Failure is an outcome


A simple concept.

Yet there is vast complexity embedded in how we interpret and treat failure, particularly in how the term applies to our own lives.

Failure comes in many forms. Standards go unmet. Objectives aren’t fulfilled. Deadlines are missed.

Things fail. Projects fail. Even people fail.

At its core, failure is an outcome, the result of an event. Simple.

But when I listen to how people (myself included) use it, it often becomes something more.

Failure becomes a personal trait. A character flaw.

It’s not that I failed to accomplish something. It’s that I am a failure.

In the deep darkness of loneliness and fear and anxiety, failing to meet a goal suddenly becomes a reflection of who and what we are. It’s no longer about what we have done or are doing. It’s a thread of our character, bright and gleaming for all to see, much as we long or try to hide it from view.

And sometimes we define “success” in such a way that it’s might be nearly impossible to achieve. We adopt narrow, detailed ideals of how our lives should look. We set unrealistic deadlines. We make no allowances for how factors beyond our control might call for reassessment of definitions or deadlines. We leave no room for our lives to change.

We look for perfection that none of us can deliver.

So failure becomes messy. Complex.

We set ourselves up to fail, and then we internalize that failure as a part of who we are.

But that’s not failure.

Failure is an outcome.

I have failed at many things. I will fail at many more.

Failure is a part of life. A part of learning. It shapes my experience. But it is not who I am.

I am many things. But I am not a failure.

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9 Responses to Failure is an outcome

  1. ihstreet says:

    Such an important distinction. And one I still struggle to make at times still.

    • biochembelle says:

      I think it’s one I may always struggle with, from time to time. It’s one reason it’s important to build a support system who can will check your reference when you need it.

  2. ihstreet says:

    Also, when failure is an outcome:

    Garfunkel and Oates have a message that may be helpful.

  3. mtomasson says:

    Why do you think some people say, “failure is not an option?”

    • biochembelle says:


      Though a little deeper? There are circumstances where the consequences of failure, as they affect others, are literally so dire as to render success the only viable option. But those are rare and extraordinary circumstances. Some apply that mentality to everything.

      For the science peeps (though I think it reaches beyond too), Darren Boehning notes, Failure is an option.

  4. Pingback: Putting it All Together. | postdocstreet

  5. trulygood22 says:

    Is failure ever really an out come? Many people can say they have failed, but did they? They attempted something and didn’t get the outcome that was expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a failure. You still have learned or taken something from that experience.

    • biochembelle says:

      Personally, I think yes. There are times when objectives are not met, and it really can be “failure”. We can learn from failure, of course – it doesn’t change what it was.

      I think taking risks requires a willingness to fail. Failure will never be comfortable. But understanding that failure is not part of my character, I can learn that it’s a part of a process and fear it less. That’s one way I move forward, push boundaries, find depth and richness of self and life.

  6. Charles Camenzuli says:

    Failure is not an outcome, but the acceptance of that outcome.

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