[Video] Failure Doesn’t Exist


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Failure doesn’t exist. Feedback does.

Do you see how if we reframe Failure as Feedback it takes on a whole new meaning?

In the standard sense of the definition, I fail often.

Below I’ve written about some of my failures and you should watch the complementary video as well… :)

On Failure:

I don’t know a single successful person who hasn’t failed multiple times. Most likely hundreds of times.

A lot of people would consider my recent eBook launch a failure since, in the scheme of eBook launches, I didn’t generate a crazy amount of revenue. I look at it as an incredible success.

Here’s why:

1) I shipped. So what if the eBook wasn’t perfect? It’s good, people are enjoying it, and I got it out there. Success!

2) I raised money for a good cause. I sent $1,600 to Kiva. This is going to directly affect the lives of a bunch of third world entrepreneurs! (This comes after #1 because if not for #1 there wouldn’t have been a #2.)

Click the image for Full Size

3) I get a new kind of feedback on my work. Once someone spends money with you the relationship changes. It’s a position I don’t take lightly. My aim is to over deliver. Which is why I write so much here; for the sheer love of sharing ideas.

Let’s look at other examples of Failure -> Feedback:

  • I hurt my arm a few weeks back while building a guitar so I got an ayurvedic oil massage that didn’t end up helping (but did make for an “interesting” experience!). That was a failure. But I reframed it as feedback, found a better ayurvedic massage clinic, and was healed in 1 day. (Crazy, but true!)
  • When I couldn’t get Internet and, as a result, couldn’t get work done because of the ridiculous new bureaucracy here in India I felt it was a failure. I even wrote about it (whined about it is more like it) here. Sometimes I’m dense and it takes me a little extra time to take your advice and my own advice. :) Anyway, eventually, when I reframed the failure as feedback, I got my Internet and was able to produce a crazy amount of content in a short amount of time.

We don’t learn from our failures.

We learn from the feedback we get from our failures.

Avoiding Failure Is Not The Goal

Let’s be clear that avoiding failure is not the goal. More than that, a life without failure is boring.

And, of course, avoiding failure is impossible.

The goal is to achieve success or failure as soon as possible. If that means 10-20 hours in electronic stores trying to get a USB modem then so be it. :)

Sometimes we get too caught up in our lives to allow ourselves to step back and analyze what’s going on. Now that I’ve put my thoughts on the relationship of failure and feedback down into words I’ll have a much easier time dealing with failure in the future.

Now that you’ve read this article, I hope you’ll have an easier time with your failures as well. :)

I’m interested: how do you deal with your failures? Do you beat yourself up over them? Do you get depressed? Do you use them as learning experiences? What steps do you take?

Whoa, that’s a lot of questions, but I’m fascinated with failure, feedback, and success. Post in the comments or, if you’d like some level of anonymity, e-mail me: KarolGajda AT Gmail.com. More important than anything, be honest with yourself when answering the questions.

EDIT (March 11, 2010): This is weird/cool. Penelope Trunk and Dragos Roua both wrote about failure recently.


  1. Great post, Karol. I agree wholeheartedly.

    In one sense, however, failure *does* exist. For example, *quitting* on something that is important to you would be a failure in my book.

  2. In my experience, failure is the only way to move forward.

    I have spent the majority of my professional life solving problems and fixing things. Be it software, electronics, mechanical equipment, etc. You usually can logically troubleshoot to a point where you know that either one of two or three things is broken and, in the case of electronics, the “break” is often invisible. So you have to replace something to make progress. Sometimes, that was the bad part, sometimes it makes no difference (you fail) and you replace the other (you succeed). Process of elimination. You Fail till you succeed. It becomes routine. Part of the natural process.

    The result is that I generally feel that there is nothing in life that I can’t accomplish if I am willing to spend enough time. I consider/decide on things using a time investment vs reward method.

  3. Hi Karol,
    I liked your article. What I like about framing Failure as Feedback is that when we think of having done something that “failed”, we tend to give up on that idea. If we view an idea as needing “feedback”, we are more inclined to tweak it until it yields positive results.. This is a very helpful concept.

  4. Hi Karol,

    Great observation. And, of course, I totally agree with you.
    Yes, failure does get me down…sometimes :) Most of the times I just see it as an obstacle that’s about to be crossed sooner or later.
    Thanks for giving a failure a proper name :)


  5. I guess many people could consider me a failure at A LOT of things. However, most people tend to overlook these once you succeed at something. For me, sports was the major thing growing up. I received “feedback” from losses and beatings. Through using that information I was able to change that which needed to be changed to succeed. Once I started to be more successful at sports, people tended to overlook that missed last second shot or whatever.

    Great insight into your “failure” Karol

    David Damron

    • Thanks David. Sports and academics are big ones when we’re young. I used to beat myself up over losing or getting a bad grade. I’m much easier on myself if things go “wrong” now. :)

  6. I struggle with the fear of failure every day. It’s crippling at times. What’s odd is in my profession, I deal with other people’s failures all the time and help them accept them and move on. I’m accepting and understanding of other people’s failures and tell them that it’s okay to fail and it’s how we learn and move forward, etc. For some reason though I apply a different set of standards to myself and never let go of my failures, even ancient ones that don’t matter or one’s no one else knows about but me.
    I really like the idea of re-framing failure as feedback. I’m going to put it into practice for myself today.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for putting the reframe into practice.

      We all struggle with fear of failure in some capacity. It’s the ability to move past it and conquer The Resistance (War of Art by Steven Pressfield) that separates those who succeed and those who don’t.

      I wish you well!


