Congratulations! You Failed.

Failures and mistakes bum us out.  It’s worse when you know it’s your own fault.

How do you react?

Do you beat yourself up?

I know I used to.  I would punish myself for mistakes.  I would take away treats and rewards, saying “You don’t deserve that, Ari.”

It’s as if I was training myself like Pavlov’s dog.

But nowadays, I do the opposite.  I pat myself on the back, eat my favorite snack, do something fun — I reward myself.

Why would I do that, when I messed up?

First, the sting of failure is punishment enough. I don’t know about you, but I tend to get even sloppier in my misery.  Failures can be terribly depleting events, so if I plan to bounce back, the best defense is to do something that feeds me.

Second, failures and mistakes are life’s richest learning opportunities.  Any opportunities for learning and growth are good things, but failures are some of the best.  What is the logic behind punishing myself for encountering such an occasion?

And if the failure happened as a result of me taking a risk or taking an initiative — really, that’s an occasion to celebrate!  I need to reward myself even more for taking that chance.

Once I tried to start a computer business.  I was going to be an IT Tech for small businesses and individuals.  The venture was a miserable failure — I discovered that I didn’t enjoy doing it, and I spent unnecessary money on ineffective advertising.  The few times I did get work were all very stressful experience.

I kicked myself for a long time for that failure.  I would not do anything nice to myself because I had “wasted” money — so I wasn’t deserving of any.

It’s only recently that I look back at the experience as a valuable learning opportunity.  One of which is that testing is important — both to see if I like it and if it’s effective.  The lessons I learned informed many decisions since.

A well-lived life is one littered with countless failures and mistakes.  By filling life with failure small and big, you avoid making the biggest mistake of all — the one of not living.

Of course, you don’t want to make same mistakes and over and over.  You need to use them to learn and grow.  But even when you do, you won’t stop making mistakes.  Failures and mistakes are necessary ingredients on your way up, throughout your growth path.  It sounds funny, but you should be alarmed if you stop making mistakes.

Don’t be silly in thinking that we would make more mistakes if we got in the habit of rewarding ourselves.  We’re not Pavlov’s dog, at least not in this regard.  Our pursuit for success will not be so easily deterred by being nice to ourselves in our time of need.

We create our own failures.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to treat ourselves as one.  Generously replenish yourself, so that you can gather your resources to try again.


  1. “By filling life with failure small and big, you avoid making the biggest mistake of all — the one of not living.”

    This is a valid point. Mistakes are only dangerous when you focus on them. If you focus on them you leave your energy with them. Much better to bounce back. The post I plan on publishing tonight is on this very subject.

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..Wikipedia: The Holy Grail

    1. Bamboo,

      I wrote that because I am a big sulker. I am very poor at switching my mind and bouncing back. Once I get hurt, I hurt myself more — so I came up with the idea that when I make a mistake is the time when I needed to be nicest to myself. I wonder if it applies to everyone, but I would think there are others who need to hear that.

      I look forward to reading your thoughts!


  2. Hi Ari,

    This part struck me as very powerful. “We create our own failures. But that doesn’t mean that we have to treat ourselves as one.” That is so true. If we can come to the realization that we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t make us a lessor person, we would be far better off.

    Unfortunately a lot of that comes from our childhoods. If we make a mistake and our parents tell us we’re not good, won’t amount to anything, etc., we’ll carry that with us into adulthood.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..Self Promotion – From The Archives

    1. Barbara,

      Glad to hear you got something out of my post. As with everything else, I’m still learning this lesson. As I told Bamboo, my natural tendency is to go sit in the corner and sulk, beating myself up. It’s been a tough script to rewrite.

      And yes, a lot of it was conditioning from childhood. I had great parents, but our living environment was stressful — my mother always called me a sensitive boy — so I think I picked up some negative self image. When I can be like that under perfectly good parents, people with more messed up environments can go way down to…. depression. That’s a big part of my blog’s theme — and I’m preparing a LONG (even by my standard) post about my personal experience about that.

      Anyway, as always, thank you for your comment!


    1. Hi Writer Dad,

      I’ve seen that movie — and I vaguely remember that scene. But that reminds me of a traditional Japanese doll called “daruma.” Darumas are wooden, round figures with huge faces and no limbs. When you roll it, its weight works in a way that it always come back up with the right side on top. I’ve heard it used to illustrate to children that even when you get rolled over, you simply need to roll back up.


    1. Hi Glen,

      Welcome to OBV! You know, I’ve heard people talk about “is it better to regret doing something or not doing something” — well, I think it’s better to regret doing something. The former thinking is more growth oriented. The latter, more safety oriented. But so many times, we hold back because of fear of mistakes. We don’t want to taste the bitterness of disappointments. So I’m trying to recondition myself by rewarding the tried-but-failed attempts.


