The F-word: a progression through failure

Nobody likes to talk about it.  It’s as comfortable as discussing religion and politics with family at the dinner table. but I feel the need to write about the F-word.


It’s not something we seek, nor is it something we can avoid.

No one attempts an endeavor hoping to be unsuccessful.  No one enters a competition yearning to get beat.  No one gets married dreaming of a future divorce.

So, what do I do with the F-word when it describes my circumstances?  I’d like to relate some of my thoughts.  Maybe they will help you frame the experience in which you find yourself. Maybe they will help you know what to do with your F-word.

I recognize these four stages when addressing failure.

  • Failure equals loss
  • Loss requires grief
  • Grief produces pain
  • Pain demands healing

Failure equals loss

In 2009, my father-in-law died of congestive heart failure. There is a full description on WebMD with medical terms describing this condition, but its simple explanation is this: his heart stopped working the way it was intended.

His heart failed. And as a result, we lost him.

To me, this is the first step in working through failure. I must acknowledge the loss that has occurred.  Plans got changed. The future will not look the same as it was hoped.

I’ve been given well-intended advice to not call it failure, but to me, to not use the F-word is to not fully embrace the process that lies ahead if I plan to reach my destination of recovery and wholeness.  If I ever plan to succeed again, I must work through it step by step.  Progress comes through process.

Loss requires grief

There is no loss without grief. And the degree of grief is directly proportional to how much that loss mattered.  Losing a child is going to feel different than losing a pet.  Both will hurt, but I can get another dog.  I can’t get a child back.

There is no going around it. I can only go through it if I am to get to a better place.  The failure that produced the loss is going to hurt.

Grief produces pain

So yes, it’s going to hurt and hurt bad.  No need to be surprised.

There is no way to soften the blow.

Pain demands healing

Pain is a watchdog that barks when there is a problem. It’s an indication that something is wrong.   In this way, pain can be helpful if it points me to the right solution for healing it. Whatever the cause, whether its physical, emotional or psychological, pain is demanding attention.  The sooner I pay attention to it, the quicker I can know how to deal with it.  When I was diagnosed with a goiter on my thyroid and the doctor’s advice was to leave it alone since it was benign and if anything changed, he would take a look at it again.  Seven years later, it had grown to the size of my fist and began to affect my breathing, which meant no more ignoring it.  Surgery was required. It was a hassle, but I breathe better now.


Failure is painful.  And like any painful experience, I need to seek healing from it.  But if my solution is only designed to deal with symptoms of the pain and not its source, I’ve settled for relief.  Read the label of most cold medicine and you will see it described as “relief from the painful symptoms of cold and flu.” Relief is not the same as healing.

This is the point where it gets tricky.  The pain might be so bad that the thought of making a full recovery seems impossible.  That’s what pain can do.  It can alter reality.  I can’t convince anyone who has lost hope.  I can only put my story out there, shed a little light on the path that I’ve trod, and hope someone else can find their way in the same direction.

Thanks for reading.

3 Replies to “The F-word: a progression through failure”

  1. As discussed in my class this evening, the F-word is also a positive. One can use failure to ‘fail forward’. I wish I could have read your post before this evenings class to add to the discussion. Spot on!

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