A Successful Failure

Michele Ponzelli (ESR12)

Whether you are a researcher or not, you have, at least once in your life, experienced what it means to fail and how it feels like. Fail an experiment, fail an activity, fail to meet a deadline, etc.

That feeling of misery, of the world collapsing, of plans breaking, that desire to let everything behind.

How to deal with it?

How to change the sense of anger and frustration into something positive?

This energy must be transformed into something actionable.

First of all, do not feel discouraged, do not let frustration take over.

But how do you really change your point of view on failure?

Have you ever found yourself wondering what actually works?

It works to be yourself. It works to go beyond our prejudices and models imposed by our family or our daily social sphere.

Falling off the bike when we were children is something we all experienced. But why, despite the peeled knee, our morale didn’t drop? What gave us the strength to try again and to keep our weight balanced differently while cycling?

Because we imagined the joy, the fulfillment, the freedom that we would have felt in succeeding.

Whizzing in front of the house and feeling that sensation of speed throughout all our body. Feeling, in our own way, adults because we could also ride a bike without the training wheels.

The emotional tension caused by succeeding was much higher than the endless and miserable falls.

So how to learn to fail?

Failure is just our expectation that we have not achieved. It is the disappointment that can either take away our emotional energy or charge us with anger.

When we fail, we can only change our approach because encountering obstacles means we are on the right path.

In research, failure is commonplace: only 10% of the things you had planned will be successful. The remaining 90% is an uncalibrated instrument, a missing pipette, a machine that stops working, an unforeseen weather event, the repetition of the entire experiment from scratch because you missed the first step. Doing research means living with failure, with uncertainty.

Failure will always be something to avoid, but we can learn a lot from it, especially about ourselves. Those who are perfectionists will have a hard life.

Failure will only be non-success if our approach to the event will be so. The event that went wrong and that we consider as our failure is a wake-up call on how we interact with events. Our reaction to the event will determine whether it is a failure or not.

Let’s not stop and keep going.

Image source: https://it.freepik.com/foto/affari