Overcoming fear of failure

Chapel sermon by Dion Xue, Ben Scanlon and Gustav Jooste —

Why we shouldn’t fear failure

Should we fear failure? Simple answer: no. I myself have had my fair share of failures and I'll admit a few times I’ve wanted to quit and a couple times I have. So the message I want to leave for you tonight is that you shouldn’t fear failure, because it is such an important step towards success.

An example I’m going to use is the company SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk. Now quick brief about them: SpaceX is an American company started by Elon Musk. While they’re working with NASA to send payloads to the International Space Station, their main goal is to start a small colony on Mars.

The reason I chose SpaceX as an example for failure, is that SpaceX went through copious amounts of failures, and now, they are one of the leading space companies out there. How much have they failed? 2006 first launch, exploded; 2007 second launch, exploded; 2008 third rocket with NASA payload, exploded; 2013, 2015 and 2016 launches all failed; while in 2008 both SpaceX and Tesla (both owned by Musk) almost going bankrupt until a rocket that was almost completely funded by Musk himself, was their first success in 2010.

However, after all this failure and SpaceX is still making history today. Just a couple of months ago the world’s first ever “recycled” rocket launched and landed safely, making this an important checkpoint in the goal to cheaper space travel and further plans to go to Mars.

If that doesn’t convince you, here‘s a couple of sport related examples that may be more relatable:

  • Michael Jordan, possibly one of the world’s best basketball players, but did you know he was cut from his high school basketball team for being too short? Hard to believe, but most people would be too afraid to try and carry on after that.
  • Babe Ruth, world renowned baseball player in America who had the third best home run record, but did you know for a long time he had the record for most strikeouts?

So failure after failure, these three men have still succeeded in their chosen professions, and you may ask, how is that? Elon Musk’s first three rockets exploded before finally a successful one launched. To most people that would be where they realise it’s time to throw in the towel and call it a day. However, it’s how these men chose to learn from these failures, and instead use them as a learning curve to help them better succeed in the future.

So, we all fear failure, we don’t want it, and that’s natural, all the work we put into something, then when we don’t succeed, we choke and we start to slow down. However that shouldn’t be the case. Sure the concept of failure isn’t great - so I urge you, next time you fail, stop for a moment, and think about what went wrong, and how you can avoid mistakes such as this next time. Because when one realises that failing is a part of success, is when they achieve their full potential, that's when success is closer than ever.

Dealing with Failure

How do we prevent failure? The simple answer is that we can’t. Failure is going to happen whether we want it to or not, it's a part of life. So how do we deal with it?

There is this perspective of society to reject those who are going through failure. That anything they do must be worth less than the person next to them. I can't say I haven't fallen into this perspective before, so when I say this I don't mean to be hypocritical, but to open a conversation on our views on failure as a whole.

A close friend came to me one day, we sat down and talked. They explained why I kept on failing at many aspects of life. They spoke about something that changed my perspective on how we should perceive failure. “Failure is not a barrier preventing you from things. It is a wakeup call to motivate you, to make you be the better you.

You need to get to a point where you know what you did was wrong and be confident you will get it right next time. This can be the most simple but challenging part on dealing with failings. Most people skip taking the time to understand what really caused this interruption to their goal. It could be looked upon like a ref of a sports game, you could get called up for something. It doesn't mean you lost the game, but instead a notice that “something's not right, please fix it”. Yes you know you did wrong, but in order to prevent it happening again in the future, you must understand why you have been stopped; why that ref blew that whistle on you. If you can understand why and how you were greeted with failure, you can then move onto dealing with the consequences.

The word consequence is often looked upon as “make up for” when I believe it should be what you do to improve the problem and surpass the challenge.

Disappointment is one of the worst and most common things to take from failure, but is also often necessary as it adds a motivational aspect to do it right next time and push for higher standards or goals.

No one is perfect. We try so hard to be sometimes. Failure is okay. If you want to look at something you messed up like an internal for example, it’s ok to be sad, or to smile and dismiss it so you won’t get caught up in it. We all deal with it differently.

So how do we deal with failure? You've identified what the problem was, you know what you need to do to make it better or fix it so why is the problem still present? My close friend reinforced to me that actions speak louder than words. That just telling everyone you're going to fix everything won't cut it. They went on to further explain in very basic form. “It's like when you want to hang with some mates. You may talk to them and organise it, even show off to everyone how cool it's going to be, but you actually have to do it.


Success is the flip side of the coin. The end we all strive for, and the result of our efforts. A fairly basic concept, and at first, seemingly quite the opposite to failure. This said, while thinking on the topic, I have found that it is important to understand the definition of “success”. According to the oxford dictionary, it is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. This makes sense, although personally, and especially on a larger scale, I have my own definition of success. I define success as the feeling of contentedness, freedom and happiness. Without them, I could never say that I am “successful” and therefore, they form the definition of the word for me. I understand that this will be different for everyone. However, ultimately, I do not believe that the achievement of an aim alone can constitute success.

Success is the thing we all strive for, on a fundamental level. Even animals desire to be successful, but for them, success is most likely about survival, which can be said about humans as well. However, we have a number of other goals that we hope to achieve. These goals end up forming us as people, and to achieve them, we are tested through failure. This is something that I have come to realise in my first year of NCEA. Personally, I have found that while succeeding without any extra effort is possible, you aren’t doing yourself any favours. Test yourself. Allow yourself to fail, and learn from those experiences, and by doing this, I found far more success.

But success doesn’t stop there, and nor does failure. It never does. We keep moving, and so do our goals and aspirations. We never stop dreaming, and we never stop succeeding, no matter how small the task. And along with this comes failure. Which again, is supposed to be “the flip side of the coin”. However, when thinking about it like this, it starts to sound fairly synonymous.

When we are able to call ourselves successful, where will we be? Where do you picture yourself? The head of a large company? A movie star? Or a parent? Regardless, I believe that you will never be able to call yourself successful in an instant. Nothing that you will ever do will cause you to be successful. But one day, maybe you can look back, and think of the challenges you have faced and overcome, and then, you can call yourself successful. Success is by no means how far you’ve come, but the multitude of failures you’ve overcome to get there. And this is why failure is such an important part of that.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm” - Winston Churchill, just something to ponder over when you have some time to think. 

Sermon by Dion Xue, Ben Scanlon and Gustav Jooste -  Sunday, 5th August