It’s time to talk about the F word

During the week I work in our local high school. My role is to befriend students, listen to them, give them advice and help them with tricky situations. When I’m talking to them I listen carefully to the words they use, because it tells me a lot about how they’re feeling. There’s one word in particular that always draws me into a conversation and I like to challenge the way they use and view this word. It’s the F word.

Recently I got asked by a girl, in her first year at high school, how she could cope with the stress of doing class tests. She told me she often got anxious about upcoming assessments and wanted to know how she might deal with her worries. I could understand her concern – I spent years in education and for 11 years through high school and university I had exams and assessments every term. Not fun! I still dread Christmas because it feels like I should be studying! I asked her what her greatest fear about sitting the tests was and she said her biggest worry was that she might fail. There it was. The F word.


If we’re honest, failure is something that most of us fear in some way. Maybe we fear failing exams or a driving test. Maybe we fear failed relationships. Maybe we fear failing our families or letting them down in some way. In most situations, when we express our concern about failing, a sympathetic and well-meaning friend will say ‘Don’t worry – of course you won’t fail!’. Now, while it’s encouraging to have somebody believe in us and have high expectations for our future, we know in the back of our minds that there’s still a possibility that maybe, just maybe, it will happen. A positive pep talk might help us move forward with a little more confidence but it doesn’t really prepare us for the time when failure does come our way. If we’re not prepared for failure, the fear of it can hold us back and ultimately be more costly than taking the risk of stepping towards our goal.

Over the past few years I’ve stepped out on some big adventures. One of them was crowd-funding my first album. Another was launching a brand new national teen girls conference. Talk about the potential for failure! These were massive leaps of faith with no real promise of success. I was so passionate about both of these things and, at the same time, totally terrified of putting myself out there knowing that I would probably make some mistakes and maybe even fall flat on my face in a very public way. So why did I do it? Because I’ve learned not to fear failure. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from failing and almost failing throughout my life:

Failure doesn’t define us. Just because I failed at doing something doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. Our identity isn’t dependant on our success or our failure. Failures can be a great opportunity to develop our character, and failing at doing can actually make us better at being – being resilient, being determined, being persistent, being forgiving or being courageous.

Failure is not final. Just because we fail something once doesn’t mean we can never do it again. Failure is an opportunity to say ‘That didn’t work. So, what will work?’ or ‘What can I learn from this experience that I can improve or change next time?’. Maybe you’ve mishandled a friendship situation and it’s left you both feeling hurt. Look at the role you played in that situation? What could you have done differently or better? What can you do to fix or change the situation now? What can you learn that will prevent a similar problem in the future? If you fail a test, ask the teacher to show you the gaps in your knowledge or skills. Ask them to help you make a study plan to improve those gaps until you’re able to complete the test successfully. Every failure is an opportunity to stop, review, and try again. It helps us develop resilience, making us stronger for the future.

Failure feeds success. I love reading biographies or stories about people who became incredibly successful in some way. The thing I notice with all of these people isn’t that they were successful because they never failed, but they were successful because they didn’t let their failures become final. Many people don’t succeed because the first time they trip over an obstacle they say ‘I’m done!’. The successful people allowed themselves recovery time, then got back on track with greater determination and perseverance until they made it past that hurdle. Their failures became fuel for the success they’d eventually find and they often say that, without those failures, they wouldn’t be where they are today.

So, while I gave that girl at school advice about how to stay calm, and prepare as best she could for the upcoming test and find confidence to give it her best shot. I also made sure to say ‘Don’t fear failure. It’s not final. It’s an opportunity to ask for help, to reset your goals and develop the courage to try again.’

When we stop fearing failure, all the things we dream of become incredible possibilities. So, ask yourself this ‘What would I have the courage to do, if I didn’t fear failure?’

Quotes on failure to reflect on this week:

‘I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’ – Thomas Edison.

‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed’ – Michael Jordan.

‘There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period’ – Brené Brown.

Written by Amie Aitken

Amie is a full time tea-drinker who

works as a chaplain in local schools.
She pets all dogs and co-founded “Sanctuary” – a nation conference for teen girls.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply