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Robert Greene: The Two Kinds of Failure and Why They Matter

“It is a curse to have everything go right on your first attempt.
You will fail to question the element of luck.”


This excellent passage from Robert Greene‘s book Mastery explains the two different kinds of failure and the implications of each.

Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done. In fact, it is a curse to have everything go right on your first attempt. You will fail to question the element of luck, making you think that you have the golden touch. When you do inevitably fail, it will confuse and demoralize you past the point of learning. In any case, to apprentice as an entrepreneur you must act on your ideas as early as possible, exposing them to the public, a part of you even hoping that you’ll fail. You have everything to gain.

I understand the fear of failure because, like everyone, I'm afraid of failing too.

I rarely fail for the first reason, I often fail for the second reason. And I've failed a lot.

I've failed when pushing myself to my physical limits. I've failed pushing myself to my cognitive limits. I've failed publicly, humiliating myself. I've failed privately in ways that people will never know.

What scares me more than failure is not trying. I can live with failure. I can't live with not trying. The former allows me to sleep, the latter keeps me awake.

If you liked this check out these other articles:

It's not the failure that defines you, but rather how you respond.

Five techniques to improve your luck.