What’s the difference between mistake and failure?
Webster defines mistake as “wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention”; whereas, failure is the “state of inability or not producing success.”
From these two simple definitions, though both may be characterized as negative, which one do we think is worse? Is it mistake or failure? If left between the devil and the deep blue sea, would mistake be better off than failure? Or the other way around?
From my perspective, failure is worse than mistake. Because mistakes, to my mind, are but frailties accrued to our human imperfection (thus the oft quoted line, “as long as you make mistakes, you’re still human”). As “proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention”, mistakes may be considered as not completely voluntary but just a lapse in judgment due to lack of knowledge. In a sense, hence, mistakes are not completely mistakes, and they can be opportunities for learning lessons.
Whereas, failure is worse than mistake because for one to fail is to acknowledge or accept his or her “inability or incapability of not producing success”. In other words, failure is failure only when you give up – and the moment you decide you can’t is the moment you stop being able to.
Hence, failure is nothing to be afraid of – because, in the first place, failures do not exist unless you consider yourself as one, or throw in the towel and give up.
By the same token, mistakes too are nothing to be afraid of. The biggest mistake some people could ever make is to be too afraid to make one.
According to a study conducted in Terminal Palliative Care wards, one of the regrets most people have when dying is their failure to take more risks than they should have had: “I wish I would have taken more risks,” the study noted.
Sometimes, to be successful tomorrow, you must be wrong today. So don’t let the fear of making the wrong decision prevent you from making any decision at all. At the end of your fear is the “person” who you really want to be.
Apparently, one underlying reason for fear of mistake or failure is because, being content in the “comfort zone of what we know”, we are ashamed of being exposed about “what we do not know”.
Jacob Devaney, author of “How A Bruised Ego Can Be Good For The Soul”, has this to say:
“Shame, humiliation and failure can be like giant monsters that are behind many of life’s decisions. We are taught to be proud of what we know, and are naturally ashamed of what we do not know. Hurtling ourselves into a place of unknowns undermines our sense of self and our confidence. This is mainly due to ‘confirmation bias’, our cognitive tendency to only read or seek information that supports our existing worldview and beliefs...Our mind and ego are trapped, we’re stuck in our comfort zone of what we know – and we don’t dare to venture into a new field of yet ‘unknown’ because of fear of failure and shame.”
Now, still haunted by the fear of failure or making mistakes? The following points will help.
1. Fear of failure is a lot worse than failure itself. As already said, there are no failures unless you acknowledge being one, by giving up. And the moment you decide you can’t is the moment you stop being able to.
2. Growth happens at the edge of our comfort zone. Albert Einstein wrote, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
3. Those who have the courage to embrace what they do not know become wiser, while those who only cling to what they already know are stuck in that place. Yes, indeed, life is a never-ending progression of knowing, trying and learning, growing, and transformation.
Have peace. Dare to step out of the “comfort zone of what you know”, and be not afraid of mistakes, failure, or what you do not know.