How to Build Your Confidence Through Failure

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This is the 3rd in a series of four posts about experts. Here is the introduction post where you can find the others.

I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
– Thomas Edison

Yesterday I wrote about the three required characteristics for being an expert. The biggest challenge of these three is building confidence.


According to, confidence is the state or quality of being certain. Confidence is knowing that whatever you’re going to do will be successful.

With these definitions, it is easy to stall or be paralyzed with fear of failure. But these definitions lack an important piece.

Confidence is forging ahead, driving toward success and being comfortable with any outcome.

Where lack of confidence comes from

Children over the past few decades have not been encouraged to fail. With trophies for every attempt at a competition, we have developed them to be a win-only generation. It is believed that the “give everyone a ribbon” style of coaching will build confidence. The problem is eventually the kiddos will fail in real life where there is no honorable mention ribbon.

By its very nature, life is full of failure. We do children a disservice by teaching them to succeed at everything. And we have done ourselves the same disservice.

How to get it back

Fail often. The more you fail, the more comfortable you’ll be doing it. The more comfortable with failure you are, the less afraid you will be to take on something new. The more you fail, the more confident you will be in everything you do.

How to set yourself up for success failure

You should set yourself up for success and when failure comes along, embrace it and get more comfortable with it. The best place to try this out is in a continuing education class or a community college. Take a class that you are slightly interested in or one that gives you a little fear to start with (College Algebra always seems to do it). Work hard to do well. Embrace the feeling if you fail. You might find that you succeed more that you expected!

“Comfortable with Failure” is not “Expecting Failure”

Consider this scenario of expecting failure:

I’m going to start a new business. I want to make widgets and sell them at $45 each. I’m not sure if people will buy them at that price. They might not. I wonder if I should lower my price. Maybe people won’t want widgets. Perhaps I should make something else. Well, I’ve already invested in a widget franchise, I might as well do it even though it might not work. Well, if it works, then great. If not, I somewhat guessed it wouldn’t.

Compare it to this scenario of being comfortable with failure:

I’m going to start a new business. I want to make widgets and sell them at $45 each. Widgets are great and everyone needs one. I need to make sure I market this properly so that people know about them. I’ve price them fairly so that people perceive value and still can afford them. Everyone will love this. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

Getting comfortable with failure is very different than expecting failure. Make sure you expect and prepare for success. And be comfortable with any outcome.


To have the confidence to succeed you must be comfortable with failure. Find a way to practice it. Do something challenging at which you might not be the very best. Build confidence using failure in small things and grow to confidence in the big things.

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5 Responses to How to Build Your Confidence Through Failure
  1. John Garrett
    September 16, 2010 | 7:37 pm

    Hey Idearella, I just came over here from the ProBlogger forum, and this article really struck me.

    I’ve tried (and failed) so many times to get whatever idea I had off the ground, and even though sometimes I might be a little bit crushed (ok more than a little bit), I never think about packing it in entirely.

    Each time I’m ready to go for it again, I come out of the gate a little bit harder, a little bit faster, and I sidestep the mistakes I made last time.

    Most of the time I just think about how good it’s gonna feel when I finally pull “it” off. These days no matter what I’m doing, I always do it with a swagger…

    • Idearella
      September 17, 2010 | 4:21 am

      Thanks for the comment, John. I’m right there with you.

      I always do it with a swagger…

      I love it!

      I have a friend who likes to quote: “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving’s not for you.”

      I respond with, “But everything else is!”

  2. Sylvain OBEGI
    September 19, 2010 | 10:42 am

    Failure is underrated, and it’s a shame we don’t value it more. I wrote an article about that, Forget Success. Fail More!

    But then again, what’s funny about confidence is that it’s not at all related to actual skills. You can decide to be confident, and have more chance of success that if you were realistic and cautious.

  3. dmonet
    September 20, 2010 | 12:50 pm

    I think you’re right! If we think back to early childhood development – we celebrate children’s failures all the time. When they pull themselves up to try and stand, then fall back on their butts a room full of adults will clap & howl with encouragement. And they will keep trying with all of us engaged in every little failure and success. Wouldn’t it be great if we got cheered for our ‘almosts’ like when we were kids.

    • Idearella
      September 22, 2010 | 9:04 am

      I think we should celebrate almosts! Great idea.

      That might make a good post: “10 Ways to Look for ‘Almosts’ and Celebrate Them.”

      I like it!

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