what is failure?

We took a walk with a new friend the other day. Our conversation focused largely on the turning point we both found ourselves in in our lives (like many people we knew), and the new paths we envisioned taking. She said didn’t feel she had much courage or taste for risk-taking. In the course of our few hours together, she happened to tell us about a business she had tried to start in India years before that never got off the ground. She had risked money, time and energy; she traveled to India many times and worked with artisans whose crafts were rare and endangered. She clearly had many big adventures and learned A LOT. “It was a failure”, she said.

We were startled by the word. FAILURE. It sounded so absolute, and so completely opposite to the story she had told us, which was full of courage and daring and learning. Like many people we know, she couldn’t see it in herself. We wondered if there was a word for NOTFAILURE, for the times when things don’t go as planned, but are still full of riches.

We need a new word. What would that word be?

Meanwhile, just for the hell of it, we searched “Failure” on YouTube and found a trove of videos of “Famous Failures“.  Yeah, this is a Nike commercial, but it’s still true.

(Video link here.)

Related posts: j.k. rowling on the fringe benefits of failure
on things not going as planned (addendum)
wylie dufresne on failure and experimentation
20 second therapy for fear of failure

9 Responses to what is failure?

  1. ~Heather 10.12.2011 at 8:26am #

    This was a marvelous 10 minute TED presentation I listened to yesterday by a Wrongologist (spelling?).

    Kathryn Schulz at http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

  2. Nina 10.12.2011 at 12:15pm #

    Chip Conley calls them ” noble experiments.”

  3. sahana martin 10.12.2011 at 1:18pm #

    Since i am currently reading a book about finding / translating words that don’t exist in the English language, i looked for something fitting. Maybe these :

    hózh’q ( Navajo ) – The beauty of life, as seen and created by a person .
    ( “To the Navajo, beauty is not only a way of looking at life, but is in itself a way of life .” )

    wabi (Japanese ) – A flawed detail that creates an elegenat whole

    I would have inserted experience , awareness and beauty for ‘Notfailure’ here .

    Greetz & thank you for your inspiring posts,

  4. Sally 10.12.2011 at 1:22pm #

    We’ve done A LOT of those!

  5. Sally 10.12.2011 at 1:22pm #

    Thanks Heather, we’re going to do a post on it, continuing the conversation.

  6. Sally 10.12.2011 at 1:42pm #

    Sahana, These are wonderful…I forgot about wabi. We ran a great guest post a while back on “wabi sabi” the perfection of imperfection.… Thanks a million.

  7. sahana martin 10.12.2011 at 4:35pm #

    Thank you for this link , Sally !

    sabi is also in the book , described as “Beautiful patina”

    so many things come to mind ~

  8. jody 10.12.2011 at 10:42pm #

    failure – something that didn’t turn out the way i thought it should be??? love the idea of changing the “story” of failure

  9. Sarah 10.21.2011 at 12:13pm #

    I recently had a conversation where I was in your friends shoes, though my adventures weren’t nearly as big as hers. I too used the word failure.

    Knowing someone else is in the same place is comforting and your video was like a (good) slap in the face. Thank you, as always, for the perspective!

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