Failure fallacy
Confidence,  Leadership,  Mindset,  Performance

Flushing Out The Fallacy of Failure

Are you tired of failure?  What does failure mean for you?  Maybe failure is not winning your latest competition, or not getting the part you wanted in that last audition.  Perhaps it was not securing enough votes in the last election.  Maybe, given the time of year, failure is not getting the results you needed to go to Uni, or not succeeding at the interview for the job you really wanted.

Whatever failure means for you, the F word can be really personally painful.  Sometimes we choose to describe something that didn’t have the outcome that we wanted, like the situations I’ve suggested above, as a failure. I’m sure you, like me, have also heard people choose to personalise that failure too – where they no longer talk about the situation having failed, it suddenly becomes “I’m a failure”.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, once we start to think these negative thoughts, it’s very easy to believe our thinking and to act as though it is true.

What happens next, if we’re not careful, is that we stop trying.  Crikey, it’s not surprising one of our most common fears is fear of failure, is it?  It’s potent stuff, failure.  It can stop us from doing so much that it paralyses us.  And yet it need not be that way.

The truth is, like many other things we experience in life, it is completely within our gift to choose our response to situations that don’t turn out as we wanted.  My current favourite NLP writer, Judith Pearson, says “Failure can describe only the result of plans and actions. Failure says nothing about one’s inherent worth or one’s potential to succeed in the future”.  This is hugely important to remember.

One of the things that I enjoyed learning about, as a student, in our NLP workshops were the assumptions that underpin how NLP teaching and learning has developed.  One of these assumptions can be briefly described as “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback” in that all information is a source of learning, a quote attributed to Gregory Bateson but with a healthy dollop of Milton Erickson’s mindset thrown in.

Various motivational speakers and teachers are attributed with using different variations of this thought: Oprah is quoted as saying “There is no such thing as failure: failure is just life trying to move us in another direction”, Richard Branson says “There is no such thing as failure… see it as challenge rather than a failure”, and Tony Robbins says “There is no such thing as failure. There are only results”.  Robbins goes on to say that we can always produce a result and if it’s not the one that we want we simply have to change our actions and we’ll create new results.

So the antidote for failure is to see it simply as learning.  How does that feel for you?  I know that when I first heard the phrase ‘no such thing as failure, only feedback’ it seemed rather simplistic when failure itself had previously seemed so complex!  But as I learned to work with that new thought – and to choose to adopt it – I noticed some great examples of how other people had made it work for them too.  And when we begin to notice those examples, so the evidence builds and it becomes a belief worth adopting.

Failure is such a popular subject that rather a lot has been written about it. I’d like to share two quick stories.


“The very first company I started failed with a great bang.  The second one failed a little bit less, but still failed.  The third one, you know, properly failed but it was kind of okay.  I recovered quickly.  Number four almost didn’t fail.  It still didn’t really feel great, but it did okay. “.

Guess how that story finishes? The final line of the story is “Number five was PayPal”.  The writer of the story is Max Levchin, former CTO of PayPal.  Great story, yes?  Sometimes we have to fail well and then to fail better to extrapolate maximum learning and to work out the direction that is right for us.


The second story comes from a blog post of American author, entrepreneur and speaker, Seth Godin.  It’s called “But What if I fail?”.  He answers:

“You will.  The answer to the ‘what if’ question is, you will.  A better question might be, “after I fail, what then?”.  Well, if you’ve chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.”


Failure can never define who we are but the learning fuels our personal growth and resilience and teaches us success.  When we come to learning and new experiences – prepared to fail – ready to learn – open to that new direction that life has planned for us – failure simply becomes a different outcome to the one we intended.

Creating choice and building resilience are important parts of the Art of Personal Effectiveness Framework that I have developed in my work with clients who want to find their flow and BE unstoppable. If you would like to connect and find out more, do get in touch.

In the meantime, remember that if the result isn’t the one you wanted, change the action and create a new result. It’s all part of being unstoppable!


Until next time… be bold, be brave and be brilliant.



Are you on a mission to create change in your world?  Do come and join my Mission Unstoppable community. I’d love to learn more about your mission, especially if I can help you to lead with confidence, create more impact and live a life that matters



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  • Jennifer Knapp

    I HAD to click on this article because of the photo, but the content sucked me in. I had no idea that Max Levchin failed four times before starting PayPal. Very inspiring “ramblings”.

    • magentachange


      It can be difficult, yes, but not impossible. We do have to want to change it though. Sometimes stuff lurks in our unconscious that makes it hard to change – that’s where working with a coach can be really helpful to shift what is known as secondary gain.

  • Wendy Deyell

    Thought-provoking ideas, Sue. I’m fascinated to notice how in one blog post you’ve totally turned around my thinking — and feeling — of a super-charged word.. Clearly late-night/early-morning thinking suits you! I now consider ‘failure’ to be a positive word.

    • magentachange


      Then my work here is done, Wendy! You’re right, it is a super charged word in society but when we see the many inspiring stories of people who have failed well then failed even better and eventually created huge success it shows what is possible when we are prepared to try for the impossible. I think they say that when we try for the impossible, the incredible can happen!

  • Michele TravelwithMrsT

    James Dyson and his over 5,000 failed prototypes–what if he had stopped? I think we have many children though, who do not receive the message from their families that failure is an opportunity for learning, and that there are choices to be made, and a change in action can bring a different result. These children then experience failure on their own later in life, often in college or a new job, and many do not react to that failure well.

    • magentachange


      I think you make a very important point in terms of child (and indeed adult) development, Michele. Unfortunately failure all too often becomes some form of identity or label, rather than an opportunity to go back and do something differently. I think it is hugely important to help people understand that ‘we’ are not failure.

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