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Failure as a Faithful Mentor

failure as a mentorThere is a cliche I’ve always hated. It goes something like this:

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

My mind catches even the merest hint of this cliche brewing and lunges like a puppy after a squirrel.

Because the thing is, I know I can always fail. And I have plenty of proof.

Plus, “failure,” like “faith,” is one of those overused yet less well understood words that can mean pretty much whatever I need or want it to mean.

Not to mention that the lens through which I view any so-called “failure” could very well determine whether whatever I see remains classified as failure or gets moved to a different category (such as “success in progress”).

So when I started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” and I got to the chapter where she writes that she finds much more motivation in thinking about what she would do if she knew she might very well fail – well, that just made a whole lot more sense to me.

I found myself thinking, “Oh thank goodness. Someone else finds that cliche annoying too AND she can explain why!”

In fact, oddly, just thinking about what I might do if I knew I could not fail evokes in me an odd latent intent towards procrastination. 

I mean, if I already know I cannot fail, where’s the excitement of the journey? It’s kind of like watching a movie I’ve already seen – reassuring, comforting, numbing, but certainly not urgent in any way.

But watching a brand new film, like attempting something that offers no guarantees of failure and/or success – now that is suspenseful.

That is intriguing. There is a sense of urgency – a desire to keep watching/participating – a motivation to find out what happens and how it all turns out.

Plus factoring in the possibility of failure mentors me to bring my A-game to whatever the endeavor may be. I have always felt that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well (otherwise you’ll find me procrastinating on the couch, which is where I prefer to spend most of my non-A-game free time).

In fact, looking back to the many (many many many) days and weeks and months and years I spent recovering from an eating disorder, from depression and anxiety, from low self-esteem, from body hate, from insecurity, from people pleasing, from debt, from loser relationships, from lots and lots of other things….well, every time, I have always been aware at the widest-eye level that failure was likely, perhaps even imminent.

It never stopped me – on the contrary. It made me feel alive, to stare potential failure or even death in the face and say, “Come on out and get me if you want me!”

It too could never resist that challenge – it always came to get me. Of course. I would expect nothing less from any worthy mentor.

Today’s Takeaway: How do you feel about the phrase “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Do you find that phrase motivational? De-motivational? Something else? What works best for you to find the courage and persistence to try anything new?

Little girl on skis photo available from Shutterstock

Failure as a Faithful Mentor

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). Failure as a Faithful Mentor. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Feb 2016
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