Learning to fail

“I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”

Oprah Winfrey.

How many of us can honestly say we enjoy the ride even when it ends with a crash? Whilst it is not hard to fail, it can be very difficult to accept failure. Yet accepting mistakes, and developing emotional resilience, is essential if we are to survive life’s inevitable setbacks.


Research shows that girls in particular strive for absolute perfection and chastise themselves for anything less than being the “Best.” They want the best school marks. Best body. Best clothes. Best friends. As Courtney Martin so eloquently states in her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “There is nothing more disgusting to a perfect girl than the taste of failure.” 

The fear of failure can be almost paralysing for some girls. They may choose to opt out entirely, so scared of failing that they will not take risks; think girls who sit out PE lessons, girls who are terrified of answering questions in class. Other girls may look like they are participating and taking risks, but may in fact be silently imploding under the (often self imposed) pressures they feel. 

Why is failure such an issue? Girls are often desperately worried about what others might think of them if they fail.

It is powerful to remind girls that others rarely spend nearly as much time noticing our mistakes as what we do – although I have to admit the media’s recent obsession with celebrities transgressions (be they with diet, drugs or fashion faux pas) does not help us convince girls that no one else will notice their mistakes! Britney and co’s trips in and out of rehab and battles with weight and booze are keeping magazines in business, and make no mistake – it is just the girls that are under the microscope. Very few magazine stories focus on the errors men make. I don’t think I have ever read a magazine story that focuses on what male celebrities eat, or on their fashion boo boos.


How do we convince girls that the current media obsession with highlighting failure is not something they should allow to feed their own anxieties?

My shiny new friend Ella James, media guru and “Goddess” of The Voice , sent me the following link to a most amusing piece that featured in the Sydney Morning Herald recently: it is a satirical look at the inane, unforgiving world of the woman’s magazine:  Stars Bigger and Bigger as Fat is the New Black. 

The first pudgy cab off the rank is Jennifer Aniston. Normally praised for her hot bod, Aniston is on the brink of obesity after packing on 50, I mean five, kilos. “Unlucky in love Jennifer is comfort eating after her latest split,” Famous reports. “Insiders believe that Jen is seeking comfort in her favourite foods after collapsed romances”, including her most recent fling with Orlando Bloom. Since splitting with Bloom, Miss Piggy has been “eating like crazy”, stuffing herself with “fried sardines” and “steak with shallots and horseradish flan”. Yum. Feel free to send over any leftovers, Jen.”

Hard to take Famous’ “outing” of Jen’s failed relationships too seriously when the reporting is exposed as so terribly shallow and pointless.

Worse case scenario – even if others do notice our mistakes and want to highlight them, will that really make us look silly or just reflect poorly on those who want to shame us?  

Apart from naming and poking fun at the ever so fickle Failure Watchdogs, what else can we do to support girls in learning that it is not only ok to fail, but an essential part of living and learning?

Be honest and lighthearted about mistakes you have made. Share them with girls, show them you survived the crash. I am quite open about mistakes I make with the girls I work with and I have to say, I think they find most of my “Danni bloopers” quite endearing! I also make a point of explaining what I have learnt from my mistakes and can usually find joy in them.

My business partner Fran and I have been known to laugh so hard over some mistakes we have made that we fear for our poor bladders. In fact, telling a group of girls that Fran and I laugh so hard we are scared we might wet ourselves was in itself a major mistake. I thought the girls I was working with that day would find this an amusing anecdote. Note to self – 14 year old girls are repulsed by tales of post baby incontinence.   

Finally, encourage girls to forgive and model forgiveness. If someone has made a mistake and is big enough to offer a genuine apology – accept it. 

Most importantly, discuss and model forgiving yourself.


4 thoughts on “Learning to fail

  1. Jane Higgins says:

    What I have found most interesting about “failing” is soon after, it becomes abundantly clear, that this “mistake” is leading me somewhere new – somewhere where I can grow and learn. I have become less fearful of them because I know that it will bring me to a new place and funnily enough it is always better than where I have been!!

    So it is actually exciting!!

    I recently learnt that the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as the symbol for opportunity!!

    And yes Danni we do find your bloopers very endearing!! It is great to be part of a company that encourages openness and honesty so when we do a boo boo we can be truthful and share what we have learnt and what we can do better next time.

  2. Francesca Kaoutal says:

    Oh Danni, what a a good little chuckle I have had this morning remembering some of the little stumbling blocks on my journey. I recall when I was a young girl that the word ‘mistake’ was almost programmed into myself and many of my peers as a a really bad word. Lord, what could be worse than making a mistake?! Fortunately over the years I have learnt that mistakes, although a little irritating, can bring wonderful discoveries. Take calculated risks, have a go and in words of Mark Twain; “Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

  3. kelliemack says:

    When I think about all the people I love the most, my closest friends, the friends that become like family, they are the people who have seen me fail most often. In fact, now that I think about it, I became friends with most of those people often after sharing our failures with one another. As Fran and Jane have both said, our perceived failures and mistakes frequently open new doors. We need to be brave enough to take risks and fail and courageous enough to own our successes when they come too.

  4. Sonia Lyne says:

    Mistakes … failures … mishaps … bloopers … those wonderful experiences throughout life that make it oh so more interesting. I cannot imagine a life without mistakes or failures – how could we possibly grow and evolve without learning from not what to do. Personally I look back over my MANY mistakes and failures and relish in the thought of my ability to turn them into something positive; gaining insight and awareness. WHAT I LOVE THE MOST in our enlighten world is that we can share these experiences with the many beautiful girls we work with and model excatly what you point out in your submission Danni – “We need to support girls in learning that it is not only ok to fail, but an essential part of living and learning.”

    When I think about the people that I adore and look up to in my life they have all made mistakes, but most importantly, have had the courage to share their experience so that I have had an opportunity to learn also. To ALL OF YOU – thankyou for showing me is to o.k. to make mistakes as I now share this everyday with the wonderful girls I work with.

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