Ryan Allred

Graduate Teaching Assistant , Colorado State University

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Why do we as a society fear failure? What do we you to overcome this fear?

Failure is a very inhibiting feeling but I feel it is a prevalent factor in our increasingly apathetic society. How can we reverse that idea and show failure as a positive part of life?

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. " -Theadore Roosevelt

  • Sep 19 2013: Applaud effort, teach work ethic, separate failure from not winning, and look for determination, diligence and strength of character.

    Dyson is really big on the importance of it and had some good ideas:


    There are so many smart people with great quotes. Perhaps we start changing public opinion by circulating some of these quotes:

    Success is not final, failure is not fatal.It is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill

    Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. - Winston Churchill

    Failure is success if we learn from it. - Malcolm Forbes

    Failure does not exist. Failure is simply someone else's opinion of how a certain act should have been completed.
    Once you believe that no act must be performed in any specific other-directed way, then failing becomes impossible. - Wayne Dyer

    The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail. - Napoleon Hill

    Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
    - Thomas Edison
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    Sep 19 2013: I think on a societal level, we fear failure because we have something to lose. We're a very wealthy country with a lot of reputational wealth as well, and so we're too defensive. The real question in my mind is how do we create more space where that pressure is off?
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    Sep 19 2013: If people know more about success they can accept their failure. Learning from your failure so as not to repeat it is also success. When you explored yourself and met unexpected opportunities leading to other success in your failure process, you are also successful.
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    Sep 18 2013: i don't think people fear failure if it is part of an ongoing process of trial and error.

    i think people fear failing in public and the reason is obvious: a great dislike of the feeling that comes with potentially being mocked or pointed at for that failure.

    working towards something and encountering setbacks or having to persevere over a great length of time is not failure, it is simply part of the process.

    i think that this particular topic is like many similar discussions online - someone came up with a t-shirt sized slogan or catchphrase and it ends up skewing perceptions of the real issue.

    i think for those apathetic people in society (rather than the whole of society becoming apathetic) is that they don't have the drive required to persevere and overcome. this is not the same thing as fear of failure but rather a lack of motivation or perhaps a natural response to slogging through a job or duty that must be done rather than chasing a dream.
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      Sep 19 2013: You make a point, Scott, that is an important aspect of a balanced view. Embracing failure and improvement through iteration together form such a HUGELY popular mentality in modern society that I have started to see writers worry that too many people are falling over themselves in the pursuit of failure. It is as if failure itself is the goal-, so too many people may not be preparing adequately or working hard enough to do a quality job in the first instance or may not be attentive enough to what they are doing to learn.
      As you say, some people in some situations don't want to mess up and be ridiculed- like the wedding photographer doesn't want to botch all the photos of a one-time event, but in lots of situations, people expect to tinker their way forward. Modern entrepreneurs so commonly live by "fail fast and early." The sign on the door of my daughter's third grade classroom almost twenty years ago said "Mistakes are falling forward." It is not or unpopular idea.
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    Sep 18 2013: As you haven't linked any of our talks about failure, here is a link: http://www.ted.com/topics/failure

    I particularly like the Kathryn Shultz about being wrong.
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      Sep 19 2013: Thank you! I had seen a few of those but could not remember. I will definitely look through those, I appreciate you taking the time to post the link.
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    Oct 4 2013: We should let everyone know that fear and vulnerability is just another way of showing COURAGE.
    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.(well...That's another fear.)
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    Sep 25 2013: hmmm,,, your question is - "... how can we reverse the idea to take'failure' as a positive part of life?"

    Well, 'Knowing the Truth' is the key. Knowing and understanding the truth of the 'success & failure' before involving in competition. By knowing and understanding, the 'Inner Acceptance' comes within for both positive and negative case. The truth is -Its a pattern made by us, we conduct a race among 10 persons and declare 1 winner. All 10 persons must have an acceptance of Failure. By being aware of the truth and acceptance one can take failure positively.

    Thomas A. Edison- 'I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work.' :)
  • Sep 20 2013: You can hate failure but never fear it. The only thing you should fear is not trying.
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    Sep 19 2013: Great quote from Teddy. As a parent, teacher, coach, people should not be taught or to "fear failure". We should give tasks that are achievable with reasonable expectations. It is amazing that those who work the hardest are the ones to "achieve". I have players who come to the weight room early and leave late ... come to practice early and stay late ... ask questions and seek advice. They may never be the headliner football player .. but they are the best that they can be and a success in my eyes.

    We all get knocked down ... the important thing is that we get back up and back into the game.

    Are you the parent who says that is to tough for you ... or do you say your doing great let's do this last part together. Do they see you giving up ... parents are teachers to ... we need to look inside and see if we are the role models of what we expect and want for our kids .... and all kids who we come in contact with. Do you praise the effort or criticize the result.

    I speak often of generational welfare ... I am concerned that we are losing the work ethic. I think this is a important component in the dignity of man.

    How to get over it ... I have said many times on TED ... get to know who you are ... the real critic in your life is the person in the mirror ... make that person happy with who you are .. not those outside of your immediate circle. It is also very important to have a support network ... family is forever.

    Failure is a component of the learning process ... embrace it and grow from it.

    Thanks for allowing me to ramble on.
    • Sep 19 2013: Robert, thank you for your very good ideas.

      I believe --
      Failure is NOT a very inhibiting feeling, except to those without courage.
      to be afraid to do something but to go ahead and do it.
      How can we reverse that idea and show failure as a positive part of life?

      The idea that labels are used by anyone to classify someone else as a failure
      doesn't mean the labels need be accepted as having any value. Gossip only.
      Historically (over 5 year spans) 80% of new business start-ups fail.
      As verified by history, successful businesses are manned by peoples who must try again,
      and again. ..Courageous peoples all, with failure not a very inhibiting feeling,
      Perhaps, to be afraid to do something but to go ahead and do it.
      I agree that our increasingly apathetic society needs to reverse it's course.

      That can be done by holding the Educator's toes to the fire.
      In return for the United States Government lending taxed-payer dollars to students,
      Congress needs to make the Educators step up, and Guarantee their Educational products.

      For the United States Government's Congress and President to not require such is Madness.
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    Sep 19 2013: Hi Ryan,
    Fearing something gives it energy to exist...what we focus on expands...so I think/feel understanding fear can help us move through it. "Overcoming" fear suggests pushing it away.....don't pay attention to it? We can learn quite a bit about our "self" by recognizing fear and all the underlying thoughts and feelings regarding fear.

    I believe that as individuals, we are on a path of learning with the life adventure, so I perceive exploration, rather than failure. Every step we take, every choice we make, offers the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve. As one of my engineer friends says...."it's not a problem....it's a feature":>)

    Who decides what is a failure and what is an exploration? As you have quoted..."The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly... who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement... his place shall never be with those... who neither know victory nor defeat. "
  • Sep 19 2013: Would you say public and private schools across this land rest on a foundation of Fear or Joy?

    We are heavily heavily programmed. So much so that we can no longer see that LIFE itself is the teacher.

    Good quote from Teddy......
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    Sep 19 2013: Fear is easier than faith. Fear of failure is common because only few people are ready to sacrifice and persevere against the certain odds on the path to success.
  • Sep 19 2013: Do we really?
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    Sep 19 2013: ,

    My answers to:

    (1) Why?
    ---- Fear unhappiness.

    (2) What to do to overcome it?
    ---- To know invalid (harmful) happiness.