“To err is human”

When Alexander Pope made this witticism in his Essays On Man, he probably had very little idea of just how pertinent the words would be 300 years later, in 2018.

Personally, I think it’s high time we all had a successful chat about failure…

Failure and success have long been presented to us as categorical binaries, whereas in reality they are far from this simple, or distinct. We would not be able to experience pain without its antithesis (pleasures); we would not be able to experience pleasure without its antithesis (pain). By the same logic, we can hardly expect to appreciate the glory, success and pride of winning without having failed multiple times.

This is not to say that failure is good in and of itself, but rather that it has a permanent role in the development and attainment of success and brilliance. As a cursory example, consider that the Fiat 500 was a resounding success, and still is today. Remember, however, that Fiat attempted the same success with hundreds of other models of car prior to this, the majority of which failed and failed countless times over.

We have all experienced failure. This is not because we are inherently flawed or rubbish at doing things in life, but that we try to succeed wherever/whenever possible and all the while doing so, the objectivity of the concepts failure and success don’t really exist. To clarify, failure and success is – to a large degree – a matter of individual subjectivity. We try our utmost bests to win in the things we do, without realizing that winning and succeeding are often distinct from each other, and that succeeding and failing are not necessarily as binary as one may first believe.

‘So what?’ One may ask. ‘How is a quasi-philosophical rambling on the symbiosis of pleasure and plain going to help me in my own life and career?

Firstly, always remember that failure and success do not exist in vacuums. In many, many cases, failure predicates success. This is because they exist in comparative social environments, naturally. For example, somebody who is deemed a success in a particular context is really only such in relation to his or her counterparts who are at varying degrees of success or failure in relation to him/her.

This considered, bear in mind that success, winning, losing and failure are nebulous and ever-changing concepts, almost invariably context-dependent. This is not a bad thing, however. The personal subjectivity of success and failure in this regard is what allows the process of personal success and personal failure to be so useful and catalyzing.

More generally, failing gives us empirical evidence of what went wrong, and to an extent, why it did so – was the failure due to internal or external factors? Was it a mixture of these two? These are all things one can reflect on having experienced a perceived failure. The analysis of one’s errors, along with the outside influences that interacted with them, can be highly therapeutic and functional, for that matter.

Whether we are focusing on English Language Teaching, language learning, or indeed life in general, keeping a focus on the points raised above will ensure that succeed in using all your failures and knock-backs to your advantage.

Now let’s go and win (or fail and learn for the future)…