Learning to Fail Gracefully

Sarah McMahon
4 min readMar 3, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

I’m not writing about failure today because I failed at anything in particular recently. I’ve failed at plenty, though. I’ve dropped out of races, gone through dozens of job interviews that never resulted in offers, submitted my writing to publications only to have it rejected time after time after time. I’ve failed tests and I’ve failed in the workplace and I’ve failed in relationship with others. There is no area of life that goes untouched by failure, so we may as well embrace it. Failure, to me, is synonymous with persistence. You only fail if you fail to try again.

According to Professor Martin Covington of The University of California, the fear of failure is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. Professor Covington’s research on students, published in the Handbook of Motivation at School, found that one way we protect our self-worth is by believing we are competent, and by convincing others of it, too. The ability to achieve is therefore critical in maintaining self-worth. Failing to perform can make us feel unable and unworthy. We often hear “fake it ’til you make it,” but unless you believe that you are competent, no amount of “faking it” will ever help you make it.

If you happen to fail once, that may be an easy enough shot at your self-worth to overcome. But what if you fail over…