According to Cambridge Dictionary, failure is “a situation in which someone or something does not succeed”, based on that, this definition leaves us with three conclusions:
✅ Failure can happen to anyone
✅ Failure can happen to something (not just someone)
and… failure depends strictly on success? *record scratch sound*
First off, we must acknowledge that “failure” (and a ton of other words) are just that – a concept accepted and agreed upon by the social imaginary to describe abstract feelings, situations and events, and based on definitions that constantly change throughout the years and social and cultural context.
That being said, we can say that failure is relative. It can be a terrible, epic mistake for some, and a fresh start and clean slate for others. Some may take failure seriously, and others may take a more easygoing approach.
But setting aside the philosophical discussion on human-created concepts, is failure really just the lack of success?
Well, as a 7-year-old global movement specializing on failure and fuck ups, we can assure you that… we don’t know. And we’re not sure anybody ever will.
Failure, just as success, is a very fluid concept. It’s relative and requires empathy to understand, it’s human, and it has consequences. These consequences are different for each person going through a fuck up, which makes it so hard to define.
However, there are some key insights that we have discovered. After listening to hundreds of stories at Fuckup Night events around the world, we started observing some patterns and constants: Failing is both unavoidable, and universal. No matter how big or small, you’ve probably failed at some point, and, sooner or later, you’ll fail again. No one learned to read or write perfectly at the first attempt. We all have -and will keep on failing- both individually and collectively. And so will your parents, your sisters and brothers, your friends and, (according to Cambridge Dictionary) your steam iron too.
Ironically enough, even though it’s an everyday happening in the world, we are still so afraid of it. Failure is awkward. It sucks. It takes us out of our comfort zone, and we hope to go through our day without experiencing it. When it happens to others, we sometimes laugh or feel sorry for them, but we’re also grateful it wasn’t us.
Once they happen, we never question or try to learn from them. We’d rather just forget about it. Until failures pile up, and we make the same mistakes over and over again.
Hiding failure takes us further away from the conversations that will leave us with insightful feedback and self-awareness, and help us grow and (as much as possible) avoid future fuck ups.
Last month, we created our Fuckup Wall, a space for anyone to share their fuck ups publicly and anonymously. Riding the hype and excitement around creating this, we asked some of our team members what failure meant to them, and the impact of it. It may not have given us a definitive answer, but it left us all with the feeling of wanting to know more about failure.