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Why Students Should Learn How to Fail Forward

Fail Forward TED Talk


I was scrolling through my LinkedIn page and came across another TED video. I, like many others on LinkedIn, follow TED Conferences to hear short, educational, inspirational stories about everything under the sun. This video by Angela Lee Duckworth talks about how “we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned”. I want to talk about this concept that was taught to me in high school, failing forward. What does failing forward mean and how to go about failing forward.


What “Failing Forward” Means


In my words, failing forward is this concept where the failures people accumulate over their lifetime don’t prevent them from “failing” life. Failing forward means learning from those setbacks, even if it takes a few times to learn from them, and having the grit and resilience to move forward. An extremely common example would be applying for jobs or co-ops. As a student in the co-op program at Brock, the number of rejection emails I have received, as well as many of my friends, is astounding. It can be daunting to look at the number of rejections we all receive. Somehow, we move on, refine our resumés and cover letters over and over again until suddenly, we find a job or co-op. Something as small and repetitive as job applying seems like an obvious example to go with. This process requires grit and resilience and it’s easy to identify. My question is, why some people cannot apply the same method of thinking to bigger failures. Maybe it’s because they have invested more time and energy and so there is more to lose. Maybe it’s because it might not only impact one individual but multiple. I say, learn to apply to fail forward sooner rather than later, your future self will thank you.


How to “Fail Forward”

Going about failing consistently is something that no one has perfected. The mindset that Angela Lee Duckworth mentions is the mindset that failure isn’t permanent. For me this means that while some failures make bigger dents in life, and other failures barely make a dent at all, failure is still not permanent. The only way for people to overcome this need to be perfect is to fail, over and over and over again. Teaching ourselves to fail at a younger age is the best time to start because we have time to learn and grow. We haven’t yet “been set in our ways” and I hope that when we are older and hopefully wiser, being “set in our ways” will mean that we learned to fail forward.

Overcoming the fear of the idea to fail often is a good start to helping people fail forward. As humans, we compare ourselves to others constantly. This is no surprise to anyone. However, this puts us into the mindset of because Suzy Smith completed something on her first try, we have to do the same and we can’t fail because then we aren’t of equal value and we just suck. The constant comparison makes it ten times more difficult to overcome the fear of failing alone, let alone failing forward. I believe this is an important step on the right path to failing forward.


In summation, we learn many more lessons when we fail, much more than when we succeed, therefore we should all learn to fail forward so that we gain grit and resilience. If you want to read more on the concept, there is a book called Failing Forward, by John C. Maxwell that goes more in-depth about the topic.


Kiana Downing


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