Some people look as failure as a bad sign. Failing means you’re a loser, that you did things wrong. That you’re stupid or incompetent. Others see failure as a good sign – they believe failing means you tried something major. You don’t fail at easy things – you fail when you stretch yourself. Failure, then, is a badge of honor. It’s a sign of playing big.

Myself, I’m in the middle on this. Failure can harm other people. It’s all well and good you decided to play big, but not if you took your village down with you when you failed. At the same time, failure is inevitable if you’re going to live a real life. Humans are imperfect, and those imperfections lead to failure.

Three questions to find your own view of failure:

  • What was your last failure? What caused it?
  • What can you learn from that failure? What should you learn – which lesson will lead to the most growth?
  • Do you fail often enough? Too often?

If you’re thinking explictly about international development, Dean Karlan has a new book that may interest you on failures in field research. (that there is an affiliate link because hey it’s worth a try) I haven’t read the book, but Dean Karlan and his co-author Jacob Apfel are always both readable and insightful.

I think about failure a lot. I wrote about it at Blood and Milk, too.