Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cheer for Failure

Six days from now is the IU Mini-Marathon. This 13.1 mile road race started the year I joined Indiana University. I have been running it since, bettering my finish time with each attempt. But this year, I am not even sure if I can finish the race. I have had some leg injuries which have prevented me from training adequately for the race. Yesterday, while training for the race with a friend, I had to bail out just after 6 miles, because of the recurrence of severe pain in my leg. So frustrating!

Today morning I received a letter from the editor of a prestigious journal in our field. The research paper on which I had worked very hard over the last one and half years had been rejected for publication. The editor wrote, “I realize this is a very disappointing decision. However, the reviewers offer a variety of constructive comments that I hope will prove useful to you as you continue with this line of research.” Disappointing indeed!!

Frustrations and disappointments are that way inevitable in life, especially if you are trying to achieve something in your life. Almost all of the people who achieved anything substantial in their lives also had experienced big failures. Still who likes failures? So we celebrate our successes but not our failures. However, aren't success and failure two sides of the same coin? Would you ever toss a coin if you and everyone else knew that the coin had heads on both sides? There would be no surprise (and consequently no fun) in always getting a head. Similarly, success becomes pleasurable only because of the possibility of failure.

But the role of failure is not just to provide a contrasting experience that will enhance the pleasure that we get from our successes. Failure is also a critical ingredient of personal growth and development. Can a baby learn to walk without falling? Of course not! Thus, we take absolute delight when a baby stumbles and falls while attempting to walk. Yet, when it comes to our own lives, we get severely disappointed by our stumbles and falls. It is time that we start celebrating our failures as much as we do our successes, because paradoxically failures may be the only sign that we are still on the path of growth and enlightenment.

Cheers to my failure!!!


  1. Good one. Someone said failure creates the stepping stone to success. My two cents is that the bigger the failure, the better and bigger the stepping stone!

  2. Hi Ram, your two cents are worth a lot. I completely agree with you about bigger failures providing bigger stepping stone opportunities. Hope we all develop the wisdom and courage to make the most of such stepping stones. Thanks Ram. :-)

  3. Quite true but sometimes failures are difficult to accept. Moreover, what if a person is failing repeatedly in his/her life?
    Sad to know that you cant participate in the marathon because of your leg injuries. Hope you are feeling better now.

  4. Chitralekha: Repeated failure would translate to repeated celebration, isn't it? :-) But I know what you are saying. Repeated failures can literally drain us out. That is one reason it would be beneficial to celebrate our failures--to keep our spirits high. In our field, I know of some celebrated researchers who got up to seven rejections before their path-breaking research got published.
    That said, I agree with you that not all failures can be celebrated, especially the ones that cause distress to others.
    BTW, I did run the half-marathon that was this weekend. :-) It was a great race. I will write more about it in my next post.