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July 25, 2011 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Give me your quotes and platitudes about failure.

I have a huge test coming up tomorrow, one of the most important in my career. After a lot of thought, I've realized a lot of things about the way I approach success and failure. I made a vow that I'm going to show up, despite the fact that with a day-old broken hand, my ability to make the grade I want on the practical section isn't going to go the way I want it to. I'm showing up anyway, and I'm super proud of myself!

This question is one of my favorites on AskMeFi. I think the responses are way better (and way more personally moving) than looking in quote books or anything for platitudes.

Sorry if this has been asked before, but my search-fu is somewhat ironically failing me at the moment. This is the closest I came to what I'm after, and it's definitely not the same.

What are your quotes, literary passages, aphorisms, lyrics, poems, etc. about success and failure?
posted by skyl1n3 to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a previous question about motivational quotes. Might find something you like there.
posted by phunniemee at 10:27 PM on July 25, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”


"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's awesome, phunniemee, and some of those are perfect. To clarify, with this question I was looking specifically for quotes about the nature of failure--and perhaps success. A little narrower than motivation.
posted by skyl1n3 at 10:33 PM on July 25, 2011

My favorite quote about failure is from Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Hope that counts as something that addresses the nature of failure. Good luck on your test tomorrow; here's hoping you find something other than those 10,000 ways =)
posted by DingoMutt at 10:49 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are some good ones on this page.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:06 PM on July 25, 2011

"Do, or do not. There is no try." - Yoda
posted by DarlingBri at 11:15 PM on July 25, 2011

Hunter Thompson: "Buy the ticket, take the ride."

Longer version: You can't know if the roller coaster that you're boarding is going to leave the track in a minute or two, but that's no reason to ride sober.
posted by paulsc at 11:16 PM on July 25, 2011

"There's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all" - Bob Dylan

I'm not sure what it means, but its by Bob Dylan so it must mean something.

There's a Sandman story that has a moral like 'Most of the time when you jump you'll fall. But sometimes, you'll fly".
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:17 PM on July 25, 2011

These are more about being imperfect than failure per se but they might fit.

Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita: 

"Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die."

And by Winston Churchill
You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.
----Winston Churchill

And I am including this one just because it sometimes things are so bad you can't even think in terms of success/failure but just the struggle to not sit down and give up -

"If you're going through hell, keep going."
Winston Churchill
posted by metahawk at 11:27 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh! I can help you here. My favourite quote, ever:

"So you think that you're a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What's wrong with that? In the first place, if you've any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free."
— Tom Robbins

(emphasis mine)
posted by auto-correct at 11:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
- Samuel Beckett
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:34 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

Be boldly wrong - Ovid
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:08 AM on July 26, 2011

I recently heard a story about a large tech company where employees in R&D could win failure awards. The awards would be given to the person/team that failed quickly and cheaply (and definitively) at a certain project, so they could move on to do other things with bigger chance of success.
There are two powerful aspects to this attitude:
(1) it recognizes the creative power of failure (see Beckett above, who was quoted in the story) and that there is no foreseeable straight path to success.
(2) it takes the psychological edge off of failing -- as long as you know what you did, were smart about it, and documented it, reporting failure to, say, a supervisor is reporting progress.

Not sure if this actually applies to your test situation, which is a formalized, artificial environment in which the possibility of failing "gracefully" is effectively eliminated.
posted by gijsvs at 12:45 AM on July 26, 2011

Hope it's not too late...but Wired actually ran a whole issue around the theme of failure:

Hope it helps!
posted by allfortheBoss at 1:35 AM on July 26, 2011

I started my first job last year, with the expected bumps along the road. One of my co-workers was fairly anxious about any mistake she made. Sometimes, my mistakes would affect her, and she would (somewhat jokingly) give me a hard time. One day when she was going on about something, I told her "If I only make a million more mistakes in my life, I'll be happy". Because we will fail and make mistakes. If you don't, you're probably not doing anything worth doing.
posted by afton at 1:52 AM on July 26, 2011

The only way to never fail, is to never do anything.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:00 AM on July 26, 2011

Fear's the best motivator. If you're confident it won't overwhelm you. - David Granger
posted by knile at 2:42 AM on July 26, 2011