  7. I’m not classing the e-book thing as a failure. Looks like a resounding success to me – so many people wanted to buy it your systems couldn’t cope. And it’s amazing how much money you sent to Kiva. Lovely to see you on video and loving your concept of failure not exisiting. Thanks Karol:)

  8. My first big failure which I have told you about was my experiment with selling NBA all star tickets. When I first realized I was going to lose money I got a little depressed and thought I couldn’t make this work. But after remembering one of your earlier comments to me:

    “With the the mindset of “I will try until I succeed” failure won’t be an issue.”

    Now you have helped me learn from my mistakes and get back on the horse and try again.

    Give me a little time and I’m going to be one of those 100 people you help live with ridiculously extraordinary freedom.

    PS. I’m really looking forward to 1.0 of your how to live anywhere ebook. If anyone hasen’t bought it yet, trust me it is well worth your money.

    • Hey Austin,

      Thanks for continuing to take action and for getting feedback instead of failure. :)

      Looking forward to you rocking it!


  9. Hi Karol,
    I was all set to buy your book really cheaply! I came in at $1.30 and then found my CCard wouldnt work. But I didnt give up and finished buying it a $12,40. But I knew it wasnt a failure because you were going to double what ever I paid and send it to Kiva. Keep it going

  10. Divorce was, for me, a powerful lesson in reframing failure.

    Little is more personal than a failed marriage. Yet, even while I was going through my divorce, I kept in mind that the value of an experience is often not understood until LONG after you’ve had it.

    We are so quick to judge our experiences as “success” or “failure.” But in the big picture they are only that: experiences. And going through them with integrity and grace – and gleaning the lessons that are to be gleaned – is empowering.

    Even when the experience doesn’t feel good.

    Thanks for the post, pal.

    • Hi Hal,

      Thank you for sharing that. Kudos for using your divorce as a learning experience instead of a black mark on your life. Rock on!

      “Even when the experience doesn’t feel good.” – you got it. Sometimes (usually) life doesn’t work out quite like we think it’s going to, but as long as we learn, grow, and progress, it’s all good.

      Thank you again Hal,

  11. Been thinking about this one. While I agree, what most people consider failures can just as easily be considered learning experiences. There are some situations where failure is a very real thing. While they are still learning experiences the emotional gravity deems them failures in my mind.

    Lets say someone is an air trafic controller, if they mess up their job and two planes crash into each other killing hundreds of inocent lives. I would call that a failure, that air trafic controller will probably never let it happen again, but he’ll probably be in jail too. :P You can argue he learned from it, but everyone else will say he failed.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your insight.

      It’s not my place to judge whether someone else has failed. Who says the air traffic controller would: a) think it’s a failure? and b) go to jail?

      Reframing failure as feedback is for you, not for you to project onto others. :) What I mean is, what do you think for yourself, not what do you think others might think?


  12. Completely agreed as well. Without failure, progress is impossible. Therefore, the term failure, with its negative connotations, is clearly not the right word to use. Such instances are simply learning experiences and should always be viewed positively in order to gain the most from them.

  13. Eric said “Failure is the only way to move forward”. That kind of struck me!.. To re-phrase a little one might say “Failure is only failing to move forward”. Wow that’s a lot of Failures! Especially for a term we just turned into feedback! I like your concept. Probably more than anything else, fear of failure holds me back. Not just me but I think most people. Fear of failure prevents you from getting the “feedback” you need to succeed. If we always stay frozen, afraid to take a chance, we will never learn from our feedback.. Thanks Karol

    • I’m glad this post and Eric’s comment struck a chord with you!

      As the saying goes “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

      It’s true though. If you’re afraid of something it probably means you SHOULD do it.

      Thanks Randall,

  14. Interesting ways to look at it. If you’re not experiencing much failure, it probably means you’re not doing much–and certainly not trying anything new!
    There’s an anecdotal story that says Edison experienced 1000 failures enroute to inventing the electric light bulb.
    He viewed each failure as one more ‘maybe’ out of the way … and that meant he was one step closer to the right way. That story has helped me a lot over the years.
    Seems like an approach worth emulating–and I guess i’m getting closer to success cause I have experienced a number of failures. :-).

    • Another interesting anecdote about Edison is he had minions performing all those tests. He paid them to work in his lab and he got the patents. Brilliant.

  15. re:
    Another interesting anecdote about Edison is he had minions performing all those tests. He paid them to work in his lab and he got the patents. Brilliant.

    That’s very good.
    I haven’t heard that one before, but I really like it. I’m going to start keeping that attractive, yet alien to me, thought in mind and see what comes.

  16. Awesome video. My opinion of failure has changed over time. For me failure doesn’t exist. No project is perfect. Something unexpected is bound to come up. With everything in life, I think it’s important to see all experiences (good or bad) as a way to learn, grow and question your own perspective.

  17. Love watching your videos.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Failure is another learning experience. I do my best to think of my ‘failures’ to be lessons to be learnt, lessons for a purpose.
    I would rather ‘fail’ than never take action at all.

  18. I think the only time anything should be considered a failure is when you don’t learn from your mistakes. Instead you keep making the same mistakes over and over, thus there is nothing learned or gained. It’s only when you learn from those mistakes and use them to better yourself, your project, etc, that failure no longer exists and instead becomes a very valuable tool.

  19. We tend to get so emotionally invested into our ideas, and I think this is why it is so difficult to admit defeat. It sucks saying “yea this aint working” but that conclusion can also be very liberating as it gives way to new ideas and opportunities.

    You will fail a lot, but that is also exactly how you succeed.


  20. […] As you know, I don’t like to dwell on mistakes and failures. But successful people almost never talk about where they’ve gone wrong and it’s something a lot of people can learn from. Which is why, every once in a while, I’ll showcase one of my own mistakes or failures. […]

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