Failure Is Just Feedback

Have you ever failed at something?

I think if we're being honest, most of us would say we have.

What was it? 

What made it a failure? Was it that you fell short of what you set out to accomplish? Did you give up too easily? Did someone tell you that you should have been more?

What makes it clear that you failed?

Over the last few years I’ve come to see success and failure as something which is not black and white, but so many different shades of grey.

Let me explain.

I think it’s possible to succeed in your pursuit and fail to grow from the experience. I also think it’s possible to fail in your pursuit, but learn so much from the experience that you can't really call it a failure. We must be careful with how we perceive the results we experience. Interpreting something as a failure based solely on not reaching the level we set out to achieve, can weigh us down and scare us from attempting anything we dream of in the future.

I often hear people reflect on their younger days when they believed they could accomplish almost anything with their lives. But as they’ve grown, they've failed a few times and as a result they've become ‘realistic’ about what is and isn't possible. I get it though. It's more comfortable to be realistic than to risk failing again.

But being a realist doesn't make you right. 

We have misunderstood failure. Failure is not a result. Failure is feedback. Nothing else. That feedback has the capacity to change our lives for the better, to inspire us to dream once again, so long as we're not misunderstanding what it whispers.. 

But who do I think I am writing about such a subject? Surely, for any of this to be relevant, I would have to have a few good fails up my sleeve. 

Luckily for me, I do. 

Let me tell you about my three biggest fails to date.

I can't explain the disappointment that came with falling short in each of the following areas. When your whole heart is committed to successfully achieving the result you're after, combined with the time, effort, hope and confidence in yourself to do them it's hard to accept when they take a different direction. Though I've failed in far more than three areas, these three are the biggest.  

1.    Running at the Olympics: At the age of 12, I set myself the goal of running in the Olympics. I did everything I knew how (without any banned substances) to make it happen. I pursued this dream up until the age of 26. For the 14 years I committed myself to the sport, I was confident I would do it. In 2010/11 after some breakthrough performances, things looked as though they were heading in the right direction. Unfortunately due to undiagnosed health problems, which you can read about in a longer story, 2010/11 were, looking back, the highlights of my career. After three more years of poor health, surgeries and no improvement, I decided to move on to other things. I still love the sport, miss it sometimes and wonder what could have been had my health issues been solved sooner. 

2.    Playing AFL: I left competitive running with the intention of playing social Football. As a young kid I loved the game, and played pretty well, so I decided to give it a go. As a number of boys I used to race in the athletics scene were getting the opportunity to play at the highest level of Football in Australia, I decided to write a letter to every AFL club and let them know I wanted a chance to prove myself. I got a phone call from Paul Roos, the head coach of the Melbourne Football Club who said he wanted to have a chat with me. I also received interest from Fremantle Football Club. I met up with both teams, told them my story and crossed my fingers. I did what I knew how, but it didn’t work out. My age and my time away from the game worked against me. It was a disappointing result to a huge opportunity. 

3.    Climbing Mt Everest: In 2015 I decided I was going to attempt to climb Mt Everest. I committed to the training, organising the sponsors, getting the word out about my mission and going to Nepal to train in the mountains for one month. The company I went with recommended that if I was to go to Everest the following year, it would be best if I could climb two qualifying mountains. It was a safety thing to show both them and myself that I was up to such a task. As I had no climbing experience, the two mountains were essential. I climbed one of them (Mt Lobuche) and got food poisoning on the morning of the other one (Island Peak). I had told myself that I would only attempt Everest if I fulfilled the recommended criteria. I didn’t. Everest didn’t work out how I planned. 

Something crazy stuck out to me in each and every one of these fails. As the pain of the disappointment of not achieving what I dreamt of started to settle down, I realised I was learning things I don't think I otherwise would have learnt. 

It turned out, the feedback from these failures were teaching some great lessons. 


  • Clarity What is the feedback from the result you're unhappy with showing you? Have you picked an area that's not your greatest strength? Have people not yet recognised you have something unique? Is there another approach? Have you spread yourself too thin? What is it that you're trying to create? Be clear, aim to do a few things well and commit to that. When you get the feedback you need, adjust and go again. 
  • Commitment When we are clear about what it is we're doing, we cannot continue in the area without a commitment to it. When you decide what you're going for, we can't half focus on that along with all the other stuff, we have to commit to the cause. 
  • Humility The results aren't totally in our control. Our ego absolutely hates that news. We have to do what we can, and trust that we'll grow from the result. When our whole ego is built around something that fails, we're crushed. We're humbled.
  • Presence We don't know what the end result is going to be. As much as we dream and hope it works out the way we intend for it to, there is no guarantee it will. We can't commit to something purely for what we imagine it will bring us, we have to embrace each step of the journey. 
  • Resilience Anyone who gets back up after their first failure begins to learn the art of resilience. There is more than hard work, talent and luck that goes into someone being able to achieve the goals they've set for themselves. They must also get back up each and every time they slip.



What about you?

Maybe, if you're being honest you've failed in more areas of your life than you are comfortable admitting to anyone. That's ok, you don't need to. Maybe you have just reached a point in your life that you have started to question whether it's worth getting up and trying once more, because you don't think you can handle another devastating blow. 

Is this you?

Here's the thing. I don't think what you've been calling failure in your life is a failure at all. 

It's simply feedback. 

It's time for you to get back up. It's time for you to step back out. Risk it again. 

Because the truth is, you've never faied in your life. 

You just misunderstood the feedback.