From a Teen’s Perspective: How to fail (successfully)

by Dylan Lanier on August 7, 2023

We all hope for success. For many of us, the thought of failure is a frightening and looming threat. However, to be human is to fail. No one is perfect — and we shouldn’t try to be.

“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward,” author John C. Maxwell said. In the spirit of his words, I wanted to share how I try to fail in a constructive way.

1. Accept it: Whatever happened, happened. The sooner you can make peace with failure, the sooner you can evaluate what went wrong and move on. My advice is to start the process of acceptance immediately; the longer you linger in negativity, the harder it is to lift yourself up again.

2. Reflect with kindness: It’s important to figure out what went wrong, but it’s also important to figure out what went right. Every failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t obscure the powerful lessons with cynical self-talk. Remind yourself that failure is a regular part of life — it’s going to happen either way, so might as well take advantage of its opportunity for reflection and improvement.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses that contributed to the situation and consider how you can better use those strengths while working on your weaknesses, as well. Personally, I like to view my circumstances from an outside perspective. I imagine myself as an unbiased party objectively dissecting the positive and negative aspects of the situation and determining how to employ my takeaways. What did you do well? What should you improve and how can you improve that?

3. Make a decision: Failure often seems like the end, but it doesn’t have to be. An important part of failing at something is determining whether or not to try it again. In plenty of scenarios, failure is just a stepping stone on the path to reaching your potential in a certain area. When a NASA rocket fails, the engineers don’t quit; they learn from their mistakes and try again.

That being said, failure can also be an indicator that you’re not doing what you’re meant to do. If working on a project or trying a new job is so burdensome and fruitless that it severely diminishes your quality of life, it’s often the smarter choice to find something else that invigorates you instead of depleting you.

4. Get back in the saddle: Don’t let failure drive you deeper into your comfort zone. Continue to take risks and branch out, acknowledging the possibility of failure while also recognizing that the greatest things in life come with effort and patience. Running away from failure creates a reality worse than failure itself, one entrapped by fear and bound to mundanity. Take leaps of faith knowing that not everything will work out in the short-term, but that everything will work out in the long-term if you trust the process.

Our fear of failure doesn’t deserve the power we give it. We are afraid because we think of failure solely as defeat. But when we realize that failing is a necessary part of growth, it becomes valuable instead of adverse. When we reject the shame and pessimism from failure, we gain the confidence to take more risks and dream bigger than ever before.

Got any topics you want me to cover? Email with your request!

Dylan Lanier is a rising senior at Menlo-Atherton High School

Illustration by Ashley Trail (c) 2023; Ashley graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School and is currently attending Otis College of Art and Design.


Kait August 08, 2023 at 1:45 pm

Cute. But not the main story.

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Sloane Citron August 11, 2023 at 10:45 am

Well thought out and great thoughts!

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