Failure is Always an Option

We put so much emphasis on failing.  Lately, I keep seeing articles about revisiting our thoughts on failure.  Basically, failure is all the rage.  And I love it. In a nutshell the articles point out that if you never fail it’s possible you aren’t trying.  Arguably not to fail is to fail.   We tend to put so much emphasis on success, a term we struggle to define.  What makes a person successful—happiness, money, free time, a family, a home, the right outfit?  There is no standardized definition of success.  And, perhaps contrary to popular belief, failure is always an option.

Thanks to Merriam Webster for the following:

Success: 1) the act of getting or achieving, wealth, respect or fame. 2) the correct or desired result of an attempt.

Failure: 1) omission of occurrence or performance. 2) a state of inability to perform a normal function. 3) lack of success.

I don’t want fame.  So, I guess in not achieving fame, I’m successful in my goal.  I don’t think wealth is a substantive sign of success.  It’s a superficial form.  Maybe it’s a way to tally and compare, but wealth is not guaranteed to bring you joy, or a life without pain, or to make you feel successful.  It doesn’t mean you will be a good person.  And who is to say what the correct or desired result of an attempt is?  When we first try something we might not even know the best or most successful outcome.  Sometimes an unexpected finding could bring us more success than the goal we were originally seeking.  But by the dictionary definition we’d be failures.

Failure, it seems to me based on the first the first definition, is ultimately: not trying. Omission of occurrence?  To not do anything is to fail.  If you try at least you succeeded at trying.  Some of my best stories come from moments of failure.   I’m trying to raise bees.  I fail often.  I tried to make a Brussel sprout Sheppard’s pie once.  It was a flop.  But the friends I served it to still joke about it.  If I’d made something good that night we’d never talk about it.

When we think about success and failure in the form of movement (as we often want to do), it can be really frustrating not to be able to do a certain move.  Trust me.  I know.  I’m working on pull ups, monkey bars, hand stands and a yoga move called the peacock.  If and when I conquer any of these I will be excited.  I will feel like I’ve succeeded.  But I don’t feel like a failure now because I can’t do them.  I have fun trying (except with pull-ups).  Sometimes playing with these moves is more fun than the exercises I can do.  I like the challenge (except with pull-ups).  The process feels good.  And I’m making changes in my body that I don’t even realize the benefits of (except maybe on pull-ups).

“Failing” to do an exercise or movement has often helped me to learn to do an exercise better that I thought I could do easily.  Our experiences aren’t isolated.  Failing at the task at hand doesn’t mean that we haven’t gained something along the way.

There are exercises I have tried that I couldn’t do right away.  They felt so hard.  And I’d realize that another exercise I thought was so easy should be incorporating those same muscles, but I hadn’t previously felt them activate.  Now I suddenly understood what it felt like to work a particular part.  I may not be ready for the tough move, but if I’d never tried it, I also couldn’t figure out what I needed to get there.  Through failure we learn.  The body learns.  And learning something always seems like it belongs in the success column.

I wish I could take a walk with Mark Twain.  Then we could talk about failure and success.

I wish I could take a walk with Mark Twain. Then we could talk about failure and success.

My historical boyfriend, Mark Twain, wrote, “It is not in the least likely that any life has ever been lived which was not a failure in the secret judgment of the person who lived it.”

Our failures and successes are at least in part based on how we perceive them.  We can be awfully hard on ourselves.  Decide today one failure that you are happy to claim as a success.


About the Author:

Maggie Downie
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.


  1. Deborah Bax December 7, 2016 at 9:52 am - Reply

    First of all, somehow I think that if you and Mark Twain could take a walk, you would find so so many things to discuss including success and failure. Continuing on your topic though, I would like to be able to do a complete sit-up from the lying down position. I figure – if I’m successful – it might take a year. I’m basing that on the fact that Anna Quinlan took a year to do a head stand. I was inspired by her and also need some coaching to help meet with success. I look forward to your suggestions to help me meet with success.

  2. […] failing is hard.  It’s hard to accept.  It’s hard to admit.  It’s embarrassing.  When I failed to […]

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