Debugging Failure: 7 common reasons we fail at something

What was your latest failure?

Mine was last week.

I had thought about creating a program to help students and young professionals with all the tools, expertise and wisdom I have gathered throughout the years. I started jotting down ideas on my magic ReMarkable, and started to add and refine these ideas as they came.

Then, I jumped into action, and the next day, I was posting about this program on my LinkedIn page.

I felt excited about the prospect of students and other professionals joining for a Masterclass, that did not have all the academic requirements of the classes I teach in Business School, but could also include some coaching and supporting them through their current life and professional challenges.

Nobody showed up.


Zero people filled out the survey I sent. I received zero emails about this project, and only two people liked the post on LinkedIn.

It is true, I had posted this on a Friday afternoon Pacific Time on LinkedIn, which means that most people in Europe were already sleeping to prepare for their weekend. I went too fast. I didn’t take my own medicine:

Slow down to Speed up.

And, I found myself feeling happy to remove the time slots that I had booked in my calendar to hold these two sessions. It felt great to create that space.

Another funny thing happened: I didn’t care nor feel any negative sensation nor emotion to that “failure.”

I failed fast, and I enjoyed it.

I had heard a lot about failing fast, but probably rarely experienced such joyful failure.

I also checked-in with myself what was missing for me.

I’d love to coach and support more people, AND, knowing myself, I don’t want to do all the admin, coordination and enrollment for large groups.

That’s what was missing for me.

I learned so much from this failure, and look forward to failing more and enjoying more !

While some failures don’t really matter.

Others can feel like a longer sting.

“Fail fast” is a common motto in startup culture.

“Fail forward” is another one, in the coaching space.

“There is no failure, just information”, is common in the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

Failure can also be a source of wisdom.

Here are 7 common reasons why we fail:

1. Not the right goal

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

Stephen R. Covey

How did you set up this goal in the first place?

What made you think it was the right one?

If you were to replace it by a goal that reflects more accurately your current understanding of the situation, what would that be?

2. You didn’t really want that in the first place, or don’t want that anymore now

Sometimes, we change and so does what we want.

Sometimes, it can be wise to sit with the goals we set for ourselves, and see if we still feel they are worth pursuing the next day, next week, month, or in a decade.

How does this feel in relation to that goal?

3. You didn’t use the right strategy or didn’t take the right actions

As Peter Drucker said:

“Everything lies in execution.”

Simple advice here: Start again.

4. Not the right time

Indeed, there is no such thing as unrealistic goals, but there are unrealistic time frames.

5. Lack of inspiration

Is your goal really worth it?

Why does it matter to you?

Does it make you come alive?

Does it make you gasp, grin and giggle? (Like Michael Neill suggests in his book Creating The Impossible)

6. Wrong metric

How do you know it is a failure?

Maybe it is not a failure. Maybe you are simply measuring the wrong way.

How is your metric serving your goal?

How is it getting into the way of really measuring your progress?

(i.e. would there be a more accurate metric that would measure your progress on the ladder you truly would like to escalate?)

7. Giving up too early

That’s a common one for me. Sometimes, I don’t try very hard. I don’t really have a competitive spirit, and I am so not attached to the results that I rarely care about the outcome or failure. So sometimes, it holds me back, because I give up quickly as I know I can bounce back with something else.

One of my friends and coach told me:

“Don’t quit the game until you’re hurt.”

“I’m not hurt, I’m still in the game.”

What are your common reasons for failure?

How are these reasons helping you move forward and become wiser?

How are these reasons holding you back from more success?

(Remember that success lies on the other side of multiple failures.)

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