Failure is Life’s Greatest Teacher


“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” is how the saying goes. Failure is probably one of the aspects in life most people are afraid of. But the truth is: everyone has failed, and everyone will fail again. We sometimes forget that all successful people have failed, but they did not give up.

Our society doesn’t reward defeat, and you won’t find many failures documented in history books. However, the exceptions are those failures that become steppingstones to later success. Such is the case with Thomas Edison, whose most memorable invention was the light bulb, which supposedly took him 1,000 tries before he developed a successful prototype. “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” a reporter asked. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times,” Edison responded. “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Throughout my time in education whether in Ireland, England or GCC, there has been a persistent fear of failure and a stigma attached to the word “failure”. Students fear failing tests and teachers fear students failing under their care. This is a mindset that we as educators and parents need to change. The world may have been a very dark place if Thomas Edison had given up after 100 failed attempts to invent the light bulb.

Author Carol Dweck’s work on the ‘growth mindset’ highlights the importance of overcoming obstacles by learning from mistakes to avoid repeating them. According to Dweck, students with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through hard work, persistence and dedication — they feel encouraged to take risks and not cower away from failure, but instead see it as necessary to success.

Now, let me be clear, in no way am I saying that it is OK to accept failure and do nothing. As an educator and developer of young minds, what I love to see, is a student trying something that is difficult, outside of their comfort zone and pushing themselves beyond their limits. Should they not get it quite right, they have the confidence to try again, until they get it right, just like Thomas Edison. They don’t give up or expect someone else to correct it for them. This is something that we as educators and parents need to encourage both in school and at home. This is how failure becomes life’s greatest teacher.

With that in mind, I will leave you with some comments from some well-known successful people, who share the same ideas as me.  

  • “When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres
  • “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
  • “Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling