The news that Wimbledon High School for Girls, one of the country’s top independent schools, is holding a Failure Week brings neatly into focus what many of us feel about failure. It has a knack of hanging around in our minds far more than do our successes. And many of us see failure only in negative terms.

Yet, without failure as a comparison, how would we know what success was? And if we didn’t, as the school suggests we should, take calculated risks would we spend our lives wishing we had done differently, hearing that persistent internal refrain if only echoing in our ears?

Building resilience “which includes developing a way of managing our feelings about failure“ is an essential life skill. Everyone is likely to face numerous setbacks and knocks in their personal and professional lives “in families, amongst friends or in business relationships“ which affect not only those relationships but also their behaviour, self-esteem and confidence. Their feelings about failure might also cause anxiety, worry or depression; it might increase their fears; or lead to irritability, mood swings or insomnia.

What would happen, though, if you were to reframe failure, or setbacks, as feedback? You tried something; it didn’t go as hoped; the result was that you learned why it didn’t work gaining valuable insights that can guide you towards approaching challenges differently. Looking at some simple examples:

  • at school: not passing an exam also indicates what you are better at or that one way of revising is better than another;
  • at home: not achieving everything on your weekend to-do list could be a sign that some things are unimportant and should rightfully be dropped;
  • at work: not winning new business or losing a client provides a chance to identify strengths, show where training would reduce weaknesses, improve internal processes, or build dynamic teams.

As the headmistress of Wimbledon High School says, it is “acceptable, and completely normal, not to succeed at times in life.” She wants to encourage her pupils to be courageous and learn the positives that come from failures.

We agree. Many people define themselves by their perceived failures rather than viewing them simply as part of life’s learning or refining process. By actively encouraging people to see their failures differently, whether at school, at home or at work, they might be able to expand their capacity for growth and resilience instead of being limiting by the negatives.

If you would like to learn how to build resilience, through counselling or therapy, so you can face failure from a different viewpoint, do get in touch.