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Failure vs. success: Which is the better teacher? Essay Sample

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Failure vs. success: Which is the better teacher? Essay Sample


There is this popular saying that goes— ‘learn from our mistakes’ (Lickona 23). Learning from one’s mistake is one way of improving one’s status in life. But can one learn from success? In the same vein, can one learn from failure? However, if someone may be able to learn from these two developmental aspects of learning, then which of them is the better teacher? Is it failure or success?

There is no doubt that everybody wants to succeed in life. Success is an indication that someone has improved either financially or mentally. But it must be understood that success has a lot of permutations, like achievement in terms of financial status, educational attainment, professional growth, philosophical enlightenment, among many others. In other words, the essence or meaning of success is personal to the individual concerned. That is, what is successful to me may not be successful to you.

In contrast, failure has no variations. A person can only fail once in a particular endeavor or activity. It has no other forms, as in when you fail, you know deep within that you really fail. It is something that cannot be denied. Failure is the absence of success.

Failure as the better teacher

It may not work to other people but to me, failure is the better teacher. Failure connotes that an individual is given all the faculties he needed to succeed in life (Mayhew 300). It is inevitable. To succeed in life, a person must use his physical strength and mental faculties. These will serve as the means to achieving success, but not the basis of it. Relying on the premise mentioned above that ‘failure is the absence of success,’ it is important to note that man only has to apply and use his positive qualities (e.g. intellect, physical vigor, etc.) to succeed. There can be no advanced or even preliminary failure. One cannot fail before he/she can start with his journey or endeavor. It all starts with an action or concept, and only after a series or interval of action, time, and space can one tell that he/she fails.

On the other hand, success is something that you achieve, logically because no person in his/her right man would want to fail in his/her activity or endeavor. Imagine a child who just learned how to walk. Before he could walk he must perform first such acts— like crawling or holding on to an object like chair or table— to enable him to get up. But usually he would fail before achieving his objective, which is to walk. If you observe closer, you would see that the child, after failing to stand or to walk, would try to do certain acts, like balancing himself or trying to practice his movements, before he could formally learn to toddle. This example illustrates the usual process wherein someone who is still in the preliminary process learns from his own failures.

For scientists this concept is called trial and error. In a particular endeavor, activity, or experiment where one is a novice or starter, the tendency to fail is higher than the tendency to succeed. Before an intransigent inventor could complete his/her invention, it is possible that he might be waylaid by a series of mistakes or failures. But since he is strong-willed, he would try to figure out where he failed in order to pursue his goal.

Success as something to achieve

One good question is— can one teach success? Students are taught in schools to master all the means to attaining success. But success per se cannot be taught. It would be implausible and fallacious for a teacher to say that success can be taught. If one can, then all people no longer have to undergo the process of learning— they just have to short cut it. It must be understood that success is an end to itself and the means to it comes from many forms. It can be through learning the processes or rules, and, as stated above— learning from one’s failure.

Another question— is success a teacher? Looking from one perspective, success can be a good teacher if one knows how to look at possible opportunities of what he had already achieved. That is, success, although an end in itself, can offer more opportunities (Dickens, Cardwell & Flint vxiii). This is consistent with the argument mentioned above that success has a lot of permutations, thus it also has a lot of stages. Man, by nature, is insatiable when it comes to achieving things. When one achieved something, he would still try to achieve greater things of greater heights. This is because of the nature of the thing or fact already achieved. Like man’s mind, all things in the universe offer a lot of opportunities still unknown to him.

In the last century, a single man named Nikola Tesla (87) discovered a kind of electricity still universally used today— the alternating current. Following this achievement, he wanted to achieve more— by inventing a machine that would convert static energy to electricity. But before he could achieve this ultimate goal, Tesla was betrayed by his physical body. He died.

Positivist interpretation

Failure and success should not be taken as opposites. They are, by nature, interrelated. This is the positivist way of understanding the nature of failure and success. Failure is not the end of everything. A rational individual will never cease from living, moving, or working just because he met his very first failure.

Failure makes one stronger and more mentally, physically, and emotionally equipped. A person who recovers from a devastating letdown yet still succeeds is considered more successful in life than the person who achieved so much in life but ceased after failing once. Thus, this makes failure as the best teacher (Farson & Crichton 34). The fact that one contemplates where he failed means he has all the intention and willingness to go forth despite going through a series of failures.


Dickens, C., Cardwell, M. & Flint, K. Great Expectations. Oxford: Oxford University Press,


Farson, R. & Crichton, M. Management of the Absurd. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Lickona, T. Character Matters: How to help our children develop good judgment, integrity,

and other essential virtues. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004

Mayhew, R. Essays on Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living.’ Maryland: Lexington Books

Tesla, N. My Inventions. United States: Filiquarian Publishing, LLC, 2006

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