They say failure is inevitable and often essential. I say, how do you assess failure? In my opinion, the only person who can determine whether or not “failure” exists is the one who failed.
I do not, and have never, believed that someone else could tell me that I was not good enough. I have had people try, and I admit to getting down over it, but in the end, the only person fit to assess if I have succeeded is myself. I set my own goals, I follow through on them, and I determine whether or not I met that goal to the best of my ability. Nobody can do that for me.
Then there are the quantitative modes of failure. I have one D+ on my undergraduate transcript and in the second course of the sequence I have a C+. Was it my worst subject? Absolutely. Did I fail? I don’t think so. I could have walked out of that course with the lowest grade in the class and considered myself a non-failure for just making it until the end. However, in subject areas that I am particularly gifted with (i.e. calculus) I would consider a B a failure, but I don’t know many others who would agree that qualifies as “failing.”
Every day when I come to my desk, I know I am working for someone else. In fact, the way I see it, I am working for everybody else. I am doing research that I truly believe will impact the way we think about the world. So, if I have a week where I did not get as far as I had hoped, did I fail? If I conduct research that somebody else publishes first as a result did I fail? Publications are like currency and therefore a lot of people would say that I did in fact fail by not being fast enough. However, I know I didn’t fail because someone else also found it important and it is having an impact on science. I know that I can keep moving forward, even if it requires a change of thinking, and build on that work.
If something does not work, did it fail? They say important scientific discoveries are made by accident (penicillin). Even if at first something looks like a failure, could it in fact be turned into a success by a simple change of thinking? Most likely, the answer is yes. I was taught to always do my best, and if I do my best I will be afforded the opportunities that are best for me. I truly believe that, and I truly believe that if I have the confidence in my best work to never see it as a failure but as a positive opportunity, then I will continue to advance and succeed. Therefore, I have not failed. I will never fail.