"Fate often enough spares a man, if his courage holds." (Beowulf)
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:47 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you heard that it was good to gain the day? I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won. (Walt Whitman)
posted by banishedimmortal at 4:29 AM on July 26, 2011

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Michael Jordan

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
Wayne Gretzky
posted by jander03 at 4:53 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well this is about failure from a different perspective, but it always cracks me up:
“the last time I failed I heard someone say
‘it’s a good thing that you failed ‘cause your dreams were stupid anyway.’ ”

From "You Triumph When You Quit", a ridiculous song from Davey G And The Keyboard.
posted by zoinks at 5:03 AM on July 26, 2011

"If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.
Then give up, no use being a damn fool about it."

WC Fields.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:36 AM on July 26, 2011

Oh boy. This happened to me this year - literally lost my dream job over 5% in an exam grade. The quote that kept me going for weeks after is by Albert Camus

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer"
posted by kitkatcathy at 6:41 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not really relevant for test-taking, but I kinda love this poem:

Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
posted by Vibrissa at 6:47 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Fail as quickly as you can.

(maybe Paul Graham, I'm too busy failing to look it up)
posted by wobh at 6:55 AM on July 26, 2011

My personal mantra on failing is: "6x9 is not 53."
I got that wrong on a test on the 6 times tables when I was in third grade. I never remember the shit I get right, but when I make a mistake I sure as hell remember it. And I don't repeat it.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:56 AM on July 26, 2011

To A Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing
By W. B. Yeats

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors' eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
posted by squishles at 8:25 AM on July 26, 2011

"Trying is the first step towards failure".

-- The Great Homer Simpson

(Ok, someone had to shake it up in here!) ;)
posted by foxhat10 at 8:44 AM on July 26, 2011

By the way, good luck on the test!
posted by foxhat10 at 8:45 AM on July 26, 2011

A few of my favorites quotes are mentioned here. But here is one from J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard, 2008:

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:10 AM on July 26, 2011

The harder you fall, the higher you bounce.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 9:53 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Success: failing n times, trying n+1 times
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:10 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't really go wrong with Tennyson:

"that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Alternatively, there is Joy Division:

"So lose some sleep and say you tried"
posted by baggers at 10:19 AM on July 26, 2011

"Safety, security, knowing and being right are all synonyms for death."–Cheri Huber
posted by Lexica at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2011

two lines from "If" by Rudyard Kipling are inscribed above the Center Court player's entrance:

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same"
posted by wayofthedodo at 10:45 AM on July 26, 2011

There is no failure, only feedback.
posted by Tholian at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2011

Part of artist Sister Corita's rules (which I recommend reading in total because it all goes together nicely):

"Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail. There's only make."
posted by hellochula at 4:14 PM on July 26, 2011


I think you mean this:

"Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." George S. Patton
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:51 AM on July 27, 2011

In the midst of an extended rough patch, I found this enlightening:

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)
posted by arm's-length at 7:46 AM on July 27, 2011

I'm very late to this thread but I love collecting quotes and I have a bunch that I think might fill the bill here:

"Man is ever in search of strength. It is the strong man that wins. It is the man with power that scales the heights. To be strong is to be great; and it is the privilege of greatness to satisfy every desire, every aspiration, every need. But strength is not for the few alone; it is for all, and the way to strength is simple. Proceed this very moment to the mountain tops of the strength you now possess, and whatever may happen do not come down. Do not weaken under adversity. Resolve to remain as strong, as determined and as highly enthused during the darkest night of adversity as you are during the sunniest day of prosperity. Do not feel disappointed when things seem disappointing. Keep the eye single upon the same brilliant future regardless of circumstances, conditions or events. Do not lose heart when things go wrong. Continue undisturbed in your original resolve to make all things go right. To be overcome by adversity and threatening failure is to lose strength; to always remain in the same lofty, determined mood is to constantly grow in strength. The man who never weakens when things are against him will grow stronger and stronger until all things will delight to be for him. He will finally have all the strength he may desire or need. Be always strong and you will always be stronger." Christian D. Larson

"Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody." Rocky Balboa

"To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will." Sugar Ray Robinson

"My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging." Hank Aaron
posted by triggerfinger at 8:23 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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