The Need to Fail

In my recent blog post entitled “Why Sports?” I briefly touched on what I believe is the most invaluable opportunity that sports have to offer: The opportunity to fail. Don’t take my word for it! Listen to the GOAT.


Let’s reframe the way we think about failure. Failure of any magnitude, large or small, results in a number of immediate negative emotional reactions. Whether you’re 4 or 40, whether you strike out at a T-Ball game or you file for bankruptcy, you will experience feelings of despair, dejection, disappointment, doubt, and inadequacy.

Inevitably, there is a period of mourning and self-loathing, whether it be for a few minutes or a few years. In that crucial period, we all have a decision to make. Will you give up? Or will you get up? When you get up, the narrative changes. When you refuse to let your failure define you, you grab the pen and begin to author your own story. The transient emotions that are so paralyzing and inhibiting are replaced altogether. Though the pangs of failure in a success-hungry world are gut-wrenching, the refusal to succumb to a failure-identity plants seeds of strength that take root and last far longer than any short-term emotional reactions. Out of that soil sprout motivation, resolve, toughness, resiliency, compassion, perseverance, strength, and creativity. These characteristics, which would not exist without failure, are what lead to success and significance. When failure is viewed through this lens, as a necessary stepping stone to lasting success, we can learn to EMBRACE failure and PURSUE opportunities to fail! DO NOT FEAR FAILURE!

Wait…. Does failure even exist?

His Airness said it himself “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. I cannot accept not trying again.” Kobe takes this concept to another dimension. The Mamba claims that failure “Does not exist.” While that may be a little bit of an extreme, here’s what one of the most unique minds I’ve studied means by this: Until you quit, you haven’t failed. What most call “failures”, Kobe regards as “setbacks” and “learning experiences.” As long as you learn something from a failure and press on, then the failure wasn’t even a failure at all.


While I wholeheartedly endorse the premise that “The only true failure is giving up”, I do think that Kobe’s theory fails to address two variables of success that are of utmost importance: Time and people. In a way, his view partially validates some of the accusations has had leveled against him as a leader. The key assumptions that must be true for Kobe to be right are that 1. Time is infinite and 2. People don’t matter. Sorry Kobe, but some goals have a shot clock! He assumes that the only time constraint is death. That we can just keep trying and trying again until we get it right. In the real world, a lot of goals have time windows that they have to be accomplished in, and we can’t just “try try again” until we get it right. In a roundabout way, this principle ties into the other half of my problem. People matter, and in each relationship that we develop, whether it’s a minute-long meet and greet or a 60 year marriage, there is a finite period of time that we have to make a positive impact on that person’s life. Kobe’s failure-less reality is built on the principle that personal growth is the ultimate goal, and that everything else comes secondary to that. Under that premise, “as long as you learn, there is no failure”, checks out. But what if self-realization/personal growth is actually the penultimate goal? What if the true aim of my life is to positively impact the OTHER PEOPLE that God has placed in my path, people that are not permanently a part of my journey? Will continually learning and growing allow me to reach my primary goal? Absolutely. But which takes precedence? Do I impact others IN ORDER TO assist in my own personal growth and to take the next step in my development? Or do I learn and grow SO THAT I can better impact the world around me? It seems like simple semantics, but I believe the distinction is of tremendous importance. Purpose matters! Start with Why!


Kobe is the man, and I believe he is spot on when he says that nothing is a complete failure where there is learning. Our definition of failure is linked closely to our definition of success. Is your view of “success” self-centered and focused on your own development and tangible goals? Or is your Success “others-centered” and reliant upon adding value to the world around you? I don’t think either view is wrong, but you can tell which side I fall on. Though I do believe failure does indeed exist, I agree that there is something to be learned from every failure.

Let’s rein it back in here

You… Me… We……… NEED TO FAIL. Failure is more than necessary; it’s absolutely vital. We need to fail like we need to breathe. Without it, we would never know success. As human beings, we should look for chances to challenge ourselves and test our limits! We should seek out opportunities to fail! What is so incredible about sports is that they give people (especially young people) a safe space to fail! A designated area where you can learn to fall (and then get back up) with minimal cuts and bruises. The similes are endless. Like riding a bike with training wheels, flipping into a foam pit, or mountain climbing with a harness. Sports allow us to fail with a safety net. They are an invaluable opportunity for our young people to master the art of perseverance. Because one day, we are all going to come face to face with failure in the real world, with no safety net, training wheels, foam pit, or harness. On that day, we need to already know how to fail: with grace and dignity, and how to respond: with determination and resiliency. Sports supply us with the simulated failure-experiences that we so badly need!

Don’t fear failure, embrace it!

If you aren’t failing regularly, then you aren’t dreaming big enough!


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