Failure - thing that never existed

By radek

← Back to Blog

Failure - Thing that never existed

Why we should give up on the concept of failure once and for all

While majority of blogs I had a pleasure to read, elaborate on how to “avoid”, “overcome” or “handle” the failure, I’d like to suggest that we erase that word from our vocabularies.

While I agree with the arguments and methods presented in those blogs, I’d like to suggest that we’ll be better off not having to deal with something that never really existed in nature.

While we, here at be.log, are more than happy to refer and link to another great articles related to that topic, I’d like to suggest that you, for now, keep on reading this one.

1. The Impulse

As a part of our brand building concept, I was asking people on Twitter and Instagram what is their main goal they want to achieve in 2017. I was especially encouraging them to write down those kind of goals, that seem to be too big, too difficult, too complex to even get started. Goals that make them anxious because they can’t find the spot they could make their first bite into.

I was getting loads of responses. Some of them were very humble and down to earth, some — profound and inspiring (you can see them on our Twitter Feed and Instagram page). I had a great time collecting them, engaging in the conversations with our followers, creating the images and building the brand identity.

The purpose was double sided: one was, obviously, letting people know about our platform, collecting feedback, making sure we are on the right track with our idea (it turned out many people have goals and yet there’s no a single place they can get the sensible advice on how to start — think how many great ideas never came to life because of that!).

But we also wanted to show our followers and subscribers, that we all have goals, dreams, aspirations, with which we all struggle. We wanted to inspire them, show them: “look, you are not alone, you are not crazy, and yes, you can do it!”.

The main reason why I decided to write this blog post was the conversation I had with one Instagrammer. His goal was pretty straightforward — he wanted to work for an international company as a software engineer. Pretty simple if you have decent coding skills, right?

So I started talking to him, and casually asked “so how far are you from achieving your goal?”. His response, blunt and short, surprised me. He said “I failed”.

2. “Failure”

"Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success" — excerpt from Wikipedia.

Well, that makes sense, correct? You have an objective, you try to meet it, you can’t, you fail. Right?


Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! 1000 times wrong!

Because this definition is missing one, critical factor. Time.

3. The T-Factor

Indeed, if the goal is time-sensitive, then yes, there may be such thing as failure. If you didn’t make it on time to the airport, and you missed your plane — yes, you’ve failed to catch that very plane. If your goal was to make 1 million dollars by the end of December 2016, and you missed the deadline — yes, you’ve failed to earn this amount of money is that specific time frame. If you’re a pizza delivery person and didn’t deliver the pizza in 30 minutes as per advertisement — yes, you’ve failed, and now the customer is entitled to the free pizza.

In those cases, the “failure” will have different consequences. If the plane you were trying to catch, was to take you to your best friend’s wedding in Santorini Island, you’ve lost a bit of money and maybe disappointed your friend; not earning 1 million dollars, might have weakened your confidence and will force you to postpone purchase of the things you desire; delivering pizza too late will give your company small financial loss, but surely one very happy customer. But what’s most important, none of these examples has truly catastrophic consequences.

Sure we can think of far more dramatic situations, where time-related failure can cause serious injury, death or ecological crisis. Those things unfortunately happen from time to time, making positive, motivational “you can!” quotes unbearably irritating. But since most of us don’t work as the emergency driver, surgeon or Chernobyl Reactor technician, we should have far less hazardous circumstances to handle.

If your goal does not have a time frame though — failure simply can not happen.

Let’s say your goal is to become a number one selling author. Or was, because you wake up one day at the age of 70, you look in the mirror at your wrinkled face, and realize you never achieved what you’ve planned when you were 30. Did you fail?

Let me see…

Pulse — perceptible. Pulse rate — stable. Conscious — yes.

Seems to me you’re alive. You’re reading this article. You didn’t fail. You just didn’t meet your objective. Yet.

You tried once. You tried twice. You tried 10 times. 20 times. 100 times. 10000 times maybe? Even though it didn’t work each single time, that still doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

4. Let’s go for a walk

Vladivostok  — city in the east of Russia, population — 606k people, located at the head of the Golden Horn Bay, close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. Largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean.

Lisbon  — the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with a population of 552k. Western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean.

What do those cities have in common? Absolutely nothing, apart from the fact that they are located on the total opposite sides of Eurasia. And that you can drive from one to another. Or walk. Shall we?

Vladivostok to Lisbon by foot

That is not a Photoshop, this is the real distance and real estimated walking time between Vladivostok in Russia and Lisbon in Portugal. Let's take a walk, shall we?

Approximately 13,104 kilometers and 2,663 walking hours. 111 days of non-stop walking (no sleeping, no cigarette breaks, walking 24 hours, 7 days a week). Impossible? If you want to make it in 111 days, then probably yes.

