Are you in love with failure?

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

— Epictetus

What do you hear when you read this quote?

Popular media outlets suggest failing is the best learning lesson. Some folks sound delighted when they share about things that didn’t work out.

One might feel ashamed to admit a super win on the first attempt.

Memes assume the outcome would have been worse, and the learning would have been lesser, if a person had achieved their goal without a stumble.

Is that a logical conclusion? Sometimes we assume unrelated events are connected, when they're not. Does that we learned through failure mean that we wouldn't have learned had we not failed? Nobody can say if we had learned more or less. It's possible to learn while you create a win, and then you also have the extra time you would need to fix a failure.

Is there another variation of the meaning of Epictetus’ quote?

Let’s chat a little about the brain, celebration of failure, and self-confidence.

Is it better to fail than not to fail?


Failure can be an excellent source of powerful learning. However, the conclusion that instant success leads to worse results is faulty.

We cannot predict the future. You can learn as much from successful projects, from these delicious one-hit goals. Who knows what you will do with the extra time you don’t need for troubleshooting, starting over, etc.?

It’s best to love every situation/outcome you cannot change, or you didn’t change. See: Amor Fati

As long as you stay humble and growth-minded, there’s no indicator that you require failure to become the best version of yourself. See: Hooray to self-will

Are there consequences for focusing on “failure”?

The brain gives us what we ask for

Our brain doesn’t understand negation. It hears “cold” when you tell yourself “I won’t get a cold”. “I’ll stay healthy”, would be a more constructive wording.

And have you ever waited in front of the toaster? Telling yourself you won’t jump when the toast hops out? And then it shocked you even more.

The same principle applies to our expectations of an outcome. Failure can happen, yes.

Should we think about it all the time, consider we might fail, focus on the term “failure”?

With a healthy amount of self-confidence, we’re content with the fact that we might look stupid and make errors when we try for growth or a challenging goal.

We trust in our ability and flexibility to adapt plans to secure a positive outcome. So, if it doesn’t go as planned (as it always does), we’ll reflect and change if necessary.

Expecting and planning for a win with a hint of paranoia is a recipe for success.

My understanding of the quote

Learning requires action. You can read as many books about dancing as you want, until you start to dance, you cannot ever learn it.

Whenever you are new to something, you will likely make mistakes in the beginning, or look clumsy.

I understand the quote in a way that you should not worry if you make a fool out of yourself, NOT that you should expect/embrace failure.

Beginners mistakes or looking clumsy isn't failure. You didn't fail if you're still trying.

Build your confidence on internal things rather than external

Epictetus' self-improvement quote is (in my mind) referring to your inability to improve yourself, if you value external things too much.

Fear of failure, for instance, often stems from wanting to acquire external things, like reputation.

Declaring ourselves the winner

Here’s a clever way of the brain to comfort us when we face a setback or failure:

It helps us to come up with lines, such as

  • I’m the biggest failure
  • Nobody ever had that much bad luck in a year
  • I’m the most hated man

This way, we turn a loss into a form of win. Because losing doesn't make us happy. Winning does.

Confident expectations

Depending on their temperament, people need a different basis to push forward. For instance, someone whose basic need is security has different needs than a hustler.

Double-Checkers, for instance, feel safer when they consider every potential negative outcome and worst-case scenario.

For everyone else: Get to know your temperament-specific needs, and cater to them. Self-confidence helps you to focus on the positive outcome you desire instead of potential setbacks.

They’ll happen anyway, and you won’t be more or less prepared by trying to mentally prepare for them.

Did we go from tolerance to teaching weakness?

Why do you play if you don't want to win? A current trend is to offer easy excuses, and a way out. We don't need to invest time into another person if we dismiss the sad person as depressed, the angry person as bipolar, the pubescent person as gender-fluid.

Weakness is nothing to look down on or be ashamed of. However, it shouldn't be the goal.

If you have a goal, you owe it to yourself to try hard. Otherwise, you don't fail at a goal, you failed at trying.

Everyone should find their happiness spot. See: Hooray to Mediocrity

There's no need to be ambitious, By definition, failure means you didn't achieve what you set up to do. That's not positive. It can happen, and is a normal part of life. But if you are happy where you are, there's also no need for setting goals.

Regarding the current trend of celebrating failure more than wins:

It doesn't make sense to hop on the LinkedIn popular train with statements that are the equivalent of: I'm happy I broke my leg. I had such a nice experience reading a book.


  • Failure can offer powerful lessons to learn, getting it right the first time can, too.
  • Weaknesses are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re also not tokens of achievement.
  • Being content with possibly being “thought foolish and stupid” only means to accept individuals might judge your temporarily increased error rate negatively. It speaks about people’s perception of you, and not that you should expect to fail or literally look forward to failing/plan for failure.
  • Our brain doesn’t understand negations. It’s triggered by our thoughts. Confident expectations and focus on the desired outcome produces the most helpful thoughts.
  • You achieve the best results if your brain is focused on achieving what you set out to create – with just a hint of paranoia.
  • It’s inevitable that you stumble or walk a step backwards from time to time. That doesn’t mean you should celebrate it, just that you should feel content with your imperfections that show most when you’re in a learning phase.
  • People have the instinct to “win when they lose.”
    What I mean by that is that our brain comforts us when something embarrassing or hurtful happens. Subconsciously, we sell ourselves as the person with the worst experience ever. The biggest betrayal, the baddest luck, and so on. Stop selling. It’s no win, it’s a necessary step of growth. Nothing to look forward to.
  • In my interpretation, Epictetus doesn’t see the times when we’re perceived as foolish and stupid as “failure”, but a necessary part of learning. He might have meant that reliance on external factors, such as reputation, hinders our growth.
  • We cannot predict the future, and assuming the changed outcome when your plan failed led to a better result than not failing is a faulty conclusion.
  • Just have fun.