Fail

In 2002, I started a blog about dreams and dream science. It eventually failed.

In 2004, I started a blog about sports. It eventually failed.

In 2005, I started a blog about parenting. It eventually failed.

In 2006, I started a blog about personal finance. It succeeded, largely on the lessons learned from the failures.

* * *

Let’s start again.

In 1996, I started dating a girl that seemed interesting to me. It eventually failed.

In early 1997, I started dating a girl that seemed interesting to me. It eventually failed.

Later in 1997, I started dating Sarah. She eventually became my wife.

* * *

Are we seeing a theme yet?

In 1996, I went to college majoring in English. I failed and changed majors.

In 1997, I started majoring in mathematics. I failed and changed majors (though I came close to a minor in this subject).

Later in 1997, I started majoring in the life sciences. I largely felt this was a failure, too, though I did wind up eventually accumulating enough credits for a degree.

In 1999, I started majoring in computer science. I ended up graduating with this as my primary major.

* * *

Let’s try this one more time.

In 1994, I wrote a novel. When I was finished with it, I realized it was trash.

In 1997, I wrote another novel. When I was finished with it, I realized it was trash.

In 2002, I wrote another novel. I tried to get this one published. I accumulated a giant pile of rejection letters and one vague nibble. I eventually decided this novel was trash, too.

In 2005, I wrote another novel. When I was finished with it, I realized it was trash.

In 2008 and 2010, I was able to get personal finance books published.

In 2012, I’m going to give a novel another shot, from a platform of success in a similar area and a history of failure in fiction.

* * *

What do each of these stories have in common? They involve failure. Lots of failure. They involve mistakes, mis-steps, stupid moves, and mediocrity.

Yet, through repeatedly failing, I learned some things. I learned what pieces were bringing on failure as well as what pieces I was doing right.

Every time I’ve failed (at least in adulthood), I’ve tried to figure out why I’ve failed. What things did I do wrong? What things did I not account for?

One thing I did not do is blame others for my failure. That’s an incredibly easy trap to fall into because it lets you off the hook from admitting you did anything wrong. Whenever you fail, you always did something wrong. If nothing else, you relied on someone else too much, someone who let you down!

Often, when you figure out what you did wrong, you have an exact recipe for improving yourself. The mistake you made tells you what you need to do to get it right the next time.

Every single one of us has failed at something – and is going to fail at something. We’re going to overspend. We’re going to make a career mis-step. We’re going to write a novel and have no one ever want to buy it. We’re going to destroy a friendship over something silly.

The question is whether or not we’re going to learn anything from that failure.

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  1. kc says:

    “I started dating a girl that seemed interesting to me. It eventually failed.”

    You make it sound so romantic!

  2. Julie says:

    Is a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage a failure? I dated my ex for four years. We moved over a thousand miles together, and we experienced a lot of changes together. I don’t look at it as a failure.

  3. Melinda says:

    Love the simplicity of this post. Happy holidays, Trent and family.

  4. SwingCheese says:

    Julie, I see what you’re saying. No, I don’t think that a relationship is a “failure” if it doesn’t end in marriage. I think that the idea here is to take the lessons learned from relationships that ended and apply them to the relationships (romantic, family, and friendships) that don’t. But, if you’re looking to have a marriage as a goal, then I suppose, yes, a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage is a “failure”, but not as in a waste of time, more as in it didn’t meet the end goal. :)

  5. Brett says:

    I had a similar experience today:

    5am – Alarm went off to wake me up and work out. It failed.
    530am – Alarm went off again to get my lazy butt out of bed and into the gym. it failed.
    745am – My wife shakes me awake and tells me that I’m going to be late for work. Success!

    I think my lesson is that all my successes come after two failures. (lol)

  6. kristine says:

    Sometimes you just change your mind. I don’t see changing college majors as equivalent to failure, unless you actually accumulated a failing GPA- pretty hard to do! I see it as making a growth-based decision based on learning and experience. (I never changed my major- just sayin.) I just do not see the world in black and white terms.

  7. justin says:

    working hard on new content since someone bought your blog, Fail.

  8. Lesley says:

    I agree with Kristine. I changed majors in college and I actually count that as a major success in my life–I realized that I lacked the talent and drive to follow one path, and chose to follow another that ultimately made me much happier. And I was on the dean’s list when I switched. It was vital to me that I not look at this as failure. It was a conscious decision.
    I also agree with Julie.
    I don’t think life is pass/fail. I think we learn as we go along. We can also learn from our failures, indeed, but that’s a seperate lesson.

  9. Johanna says:

    I hope that one of the lessons you’ve learned from your experience writing novels is how to recognize whether a novel is going to turn out to be trash before you’ve finished writing it. Because otherwise, that sounds like a lot of time invested without much to show for it.