Let’s make it bit easier than. I’ll give you 8 hours of sleep a day (24 – 8 = 16hrs), and 30 minutes break every 2 hours of walking, giving total break time 6 hours a day (16 – 6 = 10hrs). Only 10 hours of walk each day. We will reach Lisbon in about 267 days. Say what? 10 hours of walking is still quite a lot? Alright, no worries, let’s take it down a notch.

4 hours a day? Can you walk for 4 hours a day? Let’s see… 666 days. Not a good number, let’s make it 5 hours a day. 533 days of walking. Less than 2 years.

Can’t make this much? Ok, how about 1 hour? 2664 days, we’ll be on the Lisbon beach in just 7 years, not too bad! Just don’t take your swimming suit with you, it might be very out of fashion by the time we’re there!

1 hour is still too much? 10 minutes a day? Great, 15984 days. 43 years and we’re there. High five!

I can go on and on, providing you with more and more, more or less sensible calculations, taking into account different weather conditions in particular geographic areas, quality of local pathways, slopes of the hills you will need to climb, seasons, that might be very different to what you’re used to experience in your homeland. But I guess you get the point.

If we think of the entire goal upfront, all the steps we will need to take, all the problems that will possibly occur, all the things we will need to sacrifice, all the circumstances we will need to face, all the difficulties we will need to handle, all the battles we will fight, often loose… Once we start to think of all that, our goal will quickly start to feel overwhelming, unachievable even. And to make it even more pessimistic — anything you can imagine could go wrong, might not even be anywhere near the real world situations, full of obstacles the most creative mind of drugs wouldn’t be able to come up with.

At that time you may as well assume, that the only way to go about your goal is to fail before you even start. But you are not reading this blog, and you’re not a member of because you want to “fail”. And I want to tell you, that in reality you can only “fail” in 1 case — your death (and even that still doesn’t mean the goal will not get achieved).

Because, if at some point during your journey from Vladivostok to Lisbon, you’ll decide to quit, because you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, sick to the bone, you miss your cozy bed and a proper shower — that’s not the failure. Not yet.

5. Pulse — perceptible. Pulse rate — stable. Conscious — yes

At any point in your life you can decide to continue your journey towards your destination. You had a moment of weakness, you stopped seeing the purpose in whatever you’re doing, you have heard too many discouraging comments from people, who never left their sofas unless the nature called them to visit the toilet, or they had to pay for home delivered double pepperoni pizza.

You decided to stop, and you called it a “failure”.

But then one day you woke up. Weather was great, birds were singing, you’ve heard some good news in the local radio, maybe watched the motivational video on YouTube, felt that great excitement going through your entire nerve system. You got all worked up and made a decision that you want to give your goal another go.

You might say “I failed once, but I’m trying again”. But I will say “You never failed, you only took a break”.

Quantum of Solace - Final Scene

The great, final scene from my favourite James Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace"

6. Unagi

Goals are often not at all easy to achieve. We create them in our minds, we fall in love with them, we visualize ourselves achieving them so vividly, that we can almost feel that excitement — which, ironically, quite often is a better feeling than the real one upon achieving the goal.

Then the reality says “check”, and it turns out, that in order to achieve our goal, we need to go through a lot of unexpected obstacles. Far more in quantity and far more complex that you’d have ever imagined.

Unagi - state of total awareness - Ross from "Friends"

Probably the most underrated character in "Friends", Ross Geller explains passionately the concept of "Unagi" (that doesn't really exist as per investigation made by bobaddict in his hilarious and informative blog post)

I personally think, that this unawareness is a great thing and serves us exceptionally well. Trying to think and work out every possible scenario that could happen, trying to master the skills to handle every possible “unexpected” difficulty, is a pure waste of time, for you simply can’t predict every outcome of every dependence between you, people you deal with, forces of nature and life circumstances.

7. How to jump between moving cars

Some time ago I saw that funny comic-style tutorial in London’s free magazine Shortlist, titled “How to jump between moving cars”. It started with the sentence: “ If you’ve ever needed to escape the clutches of a kidnapper or pursue an absconding villain by transferring from one moving car to another…”.

Shortlist is well known to have that British wit filling up each page, and nobody takes those how-to guides very seriously. At least I didn’t notice people of London, virally jumping between moving cars on their way to work, since the article was published.

But surely it wouldn’t kill to have this skill mastered, and personally I’d love to be able to perform it. Can we all think of a situation where it could be useful? Surely we do! Is it likely to happen? Most likely not. Should we learn it than?

It really is your call, but personally I wouldn’t. Even though I can imagine situations where I could use the ability to jump between moving cars, I’d rather either learn something I know I will be able to utilize (new language, fast reading, website development, long distance running), or continue my journey towards the goal, and focus on learning only the skills I will need to overcome the obstacles, that could prevent me from moving forward.

