Failing your way to success


by Aditi Mishra – I love adages. Pithy, punchy, and bite sized – they are the most effective means to disseminate life hacks. However, I could never wrap my head around the adage, “failure is the pillar to success” – until now.

I remember hearing it first as an over-competitive 7 year old and thinking this is exactly something a loser would say. Assigning value to failure seemed defeatist. Why dwell on painful failure, when everyone is telling you what success is, and how to be successful.
What changed my attitude was grad school.

Neither life nor life science comes with a predefinition of success or an instruction manual.

School and society keep selling us the romantic notion of one kind of success and a straight path leading to it. While in reality, success is undefined. All of us are just fumbling around in the dark, using our predecessor’s experiences as our flashlights.

Most days in grad school are spent troubleshooting. So naturally we end up failing a lot. I think what keeps many of us going is one basic philosophy of science. The philosophy that negative information is also information – an often overlooked thought.

Science makes you reflect upon your failures. Every failure is transformed into an informative data point where success was not achieved – an opportunity to understand what not to do, where not to look. Every reflection reduces your prediction error.

I still get overwhelmed sometimes. Failure is still painful and frustrating but looking at it through this lens gives it some meaning.

Hard work and sacrifice also help in staying the course but they don’t give us the meaning to strive and meaning is what makes it easier. Paraphrasing Nietzsche: when you have the ‘why’ you can bear any ‘how’.

This is why I wake up every morning and do the same experiments yet again. Will my flies exhibit stellar behavior today? Most likely not. But will I learn something and fail less (better) tomorrow? Yes.

I am trying not to see success as the opposite of failure, but as the end result of failing iteratively – a little less each time. I’m still learning and I’m trying to apply this to life in general. Perhaps that’s wise, perhaps I’m being too naïve.

Well, what do I know? After all, I am just a grad student who talks to her flies!

  One thought on “Failing your way to success

  1. June 7, 2018 at 8:44 am



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