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The Origin of Failure


Have you ever looked up the origin of a word? Here are some findings on the word failure:

  • fail c. 1200, "be unsuccessful in accomplishing a purpose;" also "cease to exist or to function, come to an end;"
  • fail early 13c. as "fail in expectation or performance"
  • fail from Old French falir "be lacking, miss, not succeed; run out, come to an end; err, make a mistake; be dying; let down, disappoint" (11c., Modern French faillir)
  • fail from Vulgar Latin *fallire, from Latin fallere "to trip, cause to fall;" figuratively "to deceive, trick, dupe, cheat, elude; fail, be lacking or defective."

In my opinion, the interesting thing about failure is simply in its perception over time. Most of its word origin didn't have anything to do with the outcome, it had to do with the deficiency.  Tripping and falling aren't the result; it's what sometimes happens on your journey. Also interesting is the reaction of others - letting them down or disappointing them.

Here's another word for you: atychiphobia

When we allow fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals.

Fear isn't the problem. It's the fear of fear that is the problem!

In 1986, I enlisted in the United States Navy. My Dad was a Navy Chief and loved the Navy. I was a bit of a problem child in High School and got into trouble a lot. While everyone else was going to go to college in my High School class, I knew I was going to join the Navy for a number of reasons. The truth is, I was never confident in my abilities to attend college so I never even applied. I don't regret the decision, but that lack of confidence - equating to fear - was my first case of atychiphobia.

I was shipped off to Navy Nuclear Power school in Orlando, Floriday. This troubled kid (me) just found himself in the most advanced training that the United States military had to provide. I was studying nuclear fission, thermodynamics, reactor principles, chemistry, power generation... and every day I feared that I would fail the program. That fear led me to spending every waking hour either studying or escaping to the beach.  By the end of school, I was in trouble for partying and barely scraping by in my studies. While I passed all my finals, the Navy made the appropriate decision and denied my advancement to Nuclear Reactor training.

Years later, I was married and my wife was expecting my first child. We were broke already, so I was under immense pressure to change my life and achieve greater results in my Navy career. I spent the 9 months of my wife's pregnancy studying Navy Technical manuals while my ship was being decommissioned in Philadelphia. Although I had been in the Navy for a couple of years as an Electrician, I could barely remember what I learned in school and, because our ship was out of service, I never got to practice as an Electrician.

This time, I could not fail. I had a wife and child depending on it. So I studied day and night and when it came time to take the advancement exams, I aced them. My supervisors and officers on the ship couldn't believe it. They honestly thought I wasn't capable. I did it anyways.

Months later, I was shipped to Little Creek, Virginia to take a leading Electrician role on a Tank Landing Ship. My first job was to fix an industrial laundry washer. This wasn't just any washer, it was the about 8 feet by 8 feet, had an entire wall of contactors, and was programmed by a spinning timer that had switches that turned on and off as the drum rotated. It may have been the most advanced piece of machinery that I ever had to fix... and I had barely enough experience to change a light bulb. I worked night and day reading schematics and troubleshooting the machine. A few days later, I identified several issues, corrected them, tested the washer and it ran for the first time in months. Victory.

Those two events single-handedly changed my life. The first was a "succeed or die" moment and the second was a "succeed or disappoint" moment. I was able to overcome each of them and succeed.  That attitude towards failure and success has stuck with me the rest of my life. While I consistently failed, I knew that it was a journey that I'd ultimately prevail with. Today I often share with people that it's not being smart nor being educated or gifted that ever helps me attain success, it's simply been my tenacity and my ability to view failure as a point in the road that I will eventually need to cross.

The goal is your destination. Failure is not the destination.

Fear is the only thing that can stop you in between.


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