The Room to Fail


“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”  Paulo Coelho

When I walked into the touristy bakery on the Champs Elysee, my mind silently conjugated the college French from so long ago before I even uttered the broken sentence. I said something haltingly and the woman behind the counter just shook her head at me in disgust. “In English!” She told me matter-of-factly. Her English was so much better than my French.

It’s scary to make mistakes.

They say that one of the reasons why children learn a second (or a first, for that matter) language so easily and efficiently is that they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They aren’t afraid to conjugate the verbs wrong and also, when their parents or teachers correct them, they do so lovingly.

“Wants MILK!” a toddler says.

Her mother gently corrects, “Do you want milk, sweetheart?” She says it the right way and the toddler responds. “Yes! I want milk!”

We have so much less grace for the adult learners in our lives.

On the way home from school today my eleven-year-old read to me a story she’d written in class. It was a fantasy story that was surprisingly original and fascinating but also drew from a lot of overused story motifs. Even so, it was beautiful and free.

As I listened, I could hear my girl’s heart break through.

She wrote with such freedom that any clichés didn’t matter any longer. And it almost seemed that the freedom outweighed any formulaic story structure. The freedom took over and made every part of it beautiful. There was freedom because she’d been given the space to dream up a big, wild story and she knew her dreaming wasn’t going to be discouraged.

If my girl was writing a story and she knew that her illogical plot points would be edited away or that the fantasy would be marked out, would she have written such a beautiful story? Absolutely not. She wrote that amazing story because she’d been given the space to do so.

Somewhere between her and me most of us lose our freedom to write those big wild stories. And those who don’t? They make millions.

When I write, my inner critic (and sometimes real-life external editors) are the gatekeepers to my dreaming. What if we could write or live or work without fear that our wild dreaming or our mistakes would disqualify us? What if we could create without that mean, French cashier shaking her head when we try oh-so-desperately-hard to do well?

There would be such freedom.

It’s this freedom that gives us the space to be beautiful, to dream, to create. It’s this child-like open-endedness that feels like an August day when we are eight. It’s boundless. It’s free. It’s full of opportunity and hope.

Maybe we can begin to give our people, the ones we know and love and interact with the most, the room to both dream and the room to fail. Maybe we can stop conjugating their verbs for them and simply love them into best practices. Maybe we can be the safe places where our friends and children dream big and fail grandly.

Oh to fail with grandiose precision!

Let us be the ones to start this “failure-revolution” because all great ideas are built on the backs of ones that don’t work out so well.

Have you failed? What has failure taught you? What would you not have finished/achieved had you not failed first?


  1. says

    Oh yes. I’ve failed. But looking back I know beyond a doubt I have been changed for the better through the experience. I appreciate grace so much more. I give grace so much more. I see more gray than black and white and have deep empathy for the broken. I am better for having failed and God is merciful for having redeemed even me.

  2. Mark Allman says

    As a long time coach of young children and teenagers one of the biggest obstacles to getting them to perform their best is getting them over the fear of failure and convincing them it is ok to fail. I constantly had to reinforce to my players that I wanted us to practice well and then play based on our practice but to never hold back because they were afraid of failing or afraid I would be upset with a missed shot or bad pitch or a strike out. I think it is like you say so freeing to give someone license to fail and yes to fail in a grand way.

    Our actions comment on what we think when someone fails… we have to be careful our reaction when someone fails. Do we recoil, do we smirk, do we frown, do we yell, or do we encourage and continue to do so. We do not do well accepting failure of fellow adults. I like your idea of starting a failure revolution. Our response to failure…. Let’s ask what have we learned? I think great accomplishments are born in failure not in other accomplishments.

    • Tanya Marlow says

      Thanks so much for the shout-out, Jenna! I appreciate it!
      I’m still succeeding at failing, and I’m starting to fail better.

      Sarah – I love that your daughter writes with such freedom. It is so hard, as adults to be gracious to ourselves. I am learning this all the time. Hoping that you also re-discover that place of freedom and safety in your writing. (And then tell me how you found it!)

  3. says

    Have I failed? Oh my word…let the me count the ways! 😉 Yet every failure has taught me a lessons, grown me and shaped me. Gods finds a way to use my mistakes for His glory. So thankful for this too.

  4. says

    My fear of failure sometimes is so think it prevents me from doing many things. I teach my kids to go for it… I tell them it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time, practice make perfect but I have a hard time taking my own advise.
    It never hurts as bad as I think it will when I do take a risk and fail. I am harder on myself than others are on me. I love the idea of a “failure revolution”.

  5. says

    It’s funny, just today I wrote about how I feel I failed last weekend. Of course, had it happened to someone else, I wouldn’t give grace a second thought. To others my “failure” is no big deal, I’m sure. I abuse myself the most. Learning self-forgiveness is tough.

  6. says,felt crippled by it.and not even the little failures,no way jose,the big big ones.He is faithful though,still smarting form one the other day,but God is my deliverer,will not let my yesterdays waste my todays.

  7. Chris Malkemes says

    Failure to launch is worse than failing in the launch. The one paralyses and the other moves us forward. I know this because I hid for years with the knowledge I was called to write only to write in secret. I just launched my third blog, taking all the mistakes from the past, launched it, and when presented with an error I was surprised by my reaction. I laughed, I laughed right out loud and made the correction. It is liberating to move out in the path He sets out for us because even in the failures He is working everything out for His good. I love the way He does the oh so unexpected.

  8. Mari says

    I am terrified of failure because if I do, the people and children I’m trying to help might not get what they need. But I’m learning to let God do his job, and I will do mine. I need to be content with the obeying, and not be anxious about the result. {easier said than done}

  9. says

    Really, really loved this post. You write so beautifully. I struggle with failure on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to feeling judged by others. There are a few areas in my life where I have felt like I truly failed, and still cringe when I think about them. Sometimes it’s hard to move past these “failures” but it’s necessary for growth. I’m learning more and more not to rely on what other people will think of me. Thank you so much for sharing.

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