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Failure. It is real or all in our heads?

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Recent events in my life have caused me to think a lot about the concepts if success and failure.  As in – what, exactly, makes something a success and what makes it a failure?

Websters dictionary defines a failure as “a failing to perform a duty or expected action” or “a lack of success” or “a falling short” or “one that has failed.”

Huh. Interesting.  An ACTION can be a failure – but so can a PERSON.  That’s a heavy word.  No one likes to think of THEMSELVES as a failure.  It is a soul crushing belief.  It has multiple implications on future success.  If one thinks of themself as a failure, they will begin to think that it is no point to try again, because THEY will continue to fail.  NOT that they failed to achieve the expected outcome.

So, the question is,  am I a failure if the expected outcome has fallen short?

Well, then what about success?  Can something that fell short of the expected outcome be considered a success?

Webster’s defines a success as “favorable or desired outcome” or “a person who is successful.” The antonym of FAILURE.

Sounds like it’s not possible for a failure to be a success.

We are taught that we learn from our mistakes.  That analyzing what we have done wrong will help us to do things differently in the future.  Differently – NOT better.

I tell my students that all the time.  Particularly in Math.  When they have solved a problem incorrectly, I have them go back and analyze where they went wrong.  Was it that they didn’t understand the process and got it completely screwed up?  Or did they make a SSSM?  A Simple, Stupid, Sloppy Mistake.  Like getting a multiplication fact wrong.  However, sometimes, they can’t find the problem.  Sometimes I have to show it to them.  Sometimes, I have to teach the skill over again because they didn’t “get it” the first time.  Sometimes they continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over again – either the SSSMs or the great big wrong process issues.

The purpose of having them do this is so that HOPEFULLY they will apply that knowledge on the next assignment and stop making the same mistake – thus turning a failure into a success.

But, unlike Math, life doesn’t always have right answer.  Sometimes what we think the expected outcome SHOULD be isn’t how it turns out.  Does that make us a failure?  Better yet, can we be a success when the ACTION failed to reach the expected outcome?

I think we can.  It’s all about rearranging your thoughts.

It’s all about deciding to give yourself the permission to make mistakes.

It’s all about learning from those mistakes to avoid making them again.

It’s all about paying attention to the Simple, Stupid, Sloppy Mistakes.

It’s all about forgiving ourselves for not meeting the expected outcome and instead asking ourselves if instead the expected outcome was unrealistic.

It’s all about believing that WE are a success even in the outcome wasn’t.


If only it were that easy…


About Susan D.

Single mother of three. Teacher. Amateur Jewelry Designer. Singer. Hack writer. Trying to keep sane - as well as I can.

4 responses »

  1. I get it! But how about revising SSSM to Simple Silly Sloppy Mistakes? I don’t like putting stupid into the monologue/dialogue about me, my friends, my kids, my coworkers.

    • Actually, the phrase came about from “reframing” student comments after making mistakes. I had a student who would refer to themself as “stupid” when they made mistakes. Or when they would say “This is so stupid.” I started referring to the MISTAKE as stupid. Then turning it into “It was a Simple, Stupid, Sloppy Mistake. You understand the process, you simply forgot to add the one. No biggie.” Most of the time, it is simply referred to as an SSSM. I’ll even say, “What happened here?” and they will reply, “It’s a SSSM!” In life we make A LOT of SSSMs, not just in math, but in the little things (turned off the alarm, forgot a birthday, made a wrong turn) and we become SO HARD on ourselves. We beat ourselves up for the little things. It kinda helps to think “Doh! That was a SSSM! Now, how to fix it?!”

      • I understand & appreciate your reasoning I just dislike kids or adults attaching the word stupid to describe themselves or others.

        • I can appreciate that. Unfortunately, that word is such a part of their lexicon that it is hard to shake it.

          The point, however, is that we need to focus on whether it was that we got the whole process wrong – or if we made one small error. More so in our lives than simply in education. A “failed” relationship isn’t necessariy a failure if we have succeeded in remaining in one anothers lives. It’s not a failure if we have learned from the mistakes we made and can apply it for the next time. It’s not a failure if we can reframe it and see it as a success, just with a different expected outcome.


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