  3. This is a great point you bring up Ari – failures can be great reasons to celebrate. Even though it may not seem like it at the time. We are learning much about ourselves when we fail. But, like you said, that doesn’t mean we are a failure. I really like that. If we grow and learn from our failures, then they really are successful failures.

    Lance’s last blog post..Dreams For Our World

    1. Hi Lance,

      Thanks! I think a life lived away from failure is bound to be failure — nothing risked, nothing gained. Now, sometimes we do make same mistakes over and over — that’s sort of a failure, too. That’s a failure of not learning. Though some lessons are very hard to learn, so it takes multiple mistakes to get over. The best state to be in, I suppose, is a life filled with different kinds of failures. That means you’re learning, and you’re constantly risking.

      Then there are kinds of mistakes we simply always make. My wife can tell you about a number of mine like that. 😉 In Japan, there’s a saying that says fools are only cured in death. It’s mean and is inapplicable to most growth-minded people — but is also true in some respects. 😉


  4. I used to be mortified if I failed at something. Truly mortified, to the point that I wouldn’t even attempt something if I thought there was a chance of failure. This meant I missed out on a lot of potentially fun experiences. It has only really been the last year of so, that I decided I wasn’t going to let this fear guide my decisions anymore. Now I just go out and DO IT. And if I make a mistake, I poke fun at myself, I learn from it, and I pat myself on the back for having tried it in the first place.

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Cut and run

    1. Hey Urban Panther,

      That’s good to hear. I know, for example, a lot of kids don’t speak up in class even when they think they know the answers to the questions being asked. Fear of failure is a strong force against us living our lives to the fullest.


  5. Hi Ari,

    I tend to be my own worst critic, and I think that can be a good thing. I believe it helps me to not settle for mediocrity and to aim for high standards. When I beat up on myself too much, it can be destructive (as you described). The fear of failure can sometimes prevent me from action too.

    A healthy approach is to not fear failure but to relish it as a learning experience. Yeah it’s cliche, but it’s true. Bamboo also had a phrase that really caught my attention – “don’t have a staring contest with your failures.” That really resonated with me.

    I think of life as one big game, kinda like soccer or better yet, a boxing match. We don’t have time to dwell on our failures if the action is still going on. Very thought-provoking post, Ari!

    Al at 7P’s last blog post..The Criminally-Minded Approach for Achieving Goals

    1. Hey Al,

      Yes, I read Bamboo’s post, too. It’s funny that he and I were in synch with posting on the same issue at the same time.

      I like your line “We don’t have time to dwell on our failures if the action is still going on.” How true!


    1. Hi Jeff,

      You think I’m timely with my posts? Well that’s good to hear — because I didn’t think so, myself. It’s not for the lack of material, but it’s more for the lack of time (or underdeveloped time management skills on my part) that I don’t post as often as I’d like to.


  6. Pingback: Sunday Link Love - Watching Gustav Edition | Remodeling This Life

    1. Hi Deepali!

      Welcome to OBV! Yes, some of us are not particularly adept at switching our gears. We sulk because it’s hard to make our mind move on and focus on something else, especially when we are consumed by the feeling of let down.

      So rewarding myself for failure was my strategy for not dwelling on the pain. I’m glad you got something out of it.

      Keep in touch, I look forward to getting to know you.


  7. Hi Ari

    I think your “A well-lived life is one littered with countless failures and mistakes.” is great – and so true. We can paralyze ourselves if we worry too much about how things will work out – we need to see everything as a learning experience. I’ve had many projects not work out as I thought they would, but I gained skills along the way.

    Robin’s last blog post..Think And It Shall Be So

    1. Hi Robin!

      Thanks! Yeah, I think the growth mentality takes the pressure off of having to be right every time. You don’t have to be right every time. Rather, you can make a lot of things right. It’s an empowering thought.


  8. I just came back over to read a little. I never seem to have enough hours in the day. I so agree with this post. I made a post about the way I handled something this weekend. My failure to handle it correctly ended up turning into a positive. I realized that I didn’t handle compliments correctly. To fail for me was to gain something.

    Thank you again for sharing.

    Tammy Warren’s last blog post..Adventure through time

    1. Hi Tammy,

      >To fail for me was to gain something.

      How true. We really ought to keep that in mind. If we learn from every mistake, we won’t make same mistakes again — so every mistake will be a new one, and we’ll learn more from it. That’ll make a very efficient journey! 😉


  9. Hi Ari!

    Good thoughts on failures! “But nowadays, I do the opposite. I pat myself on the back, eat my favorite snack, do something fun — I reward myself.

    Why would I do that, when I messed up?

    First, the sting of failure is punishment enough.”

    Very well said. I’m a sulker too, it takes time for me to recover after a setback. I tend to withdraw and detach myself from others, so as to avoid more pain, but the more I escape from the hurt, the more it haunts me. It often paralyzes me to try again.

    What pulls me though somehow is my relationship with God. If not for my faith, i would have really sank into a very deep depression.

    Thanks for the uplifting words Ari!

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