how it worked before the failure occurred? The same for the couple: a crisis is often the opportunity to truly express what everyone wants and what everyone needs for the couples to function. While as long as ” all is well”, no questions are asked… this is valid at the individual, social, political, economic level, etc.

“But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” Friedrich Hölderlin

4- The Failure to Assert One’s Character

Failure is a test of our desire and motivation: it forces us to stop, we ask the right questions, to persevere.

Charles Pépin gives us as an example of the singer Barbara who, after being refused admission to the cabarets, plunged in one of these cabarets before experiencing success ten years later. Her failures and the difficulties of life shaped her character and enabled her to write magnificent texts. Or Abraham Lincoln who suffered multiple bankruptcies, non-elections, grief, depression, only to finally be elected president of the United States at 60 and abolish slavery after a long struggle.

Hegel’s philosophy speaks of “The force of mind is only as great as its expression; its depth only as deep as its power to expand and lose itself” One can only become fully aware of something when confronted with its opposite, and this opposition strengthens our position, or even enriches and exceeds it. “Failure is the opposite of success, but it is the opposite that success needs.”

5- The Failure as A Lesson In Humility

never a failure, always a lesson

Humility → Latin humilitas → humus → Earth … in other words, failure brings us down to Earth! When we feel superior and untouchable, we underestimate our adversaries, we lack vigilance and take success for granted. Regaining a little realism thanks to failure is generally a good basis for regaining the little bit of doubt that allows us to remain attentive, to question ourselves, and to start moving forward.

Charles Pépin offers us the example of Steve Jobs who, with the success of Apple, had completely disconnected himself from reality and refused to question himself. He was forced to resign in 1985. Then, freed from his arrogance, he regained his creative power to regain the path of success that we know him too, which made him say :

“Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” Steve Jobs

As we have seen with Bachelard, scientists are constantly failing and can only be humble in the face of this reality that they seek to understand over and over again. Each experience of humility teaches us something and makes us wiser, like the judokas who learn a little bit more about the technique of their opponent at each of their falls.

6- Failure as an experience of reality

There is no point in trying to change what is beyond our control… let us act on what we have taken and let us change what can be taken. This seems obvious, but, based on our successes, we tend to forget that reality is not always malleable according to our wishes. Failure puts us in spite of ourselves against this state of affairs. With each failure, we better understand the forces involved: the ones we can change and the ones we have to deal with.

Following the example of Roger Federer who, on the way out of a Davis Cup final game that he had lost, said, ” I lost but I know what I wanted to know.”Had he learned anything about his opponent, about the playing conditions, about his own abilities? In any case, he took advantage of the defeat to store information that might have allowed him to change his game. He then won the next two games, giving Switzerland a victory over France.

This stoic way of thinking frees us from “just or unjust” failure. The real is what it is, not just or unfair. To speak of injustice is subjective and does not bring anything constructive. In therapy, the patient takes a big step forward when he is able to accept his/her condition without feeling victimized and to say” this is how it is: it’s up to me to do with and build on it”.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.’ Epictetus

This sentence by Epictetus perfectly illustrates the life of Ray Charles. He managed to accept what was beyond his control (being blind and having lost his mother and brother at a young age) and to act on what was within his control (developing his musical talent and choosing to live happily).

So it is not a question of resigning oneself, but of accepting what is and building from there.

7- Failure as a chance to reinvent oneself

The philosophers of the essence, like Parmenides, who have prevailed over the existentialists in our culture, lead us to think that failure tells us what we are: there is what to turn failure against ourselves! We are useless, we are not enough this or that…

“Existence precedes essence,” said Sartre.

On the contrary, the philosophers of the future, like Heraclitus or Sartre, tell us that we are free to reinvent ourselves permanently. We are not “predefined” by God, by our genetics or by our social situation. To truly become what we are, we often need time and setbacks that allow us to question what we might become. Failure is not seen here as a value judgment, but as a springboard for reinventing oneself. If failure doesn’t necessarily make us wiser or more humble as above, it can make us more available for something else.

Like Charles Darwin who, having failed in his studies of Medicine and theology, made himself available for the long journey that would allow him to develop his theory of evolution. Or like JK Rowling who, having hit the bottom after a series of family and professional disappointments, was finally able to find the circumstances to express her talents as a writer with the success.

8- Failure as a failed Act or a happy accident

As a failed Act…

“The failed Act,” Freud said in substance, ” is the unconscious that succeeds in expressing itself.” Could we sometimes cause our own failure ourselves, subconsciously, in order to allow ourselves to take another path that we desire without knowing it?

Like Soichiro Honda who was so bad during  his job interview at Toyota that he obviously didn’t get the engineering job and found himself unemployed. During this period of emptiness, he had the idea of making scooters himself and Honda was born…

In this case, there is both failure and success: failure of what we consciously wanted to do, but the success of what we unconsciously desire. It is an opportunity to confront what we do not want to see, especially if the failures are repetitive, and we find ourselves constantly in the same pattern!

