Why We Need Mistakes and Failures

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard 

A while back, I was invited to attend the Asian Chamber of Commerce’s 22nd Annual Awards Gala. Focused on “The Spirit of Entrepreneurship,” the Asian Chamber of Commerce celebrated individuals who exemplified great leadership skills in the Houston community.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Lynda Chin, surprised me by talking about failure. A scientist, Dr. Chin is the first to admit medical mistakes. She talked about cancer-related pharmaceuticals having a 95% failure rate, because the medication needs to be tailor-made to the individual.

I had never heard someone in a high-ranking position admit to failure so freely.  But as she put it,  “There is no success without failure. There are no experiments that succeed before first failing.”

So in essence failure is the stepping-stone toward success.

Another person who inspired me that night was Keiji Asakura, an urban design and landscape architect. A botanist, without the degree, he was a lover of plant life. Asakura was another model of someone who was able to take his mistakes and use them as the fundamental building blocks of his successes.

One day nearly 10 years ago, his company filed for bankruptcy, and on the same day his wife asked him for a divorce. Life couldn’t have been any worse. In the depths of despair he asked himself, “Why do I do what I do?” The answer: Because I love it.

Because he loved it. Hearing those words from someone not in entertainment reminded me of why I do what I do. Because I love it. Without that love there would be no point in enduring this much anxiety in anticipation of something greater.

People tell me all the time that they admire me for going after what I really want. But people only see what they want to; they forget that behind every truly large success, there are a million failures. For every good sentence that I write, there are thousands more that need to be rewritten.

So far, in my adult career, where I’m at now is my lowest point. There is nothing on the horizon that promises that the work I’m doing now will pay off. My life is a gamble.

My Dad actually—I say “actually” because he only inadvertently supported my career choice—said, “In every business there is a risk, but without risk there is no potential to prosper. You simply have to take it.”

He was talking to me about opening my own business, offering support for any kind of endeavor I might wish to take on. Little did he know, those words would be the tipping point for a drastic career shift.

I was talking to an editor of mine the other day and he asked me how I was liking Houston. As I began describing the things I love about the city, he told me he was jealous because it sounded like paradise.

I won’t go into details about our conversation, but the gist of it was that I felt freer to be creative in Houston than I ever did in Los Angeles.

The drive toward fame and fortune, in the city where dreams come true, overshadowed my desire to write. While I was trying so hard to stay on top of the latest restaurants and lounges as a means of networking (which honestly led me nowhere), I found that I had no time to do what I came to LA to do, which was telling stories.

In the four years post-college, I wrote nothing of substance, not because I had nothing to say, but because I didn’t have the time to write it down. Epic fail.

My greatest fear right now is that I’ll never truly succeed as a writer.

I fear failure like a deer fears a lion because, while I don’t mind the chase now, I know I’ll ultimately tire. Truthfully, I don’t trust myself not to trade my dreams for stability as age creeps up on me.

It’s not that I fear getting older—I have no desire to relive my 20’s. What I am afraid of is that my book will so poorly received that I’ll let failure win by giving up. I come from a harsh background where support is given in the form of criticism, so I’m also afraid of losing face.

No ever talks about their failures except in retrospectives, and usually it is waived off in passing as something that had no bearing on their current success. But I bet it did. I bet that it propelled them forward and, if only indirectly, influenced their future decisions.

Instead of looking at failure as a ghost lurking in the corner, I’m working on embracing it and making it my own. 

We have a saying in Hollywood that goes, “When you fail, you fail upward.” That’s because failure is just a stepping-stone toward success. Without first making mistakes, we wouldn’t know how to succeed.

People are not two-dimensional. I am not two-dimensional. If I fail at one thing, I will try another. That’s the lesson in failure: it’s not to knock us down, but to challenge us to do better, to achieve more, to be greater.

The keynote speakers at Houston’s Asian Chamber of Commerce’s 22nd Annual Awards Gala all had something in common: failure before success.

I believe that life is a giant learning experience and every pitfall and disappointment leaves us with a stronger foundation to stand on, as we begin again.

Everyone talks about fear being the thing that holds us back, but if we learn to appreciate our failures then there is nothing left to fear.

Photo by stevendepolo

About Jamie Hoang

Jamie Hoang is a Los Angeles based writer, designer, world traveler, tea drinker and lover of the great outdoors. A firm believer in trying everything at least once, she's always learning. Her work can be found at or tweeting as @heyjamie.

