What’s Your Definition of Failure?


“Define failure for yourself or someone else will define it for you.” – J.K. Rowling

This quote was brought up by a woman who attended one of my 7×7 Mentorship Salons. It led to a discussion about the definition of failure. Here’s what some 40-somethings had to say:

The scripts in America are anti-failure. We run away from failure. We constantly get the message that failure is bad. Our society projects this pressure to be perfect.  So many of us act based on what is expected of us socially and culturally. But the truth is, you learn more from failure.  Embrace it.” — 40-something, journalist, failed at a few careers, succeeded at a career she couldn’t stand, before finding and defining her own career.


“Failure is the culmination of mistakes that you make over and over and didn’t learn from. There are repercussions to doing this. And they aren’t good. But despite that you can be okay.”  –40-something, from banking to law to motherhood and entrepreneur.


“So perhaps you know you are failing when you are not learning from your failure. It’s what comes out that you apply to the next time that counts. I can define my 20s and 30s by the mistakes I made and the adjustments I made the next time around. Plus you learn what you don’t want or don’t like and that helps center you. I guess I would just say…try less hard to make the right decision and don’t be afraid of having to make another decision if that one wasn’t right. It can open up new doors and windows.” – 40-something, advertising, marketing, consulting…and a few mistakes


Failure is not living up to an ideal and there are more ideals available now because of internet and social media. There is always something to compare yourself to…more pressure to succeed.” – 40-something


“At the same time there are more failures to compare yourself to. You can realize you are not alone! We to tend to celebrate the come-backs in our society too.” – 40-something

In the end, most agree that it’s important to learn how to compare to yourself. You have to be aware of the landscape, the competition shall we say,  but you have to define your own personal best. Isn’t that what athletes do? Develop your own compass. One way to do this is by actually stopping and thinking about what success is for you. So often in our twenties we are running from one thing to the next that it’s hard to slow down and take stock. What is success for you. Not for your best friend, your parents or your boss or college peers. And I don’t mean a 5 year plan or any of that stuff. But just thinking as if.  As if you were going to be doing the best thing for yourself for your whole life.  As you come across bridges, ask yourself, ‘If I was making this decision only to make myself happy…what would I do?’ This can help drown out the voices in our head and serve as a guidepost. Then you can think about how it impacts the other people in your life with a grounding in what it means for you.


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