A Celebration of Failure
Every failure is a step to success. Every detection of what is false directs us toward what is true: every trial exhausts some tempting form of error. Not only so; but scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of Error is without some latent charm derived from Truth.
Contemporary society cherishes success. Success defines the person, the organization, the culture. It is a clear goal for every initiative that has an outcome. It is a gauge by which one measures impact, influence, and consequence. Success is defined as much by tangible achievement of a predefined goal as it is by its polar opposite, failure. The commonly held view is that failure is to be avoided because success is to be achieved, and both cannot coexist. In this editorial, I will dwell on failure and make the case that failure has at least as important a role in our experience, education, and professional development as success, if we would only learn from it.
We are first exposed to the concept of failure in elementary school, quickly realizing how it can affect our educational progress. My generation of students lived in fear of failing tests, subjects, and ultimately, grades, thereby being left behind to repeat the school year. This early, first experience with failure obviously colors our perception of the concept with great negativity. Defined in this way, failure is simply the opposite of success, a notion that sets the stage for the role of failure and its interpretation throughout one’s life. This is particularly true for physicians and scientists, who, as consummate overachievers, strive to succeed and implicitly strive to avoid failure with each challenge. Nothing but perfection will suffice because failure renders our …