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  • Amazing article. Really, it takes a lot for me to continue reading these days… and I really enjoyed this. Thanks.

    “behind every truly large success, there are a million failures. For
    every good sentence that I write, there are thousands more that need to
    be rewritten.” Well said.

    I often share that I had to do a million things perfectly wrong to get to where I’m at today. And I wouldn’t change any of them.

    We hear people talk about perspective all the time, how important it is. But as I have been through many failures in my life — some bringing me close to giving up completely — the lesson learned is, I have seen heaven so to speak and it’s in the gift of life. There are no failures as long as I keep trying, keep climbing, and most importantly, keep learning.

    My father passed away suddenly in 2010, and looking back over the few years prior, a conversation stuck out to me that he had with my wife. She asked him about doing something different with his life and he responded something like, “I’ve learned everything I’ve ever wanted to learn.” He had worked so hard and failed a few times at chasing his dream and was just tired. He resigned to working a laborious job that wore him down physically and emotionally and passed away within a year of retiring.

    Failing is easy; not giving up and having the willingness to learn takes courage. But then when you’ve been to the bottom, everything else is just gravy.

    I think there is a way to have something society would consider stable (J-O-B) and continue to work on our dream. At least that’s what I’m doing. My dream and passion is simply to empower people to be happy. And I can do that regardless of what my day job is. But I can also work towards a bigger picture as well.

    I recently self-published a book. I didn’t search for a publisher, I didn’t ask permission, I didn’t survey all my readers to see what they wanted. I had overcome something in life and simply wanted to document and share it. It was something I couldn’t “not” do.

    Has it succeeded? I think so. At least my wife is selling the crap out of my books and people tell me how it’s positively affected their lives. So that’s worth it. I’ll let others worry about defining failure vs. success, I’m just going to keep on starting things.

    OH, which reminds me of a great book I recently read: Poke The Box by Seth Godin.

    I for one love your writing. Thanks again for a great article.

  • Tyhansen222

    Feel the fear and do it anyway?

  • That’s fantastic! I will download that book to my kindle today! I couldn’t agree more: “I’ll let others worry about defining failure vs. success, I’m just going to keep on starting things.” Success and failure are self-defined and when I finish regardless of public success I’m going to be really proud! Thanks for the support and for sharing!


  • Exactly. Let it sizzle beneath and you propel you forward. 

  • marty88

    You have to feel your fears and use them to help you move forward! Yes, do it anyway! Doing so will take courage and there’s no better feelings than overcoming a fear!

    Good luck! 😉

  • gottsmart

    Nice article and great reminders Jamie.  Thank you.  I don’t care how long you’ve been writing it still requires faith and determination to keep doing it.  While I can’t say that I LOVE writing  (the same way I love my husband or even chocolate!) but it is something that I feel the need to do–so I keep doing it and along the way I too continue to learn and hopefully get better at it.  Mostly I’ve learned that when I stop trying to force things into happening and just let them unfold–amazing things appear.   I write about similar things on my own blog at  SMART Living 365. com  where I’ve also discovered that when you help others get what they want–you often get what you need as well.   I look forward to more of your posts…

  • You made some points that are really saying a lot here…specifically, the mention of knowing that with age, you might be likely to compromise your dreams in exchange for more stability. Also, the paragraph where you mention concerns about letting failure win by giving up. I am not sure if I ever heard or read someone put it like that but it’s surely an interesting perspective to take in — the thought of aiding in failure’s triumph by giving up and not going after what it is you love.

  • Soniyasa

    Hi Jamie,

    Thank you for your post. I have had many “lessons” in life. I am 45 this year. When I look back at the struggles I had and where it has taken me today ; Still learning “lessons” with a wiser, faith and confidence in my self from the past to achieve every thing I do for this moment and not think about tomorrow.

    What I want to share with you is ;
    Everything you today with your passion, dedication and goals will work out eventually.

    I am very grateful for the “lesson” for the past 26+ years to be able to stand on my feet;)

  • heyjamie

    “Everything you today with your passion, dedication and goals will work out eventually.”  Thank you for this. Most days I am keenly aware of it’s truth but on the really trying days it’s always nice to have someone else remind me. All the best to you!

  • Carole

    Thank you for putting into words all the thoughts that are going through my head. 

  • Jamie, as I read your story, I think there are two important points.  The first one is that I do believe that without failure there is no success.  The result of that is also that success is sweeter and better received when you have to fight to get it.

