When have you ever failed at something and what were the lessons of failure?

We pose these questions for students to answer as part of thinking about the broad theme of “failure”: how it is defined, what it means and what it can lead to.

Everyone grapples with failure, even (or maybe especially) tremendously successful people.

Both J. K. Rowling and Steve Jobs, for instance, talked about failure during commencement addresses, Ms. Rowling at Harvard in 2008 and Mr. Jobs at Stanford in 2005, where he famously emphasized the importance of failure to success, particularly after he was fired, at age 30, from Apple, the company he co-founded:

“It turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” he said. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life.”

Below, we suggest essential questions about failure, what it means, and what can come from it; list just a few examples of famous “failures” from fields like sports, business, science, the arts and education; and suggest activities students might use to study and learn from failure.

What are we missing? What great examples of failure in any field should we include here? What interesting educational projects have you done around the notion of failure? Let us know. 


Key Questions:

What is “failure”? What is “success”? Who defines each?

When have you ever failed, by your own definition?

How do you deal with failure?

Can failure be useful? Can you think of examples, from your own life or someone else’s, when it has led to something positive?

How is failure defined and dealt with in your family, your school, the activities you do outside of school, among your friends and in your community? Which of those definitions and responses to failure seem fairest or best to you? Why?

What can be done to avoid failure? Should people try to avoid it?

How can people recover from failure?

How have you been failed by others?

Where do you see failure in society around you?

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Thanks to The Learning Network for the information provided in this article by DANIEL E. SLOTNIK and KATHERINE SCHULTEN

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