  10. Adam P says:

    Some of my biggest “failures” have turned out to be successes in hindsite because they put me where I am today (happy, stable, etc.)

    Seeing the world in black and white pass/fail like this is troubling.

    Sara and you may someday divorce, that would be a “fail” but you’d still have your time together and adorable kids from this experience which is beyond measure a success.

  11. jim says:

    Trent isn’t saying that if you don’t hit his specified level of success that you’re a failure. There are different measures and levels of success or failure and different people have different goals.

  12. Mister E says:

    If you set a goal for yourself and you don’t achieve that goal, for whatever reason, then you have failed to achieve your goal.

    It may be for a perfectly legitimate reason, and in the long run it could most certainly be for the best, but it is still in a very real way a failure. A failure to achieve a goal that you set for yourself.

    If you go to college with a goal of majoring in English and you do anything other than graduate as an English major then you have failed in that goal.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I think that the point.

  13. Riki says:

    I think there’s a difference between “failing to reach a goal” and “changing a goal” — it’s subtle, but important.

  14. Evita says:

    How can a blog fail ? someone please explain !

  15. lurker carl says:

    Failure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  16. Michael says:

    Evita, he means either the blog was not attracting much readership and he decided to stop working on it, or something forced him to stop writing it. For example, I believe Trent stopped the parenting blog because he received some threats or unwanted attention directed toward his children.

  17. steve in w ma says:

    It’s not the failure, it’s the effort. There’s nothing golden whatsoever about failure per se. It’s the consistent effort that moves one towards success, and without which there cannot be success.

  18. David says:

    @#9 Johanna – Here is what I don’t get. You seem to find little if any value in this blog–all your comments are generally pedantic at best and snarky & disparaging at worst. And you comment on just about every other article. Which suggests you are a regular reader? If you hate this place so much, why do you keep coming back? I am seriously asking for an explanation.

  19. AnnJo says:

    @18, David,
    I may disagree with Johanna’s politics, but her understanding of finance and taxation issues is far superior to Trent’s and it’s a needed counterpoint to some of his less well-researched advice. Some people read this blog because they want to develop their knowledge in those areas; in many cases, they’ll learn as much or more from the comments as from the original post.

  20. Michael says:

    Johanna and lurker carl for president.

  21. justin says:

    @david, i agree, i would also like to know

  22. Mark says:

    One common theme in many posts seems to be ‘I don’t see X as failure’, I learned stuff from it and it was valuable to me as an experience. I believe this is Trent’s point, referring to these things as failure is simply to say that we were going down a path that had a naturally recognized endpoint and we did not get there. The sad reality is that many folks do look at experiences like these as failure, int the true, harsh sense of the term, and it inhibits and shapes the rest of their lives.

  23. deRuiter says:

    “….I started dating a girl that was interesting to me.” “who”, not “that.” Think what success would be available to a writer who learned proper grammar and used spell check!!!!!!

  24. Ali Manning says:

    Thanks for the fabulous post and the great reminder to learn from our failures. Perfect timing as I get ready to write down my goals for 2012.

  25. Skirnir Hamilton says:

    What I would find more helpful is what are we to learn from our failures? (If we must call them failures, which yes, I would prefer not.) IE sometimes things don’t workout and it has little to do with us or us failing at something. It is just life and it is time to move on.

    My problem is that I see something not work out and I do wonder if I did something wrong. How do we figure out what cause the failure? Us, the universe, just a natural occurance? I can’t just dwell on past failures and rarely do I think we figure out what caused the “failure” but maybe that is just me not figuring out my failures.

  26. tentaculistic says:

    Very useful post – I tend to get discouraged by my own perceptions or projections of failure, and while that often benefits me by keeping me working hard to avoid screwing up, its flip side is anxiety and fear of starting new things. This is a good reminder to breathe – “failing” is ok, and often we learn as much from failure as from success.

    Actually, when I worked in special education, I was so very thankful for my own failure in school. School has always come easily to me, except in languages – and one language in particular was *impossible* to learn. I would work so hard, and still be so far behind – I’d leave class angry, defeated, and feeling stupid. And this is someone with a solid self-esteem in school! Later on this experience was one I remembered over and over, realizing it was just a small taste of the struggle – to learn and to keep up self respect – that people with learning disabilities face every day. I am so very thankful for that failure, since I think it helped me so much later. It’s funny how often failure is turned on its head into success, with the right atttitude… not to get too Hallmark here :)

  27. MattJ says:

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    I put a link in my response to David #18, so it may take a while for it to appear. For the web-savvy, the link is to XKCD comic #386, which may give him a clue why people who might disagree with Trent (including myself) may continue to appear here.

  28. Johanna says:

    It’s so cute that you think there’s anyone in the world who hasn’t seen that xkcd strip already.

  29. AnnJo says:

    I hadn’t. Spot on, MattJ.

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