    The second thing that I want to bring up is your willingness to talk about your fear of loosing face.  So many women, older than you, are so afraid of what others will say, the ridicule, the harsh criticism, that they don’t give themselves the opportunity to succeed.

    I read once that in our 20’s we are very concern about what everyone else thinks, in our 40s we don’t care what anyone thinks and in our 60s we realized nodoby was paying that much attention to what we were doing.  I find myself thinking about that a lot (as I am now 45 and caring less and less about others opinions).

    I think you are in the right path and I hope to see your stories soon.  It does not matter if they are good or bad, if they are well received.  Do what truly brings you joy.  The first one might be a big hit or an epic fail.  Once you get that one out of the way, the others will come easier.

  • Jamie:

    You are so right!  Failure does come before success.  And we put a lot of energy into avoiding failure or at the very least denying our failure. 

    There is a blog you might find of interest:

    The blog is all about the mistakes people make and learning from them.   

    I wanted to add that people who experience the biggest failures are more often than not the people who have the courage to take the biggest risks.  So courage and risk-taking are also a part of the success formula.

    Warmly, Laureen

    P.S. I think you are incredibly successful as an author right now!  

  • Clearlykristal

    Excellent post. I always say that I am my biggest critic. I have learned that fear comes from within. The first step is to believe in yourself.

  • Stephanie

    This is a great article and really speaks to me. I have lost my job but I am trying to use that as a way to guide myself to success.thanks for the inspiration.

  • indu

    its really an amezing article,i appreciate it but i had a question , i am a dental student and my every mistake is directly propotional to the health of my patients ,its my first time when i am dealing with the patients i know i’ll learn to react and to correct my mistakes after practices but it pains a lot when i see people suffer due to my mistakes……i really need to talk to u as i am feeling myself a complete disaster …….

  • “…people who experience the biggest failures are more often than not the people who have the courage to take the biggest risks.”– I cannot tell you how often I fall back on that when I’m feeling discouraged and afraid. Thank you for your comment!

  • Mistakes are a part of the learning process. Every great dentist before you I’m sure made mistakes whether catastrophic or minor and used that mistake to somehow better themselves. It’s pretty clear that you care a lot about your patients and as someone who hates the dentist, I can say that’s all I hope for in mine. That they take their pledge to serve their community seriously and do their best. Good luck to you!

  • mermer83

    I seriously cannot get enough of this article. I too come from a family who’s advice was critical. I’ve always aimed to please everyone….everyone but myself. Finally I have come into my own and am standing up for what I believe in; what I desire. My family is not too fond of this new outspoken person I’m becoming but I really don’t care, I finally have a voice and know what I want to do with my life. No one can stop me now! Anyways, just wanted to say thank you for writing this and I totally can relate to what you went through and are continuing to go through! Keep up with your writing because it makes a difference 🙂

  • Diana Lopes

    Thank you for sharing this article. I think there are so many shame and guilt around failures in this modern day society. We have been bombarded that everything we do is out of choice, and it leads me to believe that yes, I did chose to fail this, it’s no one else’s fault but mine.

    I hold a lot of expectation for myself, thinking that I can do anything, that all I need to do is work really hard and have resilience. I work hard but I feel disappointed in myself because I thought that I should meet a new standard right now, that I should have improved right now. So along the way, I become really obsessed with work and it took a toll in my health. I feel ashamed for having done that. I felt really desperate to meet the expectation of myself and pressure from my relative to get a job with status, recognition, and respect. I thought since I’m the opposite of those expectation, I started to call myself a looser, somebody who shouldn’t live. I felt into a depressed state, and just thinking that I can’t do anything, that I feel scared to be left behind or ignored.

    I think for a long time, I’ve let my worth determined by how productive I am, and there are always feelings of I’m not good enough. I feel scared of being criticised by others too, but those criticism are minute in compared to my own inner critic.

    For a long time, I’ve let other people’s opinion of how I should live dictate my path and how I should live. I defined myself by my roles, and compared myself to others whether I fit into the right mode on how society wants me to act. It feels exhausting and I started to loose sight of my own values and what I love to do.

    Just do the next right thing, listen to yourself, take care of yourself, and live in a state of abundance rather than scarcity.

    “It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be superman” – Glenon Doyle, Love Warrior

    She is an amazing human being and one of my hero. I love her vulnerability.
    Also, watch her ted talk “What I learned from a mental hospital”.

    Once again, thank you for sharing