I personally stopped learning everything I believed could help me in handling most life or business situations, that will arise in the future, and focused on learning only the things I need right here, right now, mastering those skills only as deep as required. There are new books, new tutorials, new strategies, new podcasts released pretty much every day, and building your comfort bubble around “just one last book!” excuse, is very likely to keep you postponing taking the real action for months, or even years. Or forever.

8. Reframing the “Failure”

People, who believe in the concept of failure, will fail very often trying to achieve their goals. As we can see in many “war” movies, some soldiers get adrenaline kick when they are being called “useless”, “failure” or “pathetic”, but that is not a productive and healthy approach for regular people. Most of us get encouraged when our achievements and successes are appreciated, not the battles that we lost. Famous "sandwich evaluation” is a great example, that putting one slice of criticism between two slices of praise, makes the criticism easier to handle, because, from psychological point of view, the last action is the one our brain remembers most.

There are many ways in which you can reframe the concept o “failure”, so you’ll have the “permission” to do the mistakes, while staying on track towards your goal. And you might be questioning, whether that’s necessary — after all, it’s just a word, just a vocabulary, naming the same thing differently. I’d disagree on that, but even if you’re right, the choice of words you use, can play a major role in your attitude towards life, aspirations, goals. There are words that just carry the negative connotations, and even if they are the best choice to describe something, you might consider replacing them with “not-” prefix.

“Bad”, “old”, “used”, “fat”, “short”, “crooked”, “rotten”, “dirty”… I can think of a million examples when all those words are a desired adjective, describing the state of the object (food, wine, exercise, architecture…), but, in most cases, we do perceive them as something wrong.

But “not good” sounds manageable, after all although it is not good, it’s not bad either. “Not young” means you might not be able to perform as well as in your prime times, but you still can take care of yourself pretty well! “Not new” carries a hope that whatever we talk about, might still be in a pretty good shape. And so on, and so on…

So what instead of “failure”?

I. You took a break

Simply, you decided to take a cigarette break from achieving your goal. You got overwhelmed trying to achieve it, too many things to take care of, too many problems to resolve, fingers in too many pies, too many personal issues so you just couldn’t focus. Many people in the working environment, like to take a cigarette break, when the things get too complicated. That gives them the moment to reflect, allows them to look at the things from the “fresh” perspective (as ironic as the word ‘fresh” sounds when speaking of cigarettes). My friend, with whom I build , resolved probably half of the programming-problems, thinking of them on his short, cigarette breaks.

Take a break, as long as you need. Could take you 5 minutes, could take you a year. In extreme cases, break might take you longer that your life span. World is full of unfinished masterpieces. Maybe someone will achieve it for you. Just don’t call it a failure.

Sagrada Familia

Despite Antoni Gaudi's death prior to the completion of Sagrada Família, his goal eventually will be achieved. Anticipated completion date is set for 2026, the centenary of Gaudí's death

II. You have changed the direction

Sometimes, on the way towards our destination, we discover something new. New end exciting. New and inspiring. New and so absorbing, that we fall in love with it. It becomes our new passion, new obsession, new goal.

Life and internet are full of stories of people, who, at some point of their wealth-building careers, happened to experience something, that made them change their perspective, and now they are happy living in the shed somewhere in Uganda, teaching African children. Or business people who found their true happiness in parenthood, ditching their initial idea of global domination. Or people who went abroad for a one year long contract, and eventually settled down in that “temporary” destination, living happily ever after.

Did they fail? They look happy, they seem fulfilled, what do you think?

III. You have changed your mind

This one probably takes the most courage, because it requires one to admit he was wrong.

Divorce, university drop-out, closing the business, returning the product back to the shop — these are some of the examples how we can not achieve the goal and not fail at the same time.

Sometimes, very often in fact, we idealize the things we dream about. We imagine how happy we will be when they come true, how they will make our life amazing and fulfilled, how there only will be a sunshine in our lifes from that moment on. As Krishan Kalpoe put it nicely and elaborated in more depth in his blog post, you “You had the wrong expectations” right from the beginning.

Ditto. The good news though is that the closer we get, the more we realize that the rabbit we chase might not be exactly as tasty as we initially though, thus giving us time to change our minds before we waste our energy completely. And, perhaps, during the process, we might even discover something new, unexpected, different, that will give us even more fulfillment than the initial pursuit.

Marrying that one person doesn’t seem to turn the life into a fairy tale, studying economics isn’t going to replace your passion for singing, running the business you always wanted to build, is not as exciting as you imagined (this happens often especially when people think only of the benefits, forgetting about painful obligations), and you’re not smiling all the time like the hip-people from Apple’s commercials, after you’ve spend your savings on latest iPhone. And then you realize, that the goal you were trying to achieve, is nowhere near to what you have imagined. And you ditch it. And that’s the best thing to do, really.

