Does ‘failure’ really exist?

What exactly is ‘failure’? Most dictionaries define failure as the lack of success. We define success. It is a goal which we wish to achieve. It could be getting a centum in the math exam or following a strict diet. So, when we do not achieve these self-defined goals, we say that we have failed in our task.

Let us take the examples of two students ‘A’ and ‘B’. Both are appearing for the same exam with different aims and different levels of preparation.

Lets say that ‘B’ is aiming to pass. He  has studied 40 percent of the syllabus and has practiced all possible types of questions related to that portion to make sure that he doesn’t face a new problem related to that 40 percent of the syllabus in the exam. In the end he scores 40, the number required to pass. ‘A’ believes that he has studied everything and is aiming for a perfect score. ‘A’ has practiced like ‘B’ covering almost the entire syllabus but he is not as comfortable with one chapter which leads to the loss of 3 marks. So although ‘A’ might take solace from being the topper, he has failed in his goal which was to score 100, while B has succeeded in achieving his goal of passing.

Clearly, ‘B’ has made sure that he would not fail while ‘A’ had jeopardized his chances of getting a perfect score by not preparing as hard on one chapter as he did for the others.

Before setting out to achieve our goals we often believe that we have met the prerequisite conditions to achieve it but may later end up failing. This is because those prerequisite conditions are set by us. Have we really included the solutions to all possible difficulties in it like the student ‘B’? If we haven’t done so we mostly end up ‘ failing’.( I say ‘mostly’ because you never know when lady luck can hit you )

So if we have met all those prerequisite conditions where is the question of failure?  If we make every single adjustment and be prepared for all the difficulties which may arise during our quest to achieve that goal, we will never fail. But if we have not met those prerequisite conditions, then is it fair to expect to succeed? Shouldn’t the student ‘A’ be expecting to score 97 instead of 100?

What I’m trying to say is that ‘Failure’ is a type of perception. It arises when there is a mismatch  between our definition of success and our level of preparation. For when we have not prepared ourselves entirely, we may not succeed as we haven’t achieved the goal set by us, but we do achieve something which is proportional to our level of preparation. If the student ‘A’ had aims of scoring 97, he would have succeeded as his definition of success and his level of preparation would have matched.

So when a person believes that he has ‘failed’, it actually means that he has succeeded with some other definition of success and not the one he wished for.

(P.S- This is a very complex philosophical post where I have tried my best to express my belief. You may not understand this post or disagree with me. In any case, please do leave a comment. )



  1. On the other hand ,even if A had taken care of all possible factors and prepared 100% , there may be negative factors beyond his scope of control.What if the examiner doesn’t correct properly ? what if they lose some of his answer leaflets ?
    Has he failed?

  2. Exams are conducted for a curriculam and specified syllabus are prescribed and students are expected to learn and yardstick is given for succesding the levels of preparation the student has undergone. If they don’t achieve the level of competance prescribed failure is definite. I would recall the great advice by dr Abdul kalaam in this context for the students. Always aim high then aquire knowledge hard work and perseverance to reach the aim. You will enjoy the happiness of success every stage. as human beings are not perfect and as you have told in your earlier blog that practice makes a man perfect. Failure is a stepping zone to success and failure makes you think and introspect to attain the lacking and work on that lacking. So what I mean to say is always set the yardstick of success at high levels then only you work hard and aquire knowledge and reach the desired result of success.

  3. Wow such thought processes .

    Yes, success/failure is a relative term. it is specific for every single person. that is why I believe and also preach that one has to ask oneself whether what one has done to the best of their ability. Pat yourself if u do a good job and u need not wait for others to applaud u. If u have not fared well find answers as rightly commented by PVV. The 97 % fellow may still consider himself successful since he had come very near to 100%. and the 40% fellow may think ‘if only i had prepared better i would have got 50%’. Everything is a ‘state of mind’.

  4. Interesting , by actually fine tuning expectations a failure can be converted to a success or vice versa. The more important thing is to track whether 40 percenter has revised his target upwards or the 97 percenter revised his targets lower subsequently. The 4 minute running record may never be broken in this case. That is why I maintain your true goal is the absolute not the relative. Relative goal gives you short term success, it is absolute that gives you satisfaction – increasing the absolute is perhaps true success. Most mountaineers can be happy climbing the tallest mountain in their local geography but some come to conquer Everest. Then some set the fastest climb record and was happy until some one set it without oxygen… Then age, then physically challenged, then who knows perhaps the blind as well…

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