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Friday, 24 September 2010

It's not the end of the road...

[The following article written by me was published in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, on August 15, 2009]

Failure is just another event in our lives. In fact, it is a great learning opportunity, especially for children. If you fall, don’t give up. Get up, brush off the bruises and run again. Maullika Sharma cheers on
missed it? Better luck next time. After all, life is not all about winning.
Failure is scary. Not because it needs to be, but because of the way we interpret it. In fact, I would like to go even a step further and say that failure provides a fantastic learning opportunity! Facing failure, learning from it, and thriving in its aftermath are amongst the most important life skills we can learn. And, help our children learn.

An over-involved, or should I say overprotective mother, once came to me. Her child was in the fourth standard and she was very concerned about how she needed to prepare her son for a national science exam. She wanted tips from me since my child had been doing well in the same exam. She wanted question papers, guide books, portions, etc.

My advice to her was that there really was nothing I could give her. I said, “Just let him have fun doing the exam. If he does well, great. If he doesn’t, what’s the big deal? Even failure is an important life lesson to learn.” In this case, I think, it was probably a lesson the mother needed to learn as well. She was horrified by my advice. She said, “Failure is not something someone that young needs to learn.” That was, obviously, the end of our conversation. However, it did set me thinking.

Dealing with children

What messages do you give your children about failure? If they fail an exam, do you tell them that they have failed as a person? That they are a failure? Or, do you tell them that though they may have failed an exam they have a lot of other strengths, and that you are going to help them turn around this “negative” experience into a “positive” learning opportunity? That you are going to help them learn from the experience? 

When you fall, do you fall forever? Or do you get up, brush off the bruises, and run again? Failure is just another fall or stumble in the marathon run of life. You need to learn, and teach your kids, to get up, brush off and be on your way again. Life is about finishing the race successfully, not necessarily always about winning it.

At this point I must say that I use the word “successfully” with some apprehension and caution. How do you define success? Do you define it in terms of how much money you have in your bank when you die, or the respect you get from your peers right now? Do you define it by the number of people in your span of control, or by the number of loving relationships you can stake your claim to? Do you define it by your job title, or by how much you have learned? Do you define it by the size of your house, and the expensive paintings on your walls, or do you define it by the love and comfort in your home?

As a student, do you define it by your academic results and medals, or by the overall development of your personality? As a parent, do you define it by the quantifiable and measurable achievements of your children, or by the strength of your bond with them?
How you define “success” has an impact on how you define “failure”, and the impact you allow failure to have on you. Are you a success, or have you been successful in a achieving a particular goal? Are you a failure, or have you failed in a particular task?

A client of mine had just sold off his business after a huge loss. He was down in the dumps and was having difficulty motivating himself to look for another job. He had failed. Why would anyone even consider giving him a job? My question to him was, “Did you fail, or did your business fail?” That poser caused a paradigm shift in his thinking. He was suddenly able to differentiate between himself and his business. He had not failed! In fact he had learnt a lot, even though his business had failed. He was immediately able to draw on his strengths (which had given him the courage to start a business), gain from his experiences, and project himself as a more confident and capable candidate. He called me after a couple of weeks of our work together to say he had found a job he was very happy with.

Many employers today prefer employees who have had entrepreneurial experience, even if their venture has not been successful, because failure can teach you many things. But, only if you allow it to.

Suicidal youth

Why is it that so many young people commit or contemplate suicide these days? In many cases it is because they have never learnt to face failure, confront it, and learn from it. They have never learnt the importance of getting up after a fall and running again, just for the pleasure of completing a race. They have only learnt the importance of winning the race.

As a student I was extremely focussed on high academic achievements. My self-worth as an adolescent and young adult was anchored to doing well in exams. The downside of it was that I never even attempted exams I was not sure of doing well in, where I was treading into unknown territory. As a result I never even attempted any competitive entrance exams. I’d rather not do an exam than fail it! I often wonder how my life may have been different had I not had this fear of failure. I wish I knew then what I know now.

So the next time you are confronted by failure, stop and ask yourself — Is it me, or is it just another event in my life? Whether it is an unhappy relationship, a failed exam, a flopped business, a lost race, an unmet target, or a sunken investment — whatever the failure, it has to be viewed as just another event in your life, rather than your whole life.
Failure is an event, just another event. Failure is not a person, failure is not YOU.


  1. Dear Madam,
    I had been reading your articles from many years and its really good.I want to share my thoughts about failure.When success comes to me I'll be very happy and from many years I had discovered that I'm not able to face failures.Even when I watch movies if something goes wrong with the hero or heroine I just get out of the room or just close my ears and eyes.And even in my life if failure comes my way I cant face it and only think of escaping from failure.And even I'm bothered about the society if failed I cannot tolerate the nonsense talking of people, their teasing and all.I think of taking it as challenge and then again I would think If I fail again.I m not only speaking about academics but also other aspects of the life.I think if this happens again and again I wont be able to face the failures in my life.and even I feel my decision making is very poor because of which I'm facing failures.Please help me to overcome such situations of my life.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I am glad you are finding my writings useful. I really urge you to seek some counselling to help you interpret your failures. Failure is never fatal unless we allow it to. Some failure is inevitable and it only makes us stronger, provided we choose to learn from it. Since you have recognized this pattern, I urge you to please get help. It will allow you to live life in a more complete way. All the best

    2. Yes madam, Surely I'll consult a counselor and Thank You for your valuable response.

  2. Dear madam,
    I have read many article of yours they have helped me a lot during my difficult times.I just finished my 12th(CBSE) exam getting 64%.I wanted to do medical but,due to my low scores i'm not able to.I did not concentrate on my studies during my 12th as i used to get distracted easily which in turn decreased my scores.I'm not able to understand what to do now.I want to become a doctor and help the poor.But i don't think there is any way now by which i can get into medical.My parents are not happy with my score.Can you please help me.

    1. I am glad you find my articles helpful. When one path closes, another one will open, provided you allow yourself to see it and accept it. Understand your motivation and the options available before you. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses and then make your decisions. If you need help from a counsellor, either see someone face to face, or call 080 65333323 and get the free help of a phone counsellor. All the best

    2. Thank you for the help.

  3. Mam I am student of engineering final year who had high aspirations of becoming a scientist I was so determined that i was not interested in doing medical as per the wishes of my family.i was a good academic performer also. I was confident of clearing my interwiews but finally landed in an it job. I often compare my self to all my frnds who have got better I feel I am not technically good. I am depressed I cannot study anything I fell lost please help

    1. I think it will help you tremendously to take the help of a counsellor to understand yourself and how you are interpreting the world better. I don't know which city you are from, but if you can access a counsellor please do so so that you can resolve the conflicts and doubts in your mind and go ahead. I practice in Bangalore.

  4. Your articles are very near to realistic/factual life scenario, thank you for helping us. Mam, i have finished my MBBS [MBBS doctor] and aspiring for post graduation. And you very well know that most of us are not so lucky enough to get in. Trying and writing these entrance exams since 3 years no luck so far, this year coming December again for the 4th time i'll be sitting for the exam [ of course with lot of dejection/frustration]. You are aware that without PG we the new doctors only with MBBS degree seems to have no bright future [ it is again the popular view of society], though we venture out with our practical/clinical skills still we are treated has FAILURES and it is heart breaking :( . I'm pretty good at practical/clinical approach in treating but this injected feeling of failure from the surroundings is eating me up from within. Faced failure, learning from it as well but sailing through this aftermath effect is becoming difficult as days are rolling. Added to this now the family situations are such that it has confined me to four walls of the house since one year. It all started with low self esteem and low-no self confidence and has ended up here. never tried the breaking the wall technique and seeking help, thought this time i'll gather some courage and speak out. Thank you Mam once again .

    1. Thank you for writing in. Having got through your MBBS itself qualifies you as a 'success' so I am not sure where your feeling of failure is coming from. You are already a doctor and, as you say, have good clinical skills. After the educational training, what differentiates one doctor from another, is not only his/her knowledge but also his/her empathy and ability to relate to people. Very often society reflects back to you what you are feeling about yourself. You are feeling like a failure and dejected, and therefore are thinking that that is what society is thinking about you. Often you need to look at yourself in the mirror in a more positive light and that changes things around.
      I strongly urge you to take the help of a counsellor and talk through your emotions. It is very helpful to be able to do that and will go a long way in winning your confidence back. You have much to be proud of already. Don't let the world allow you to start thinking any other way. Good luck!

    2. Thank you so much mam and yes mam i have read your article "SEE THE LION IN MIRROR', its very inspiring. keep this good work going it surely is helping many of us. I follow your articles, also read your answers given which are published in deccan herald. most wonderful part is that, as i write to you i know that you will definitely respond and trust me its a confidence booster. Thank you so much once again.