Redefining Failure (and Success)

Duke University Basketball Court, People Clapping, Refs, Winning

Redefining Failure (and Success)

For many, fear of failure is either a major motivator or a factor that causes paralysis. In a recent ESPN interview with my favorite coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (, I was reminded of the important role that failure plays in our lives. Coach K recounted a significant loss in 1983 that led many to doubt his future as the men’s basketball coach. When someone suggested that everyone forget the terrible loss ever happened, Coach K asked that no one forget. He considered that loss a defining moment that changed his approach to coaching.

Over the years I can recall a number of times when my peers, supervisees, and even I have not secured the hoped for outcome. Often, each of us would waste time feeling resentful and wondering what we should have done differently. However, in every circumstance I can recall, each of us actually achieved the best and desired outcome, even if we were unable to recognize it at the time. Part of the initial disappointment appears to be the shame in wondering what other people will think if they find out we didn’t achieve our intended goals. However, I’ve come to realize that “failure” is what you make of it. Often, a perceived failure isn’t really failure at all. Plus, your opinion of yourself is what matters most. The majority of the time, everyone else is too preoccupied with themselves to even notice that you didn’t achieve your originally intended outcome.

Thus, if you are going to let failure define you, be sure that you write the terms of the definition and transform it into something positive. To do so, think about an experience that you considered a failure. What was the intended versus the actual outcome? How is your life different now because of the experience? What did you learn or gain that was only possible by having that experience? How can you apply that lesson to your life today?

When you consider your “failure,” also consider Coach K. Today he is now one of the most successful coaches of all time. Just weeks ago, his team won the NCAA championship game. Yet, he has never forgotten the day he lost. Perhaps success is ironically linked to failure. If so, I’m glad that Duke lost that day in 1983, as we all get to enjoy Coach K and his team achieve extraordinary success today.

© Copyright 2015 Ashley Curiel, PsyD, therapist in Beverly Hills, California. All rights reserved.