No Failure, Only Feedback

by Michael Plank

Imagine that it’s 40,000 years ago. You and your friends grab your spears and journey out of your caves to hunt and gather and feed your small band of humans. Along the way, you stop to pick some berries. You set down your spear and step a little deeper into the bushes, picking ripe, juicy berries as you go. All of a sudden you hear a growl and look up to lock eyes with a saber-toothed cat. It starts to walk menacingly toward you and you pick up a rock and shout and throw the rock and hit the cat square between the eyes… but it keeps coming.

Now… do you hang your head in shame? Do you kick the dust and start thinking about what a dumb idea it was to use a rock? About what an unworthy idiot you are who can’t do anything right? Do you think that you might as well just give up since you failed so miserably to scare away the predator?


Do you say to yourself, “F! That didn’t work!” and then look around for your spear, or your friends, or some cover, or anything else?

If you imagined yourself making it out of that situation, I’m guessing you went with Option 2.

But so often, that’s not what we do when we’re in regular, every day situations. When we try something and it doesn’t work, instead of saying “Huh. That didn’t work. Let me try something else.” We apply deep judgment to the fact that a thing didn’t work, and then we tell ourselves stories about what that means about who we are as people.

But there’s no failure. Not in the judgment-laden, shame-inducing way we think about it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that that kind of failure exists, but only in our minds.

There’s no failure. There’s only feedback. So if what you tried didn’t work, acknowledge it, dust yourself off, and try something else.