Re-framing Failure: Learning from your losses

We can all learn something from our losses. Some of you may remember Yoda saying on Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.

Somehow, Yoda finds himself explaining how failure is a characteristic that often differentiates a beginner from a master. There just might be something to that notion, however.

Aside from being a martial arts instructor, I run a tutoring center at a college and I also help with advising and general life questions. Many of the students with whom I work face challenges from inside the classroom and out. Sadly, many grew up in the No Child Left Behind era education system and have never been allowed to fail at anything. They have been awarded passing grades on tests and participation trophies, including a high school diploma, just for showing up.

I have counseled numerous students on the brink of quitting college or other ventures because of setbacks or bumps in the road. It makes me think of the lyrics in a Blackberry Smoke song, “You may not have the winning hand, but you ain’t got to fold.”

I often use economics to explain one way of looking at how to turn failure into success. How do businesses get better at business? Staying in it longer.

If I want to turn a short-run loss into a long-run success, I have to do a few things.


First, get through the short run. For some of my students, it might mean sticking out the semester or the next term. You have to understand that temporary problems don’t warrant permanent solutions. Get through this hurdle, re-evaluate your goals, and get back on the track.

Pay Attention

The second thing I need to accomplish is to learn from past failures. In economics, this process is called economies of scale. As a business stays and adapts, it betters itself through specialization (gets better at a particular task or objective), and it gains better buying power through profit maximization and networking. Take note of what went right and what went wrong. Then use that information to adjust your focus and energy.

Near the end of Nassim Taleb’s book, Skin in the Game, he mentions the idea of getting better at a task or objective by making small errors (hearkening back to his book Antifragile). He says, “making some types of errors is the most rational thing to do, when the errors are of little cost, as they lead to discoveries.”

If we take small chances, we build our requisite knowledge for bigger tasks. For my students, failing a test can be a game-stopper or a game-changer. If they go back to the drawing board, study harder, and stay the course, the failure becomes the catalyst for success.

I will leave you with wise words from a mentor of mine, Dr. Saundra McGuire. She once told me, “Honey, stumbling blocks and stepping stones look the same. It’s what we do with them that makes the difference.”

What little failures of yours can become big successes if you utilize them correctly?


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

A version of this article was originally posted on my personal blog, You can find me on Instagram @thephilosophicalfighter.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to share.

12 thoughts on “Re-framing Failure: Learning from your losses

  1. Great blog! I see failure as feedback and opportunities. I don’t always remember that at the time of the fiasco but try to always look for the good in the seemingly bad and also the seemingly good. Often when failure occurs it brings about others who can help although it is hard to accept help. Yoda was indeed full of wisdom. My favorite quote is “around the survivors, a perimeter create” . I love it because of using a preposition first and also his quick orders to protect the survivors.

    1. That’s a great Yoda quote. And you are correct that seeing failure as a positive thing is often an afterthought. But, that’s one way to learn effectively. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Very Growth Mindset! Thank you for this writing Philosophical Fighter. I’m reminded of when the comedian George Carlin said something like, “if my goals is to fail and I succeed, which have I done?”

  3. I enjoyed reading the insights of this blog. I agree mistakes are a great teacher, especially if they are painful, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Have you ever checked out Paul Chek? I think you’d enjoy him!

    1. I have not read anything by Paul Chek. I’ll add him to my list of folks to check out though. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Great blog. I’m all about growing from failure, as I was dubbed the “failure” of my family. My mother used an infamous quote to define me, “time will tell.” Well time has told, and at 35 I am finally back in school, working full-time, and going on adventures!

    1. It’s never too late to learn. I am going back to school myself at almost 40. Best of luck in your adventures.

  5. Wow–great post; thank you for sharing with us! I loved this: “failing a test can be a game-stopper or a game-changer.” So relevant!

    1. I failed a math test in college, which led me to the Tutoring Center. I later became a tutor, and now I am the coordinator of tutoring services. A little failure goes a long way sometimes. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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