What Have You Failed At Recently?

Learning in the Open and Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, tells the story of a question her father asked her when she was a child. He would sit down with her and ask her, “What did you fail at this week?”

Sara was expected to try something new, and to fail in some way. And then they celebrated that failure.

It wasn’t about failing, but about pushing past her current limits and learning something new. That helped her when bigger challenges came, and eventually helped her form a multi-billion dollar company.


My kids have recently learned to ride bikes. They, like me, expected to hop on their bikes and ride without any problems. When they tipped over, they were frustrated. When it took practice to balance, start, and stop. But they practiced (extensively) until they were able to ride nearly flawlessly. It took practice, time, and effort.

Failure is part of everything we do. We stink at things when we start. But we seem to have the expectation that we will be good at everything, regardless of when we started. Whether that is riding a bike, talking to people, or leading a team. Few (if any) of us are born with such innate talents that we don’t need to hone and refine them.

Even fundamental actions take practice. Which is why we need to get over our fear of failure. It’s not easy. But we need to give ourselves persmission to suck at things.

You can’t become an artist without drawing and painting. And your first attempts will be shitty. You can’t get good at speaking in front of people without speaking in front of people. And the first few times will probably be rocky.

How To Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes (article) - First, don’t be ashamed of your fear. It’s natural, and not something to be ashamed of. Second, focus on your process. You can’t control the outcomes, but you can control your process, so make progress on that. Finally, keep your eyes open. Don’t just focus on potential mistakes, but broaden your view of all the possibilities that lay before you.

How To Conquer the Fear of Failure (article) - Remember that you are not your failures. Separate what you do from who you are. Learn and build from each experience. Like Edison may have said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just discovered a thousand ways that don’t work.”

Failure is an Option (podcast) - At Google X, they celebrate failure. They are taking moonshots, trying to do the near impossible. Some of the projects work out, most don’t. So failing is expected. When they determine that a project isn’t going to work, they learn the lessons, pivot, or shut it down.

Failure is Essential for Learning (article) - We learn more from our failures than our successes. Because we’re pushing boundaries more when we fail than when we succeed. So we have the opportunity to learn more. How can we incorporate more of that into our learning more regularly?

Being a Noob (article) - We don’t like to feel like noobs. It cuts against our evolution. But it means we’re growing. We’re pushing outside of our comfort zone.

Other Good Reads, Listens & Videos

Half of Americans over 18 Have Received at Least 1 Vaccine Shot (article) - Amazing that we’ve moved so quickly. After so many issues early in the pandemic, the US has done well with vaccine distribution.

Email is Making us Miserable (podcast) - Email wasn’t made for collaboration like we use it. And we weren’t designed as humans to be constantly “in contact”. We need to disconnect, and email (and Slack and everything else) makes that really difficult.