So, failures can be successes, just as some successes can be failures. Especially when that success comes at the expense of who we really are: we feel bad despite the success and it can lead to depression.

As a happy accident…

Failure can be a success when its unexpected result finally becomes a success! Like the tatin pie, born of the forgetting of the dough by Madame Tatin who hurried to add it over during cooking to finally give something delicious. Or the discovery of Viagra which did not have the expected effect (in the treatment of chest pains…) but a useful side effect against impotence!

9- To fail is not to be a failure.

To fail is not to be a failure

In our society where failure is not valued, we confuse “having a failure” and “being a failure”. Indeed, the main philosophers of our Western tradition explain it as follows: Descartes tells us that failure depends on our will, which is very culpable. And Kant tells us that failure comes from not listening to our reason… in either case, failure makes us a failure!

As we have seen above, the existentialist philosophers, on the contrary, explain to us that failure does not inform us about what we are (our essence), but only about an event in our personal history. This event is the meeting of various circumstances and it is important to find out why it did not produce the expected result. We probably have a responsibility in this state of affairs, but this failure is not the failure of our fundamental being.

Sometimes failure can be destabilizing because it breaks the reductive image that we made of ourselves. It hurts, but it is a good thing because it can open us up to the dimensions of ourselves that we do not yet know.

10- To Dare Is To Stand Out Against The Failure

Before we succeed, we must take the risk of succeeding … or failing!

Either we make only choices, that is to say, we choose between two options by having all the necessary data to choose the best option. We make a decision because we don’t have all the data to make a rational choice. We then take the risk of deciding something despite the possibility of being wrong.

The decision is, therefore, an art based on our experience, our intuition. It can be a little scary because it has a little bit of the unknown in it. But this anxiety is normal, it is the sign of the freedom we manifest in making the decision! This is simply not to be immobilized by anxiety at the risk of never taking action. Let us be bold but not reckless! Let’s take a risk but not just any risk. Otherwise, “here is the real threat: by dint of not daring to fail, you would simply fail to live.”

11- How Can We Learn To Dare?

Some tips…

Increase your competence. Footballer ZlatanIbrahimovic is capable of incredible acrobatic gestures to score a goal, but it is because he has long practiced taekwondo in his youth. Years of training give him freedom of movement in the improvisation of the present moment. This is what we need to dare to do: to store up experience, skills, to master our subject, to have the courageousness to go beyond all this when the time comes.

Admire the boldness of others. We also learn to dare through the example of others who show us that it is possible. It is not a question of copying them but of drawing inspiration from them. ” Those who are really great make you understand that you too can become great” wrote Mark Twain.

Don’t be too perfectionist, at the risk of never going for the pretext that it will not be perfect. The digital world is a good school for this: no more long-term market research and products tested to perfection before launch. Failure is part of the normal creative process: the more you try, the more likely you are to succeed.

12- School Failure?

School Failure

Despite the many qualities of teachers and their motivation, the school does not teach the virtues of failure. Not the failure that has just not worked, but the one that has just got carried away out of topic or made a mistake by inventing something original.

In France, school imposes a method, a way of doing or thinking about all children. This is not the case in other countries, such as Finland, where teaching is more individualized and the development of the pupil is more important. In France, the emphasis is on weaknesses, in Finland, the emphasis is on strengths or talents. Basically, the French school was designed to offer equal opportunities to all, which it has succeeded in the past. Today this is no longer the case and the teaching is no longer the same everywhere.

Knowledge acquired at school is not an end in itself, it is useful only because it can be put into practice in life. The question is not “what do you know? but what are you going to do with your knowledge ?”

13- Success

It is as important to succeed as it is to “succeed” in failures, and not to over-identify with one or the other. Do not rest on your reputation, but continue to wonder, because everything is impermanent and you can never be sure of what will happen next.

” If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same [ … ] ” Rudyard Kipling

If failure lies to us by making us believe that we are failures, success also lies if we believe it that defines us.

The coach of the French handball team (multiple world champions !) carefullyanalyzed each victory. Could we ask why? Because he was aware that he couldn’t win twice playing the same way. He had to constantly change the game in order to catch the opposing teams, who, of course, analyzed the game of the French carefully in the hope of defeating them. If the French had relied on their victories, they would not have won so many!

14- The Joy Of The Fighter

Unlike happiness, which is more lasting, joy manifests itself in the instant, punctually, sometimes irrationally. This is what we call the joy of the fighter, which manifests itself in various forms that failure allows :

  • The joy of returning from afar: it is the joy of a difficult success that succeeds in the failures. The more we had to fight, the greater joy we get.
  • The joy of living: it is not a joy that depends on a particular criterion or situation. It is the joy of being, quite simply, that the crossing of tests makes more obvious and tasty.
  • Joy in adversity: it is the vital impulse, the courage in difficulty, and the joy in the face of what might just threaten this joy.
  • Mystical joy: it is the approval of all that is, without any struggle, achieved in the deprivation to which failure can lead us.


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