9. Set up a deadline… NOT

I know I am going a bit against the flow here, for pretty much every motivational / goal achieving resource on the market, highlights the importance of defining the clear outcome and specific deadline. Indeed, it works, things are usually done on time when there’s a limited, specific time frame. The downside is, if they won’t work, you have failed.

Things, that can be easily measured and are easily achievable, won’t suffer from having set deadline. Sending 10 emails by the end of the day is doable, doing groceries by lunchtime — doable, finishing leaflet design for your client by Friday — doable (although giving it a bit more time probably would result in better ideas; creative work needs time to mature).

But there are things difficult to measure, and therefore deadlines are hard to set up. has made a long journey, from the initial sketch of the idea, to it’s current state. We had to design the layouts, grow user base, make the mistakes, learn from them, build the product etc. If we were to set up a deadline by which all had to be accomplished, maybe we would succeed. But more likely fall flat.

If, for example, we give ourselves the time to finish the layout design by the end of the month, but then, one of us, has some issues (not enough time for example, family problems, etc), everyone would get stressed, start to blame each other, get nervous — needles to say, that this sort of vibe does not help to build anything, and constant tension could lead to people leaving, which again could lead to us stop seeing the purpose in what we do, and eventually giving up, or, in the best case scenario, taking a long break.

We decided to give our best instead, sacrifice as much of our spare time as we can, having the ultimate goal in mind — to make your first choice when you have a goal to achieve, saving you time on searching for the right solution and preventing you from trolls, negativity and discouragement.

So be very careful when setting up a deadline, because not meeting it, will cause more bad than good. Some things are measurable, some are not — and for the latter, defined deadline is a dangerous trick that you should “handle with care”.

10. Tip of the Day

Henrik Edberg wrote a great blog post on overcoming failure. For those who disagree with my “there’s no failure” theory, or can’t just “evict” the concept of failure from their heads, I recommend you read it, some of the tips really resonate (my favorite point is no 7)!

My final tip on the topic would be this: treat every setback as a step towards your goal. It’s not a failure, it’s not a mistake, it’s just a natural, scientific process of finding the best solution.

Because just like bodybuilders, through lifting weights, damage their muscle cells in order for them to grow again, bigger and stronger, the same way you should see the process of achieving your goal. Each time you fall, you learn what caused it, you learn to fall smoother or even better — spot the obstacle before it’s too late. And perhaps, one day, while looking for the obstacles, you will spot the opportunity. Some of them grow right next to that old, thick root that sticks out of the soil, that would surely got you grounded if you were not aware of the nature of the forest you’re walking through.

11. Error 404: “Failure” not found

Just because I refuse the concept of failure, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You have my permission to make mistakes, to fall, but I will never accept not taking the action. Because there is a danger waiting for those, who get too cozy sitting in their comfort zones. Danger, that sleeps deep, when you are young, but will get very difficult to handle when you get older. Regrets.

Helen Hignett posted a great summary of most common regrets older people have to live with. It is easy to neglect them now, but, with a little bit of empathy and imagination, we can easily imagine facing them ourselves if we keep on pressing ‘sneeze’ button on our goals’ stopwatch.

The walk from Vladivostok to Lisbon will not be easy. Roads can be rocky, weather can get ugly, the hills will be sloped, you shoes my fall apart. It will be hot, it will be cold, it will be dry, it will be wet.

But it will also be fantastic. You will experience breathtaking landscapes, you will appreciate the forces of nature, you will meet wonderful, inspiring people that do not know internet even exists! You will enjoy being a human and having this human experience.

Olympus Summit

Was it easy to climb there? Not at all. Was it worth it? Absolutely Yes!

If you get tired of walking, just take a break.

If, at some point, you’ll discover the steppes of Mongolia and realize that’s the place where you want to spend the rest of your life — make it your achieved goal!

If, half way through, you’ll realize, that Lisbon is actually not at all that amazing, and you do not really want to walk there, stop, find the nearest train station and just go back home. That just wasn’t your true goal. (Disclaimer: Lisbon is amazing!)

Just don’t call it a failure. Because you can always change your mind, pack your bags, buy new shoes and get back on the trail. is built this way. Every question you ask, every answer you get, every action you take — is a step you make towards your goal. You decide where to go, and other members will help you to get there. And your journey will inspire those, who want to achieve similar thing in life.

Lao Tzu, a great Chinese philosopher, said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Make your first step, sign up to now and the next steps are on us!

If you liked this blog post, please share it so it'll reach and help more people.

Share or Twitter | Share on Facebook | Share on Google+

← Back to Blog

RSS Feed




Latest Posts