Posted by: alex lee | February 15, 2010

Fail for the win

Fail to succeed. I think it was Thomas Edison who said that every failure takes him one step closer to his next success. A number of books have been written about the importance of failure, and though I have yet to read a single one, the message has trickled down and distilled, perhaps from people who have read those books, into some kind of truth to me.

As a student in the design school, I have been instructed that iteration is key to success–that is, in order to make one good thing, I first need to pay attention to the nine not so good things that I make along the way, each an earnest attempt to work out a problem. Each attempt builds upon the last. That is how some things get learned or discovered.

When I am afraid to undertake some endeavor, or I catch myself procrastinating, that seemingly big task I avoid is likely the most rewarding to complete. I am slowly learning to value the courage to fail, and to lose the vulnerable feeling that comes with making a genuine effort to do something. If you fail at something once, you will be better prepared the second time. Imagine if you fail seven times how much better prepared you’ll be when the eighth try comes around. There is a reason why the old phrase “practice makes perfect” has stuck with us for so long.

What makes for good practice? I think a handful of things produce good practice: paying attention, iteration (versus repetition), and relaxation. That last part, relaxation, really helps to melt away the fears of failing at doing something. The easier it is to dust yourself off, the sooner you can begin to rework what you learned from your failures into building your next successes. It sounds corny, but I find that sometimes corny and simple can still be very true. The same process goes into writing a paper. Revision refines good writing. Iteration refines design. Practice makes perfect.

So, fail. Be brave, fail big, fail many times, and pay very close attention every time, and calmly work your way to achieving anything you put your mind to.



  1. Seems to me that what you are describing as well is a willingness to not take oneself so seriously as to expect perfection! That false expectation is found in a lot of Christian teaching unfortunately and only brings frustration and guilt, if not pain. Good for you for daring to be yourself and to do your best, again and again!

  2. Alex, This is amazing. I have a lot of papers coming up and I was stressed. Now I know the answer. Thanks for everything. Failure all the way!!! (lol)

    But seriously, I think you are correct. It takes a lot of courage to work on something even though you know you might fail the first few times. this is very encouraging.
    Thanks brother,
    you should write more often.

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