Be Careful of the “Failure Fad”

By Phil Cooke

There’s something happening out there that I’m starting to call a “failure fad.” Social media is being flooded with quotes about how great failing is, and how much it can teach us. Quotes like: “Failure is success if we learn from it” by Malcolm Forbes or “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. It’s ok to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing” by H. Stanley Judd. I don’t disagree with their sentiments. Learning from failure is important, and how you react to failure is critical.

However, the flood of so many “failure narratives” on the web makes me wonder if we’re getting the wrong message.  I hear young leaders urging their teams to fail, and talking about the benefits of failure without inspiring their people toward success.

It’s true that failure can teach us, but it shouldn’t be our goal.  Failure is only beneficial when we’re stretching, growing, over-reaching. I prefer Ken Robinson’s perspective: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” In other words, prepare for things to go wrong. Be ready for failure so it doesn’t derail your goals. But don’t expect it. Don’t wallow in it’s benefits. Don’t focus so much on failure that you forget what success looks like.

Sure failure is a risk, and I believe living life to it’s fullest means being willing to take risks. But when it comes to the possibility of failure, I prefer what John Green has to say: “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”

That simply means to focus more on the remarkable, and less on the potential of failure.  Learn from failure when it happens, but believe me, failure is no fun.

Has anyone else sensed that maybe we’ve gone overboard on the “failure is good” theme?


Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at

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