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There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

What if there really is no such thing as failure? What if failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?

If we are going to give the concept of failure and feedback some attention, we might as well get clear on what they are.

fail∙ure \fay-li-ur\ noun: the lack of success and the inability to meet an expectation.

feed∙back \’feed-bak\ noun: information regarding value on a person’s performance.

When we break down these two concepts, we can clearly see an opportunity for growth, which is an integral part of our essence. If this is true, why do we allow outcomes to define who we are?

The theory that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback, is a pre-supposition— a belief. Imagine for a moment, if this pre-supposition were a pair of glasses we have worn since childhood. How different would our lives be? How much more would we have been willing to try and how much more would we be capable of achieving?

This is something we typically say to ourselves: I failed at this, so therefore, I am a failure. Why do we only see failure? The task may not have worked, BUT you are still you—a high functioning human being capable of many things.

Here is what happened to me.

I left college early and the company I wound up working for was forced to close. I suspected something wasn’t right. But it was out of my hands. Now I had no job and I had left college early to pursue this avenue. At first, I felt awful until I re-framed it and analyzed what happened. When I sought feedback of what I went through, I was able to move forward. It was an invaluable learning moment that I am grateful I experienced.

When we are in a situation like mine, we must decide: Am I a failure or was this bump in the road an opportunity to grow?

Famous people who “failed” first. (VIDEO LINK)

Let’s move this into the context of leadership. Many of my clients use After Action Reviews (AAR) to evaluate performance on specific initiatives generating invaluable feedback. There are two scenarios in which they use this tool:

Scenario 1. We did not achieve the goal. We talk about what happened, why, and what we can do differently in the future.

Scenario 2. We achieved the goal. We talk about what happened, and why it happened, so that we can model that success, to replicate something that works.

In both cases, we go back and reflect on what happened. We use both scenarios as an opportunity to learn, grow and be more successful.

When we see failure as feedback, we become more resourceful. Here's how:

Think of a time when you experienced failure.

1. Goal: What did you set out to accomplish?

2. Result: What actually happened?

3. Evaluation: Why did whatever happened, happen?

4. Feedback: Now knowing what you know, what would you do differently?

I’ll breakdown my story.

My goal was to start a career, make money and be successful. My result or what actually happened- I made a lot of money, but the “failure” moment was when the company closed. Evaluation: Why? The company I was working for was shut down for reasons beyond my control. The feedback I gained from this life-altering experience was that the next time something looks too good to be true, it likely is. I must do my own research and challenge whatever it is I am doing. I cannot simply use blind faith. I must also rely on my values. (

The feedback helped me become the person I am today. Without those valuable lessons, I would not be the same person. If you are open and honest with yourself and go through this process, you will emerge from a perceived failure with a life-long understanding that it is really an opportunity to grow.

I challenge you to do the same. Next time you feel like you “failed” at something. Press Pause. Re-frame it. Seek feedback and see how that feels—then move on.

If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, reach out at and I will reply.


Robert Paulson


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