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Falling, Flailing and Failing: The Differences and Why It’s Important

By: Kim Dickerson


We often mistake failure for flailing or falling.

We mark our lives with successes and failures, but the problem is that failure is only a construct to make a person feel better or worse about themselves. Failure is what you make of it, but that word is finite and life rarely is.

Life is a series of ebbs and flows and failure is a dam.


The definition of failure we will use here is provided by Merriam and Webster “a falling short”. While there are several definitions, this is the most apropos for what I’m going to talk about here.

Let us look at the differences between falling and failing. Falling is truly the hardest thing to stop because emotionally it is tough to navigate through. In the moment, the feelings of helplessness are surrounding you. You have guilt because this was not your plan.

The good news is that while you’re falling, you can change trajectory. You can slow yourself down until you get “plan B” in place. It is not the end-all-be-all of life. You can still work toward the outcome you desire while you are falling. Falling is a means to an end, it’s not the end.

Flailing is not having a particular path to your end, so you find yourself reaching out to anything that you think my help you achieve your goal. If the first thing you grasp doesn’t work, then you jut your hand out at the next closest thing and so on and so forth until you blindly find the thing that works. You spend the time between inception and finality flailing and feeling lost, scared, and defeated. It adds so much stress to your life, and it is most certainly something that you can control.

Failing is quite simple. Failing is quitting. That is most literally the only way you can fail (something other than a test that is). Fail is choosing to walk away from your goal.

What we don’t realize is that there are many paths to our target.

Even if we have the same objective, the way we get there may be totally different. Just because that’s the case, it does not mean that we have failed.

The problem with distinguishing between the three is this; the all feel the same. The

hopelessness, the fear, the anger, the sadness, and the feelings of loss are all the same. The difference is with two of them, those feelings go away on their own. Failure is the one that needs to be worked through on its separately. Failure also does not have to be permanent. Failure may just mean that your goal is a little to the right or left of where you ended up. It is only finite if you quit.

So, if you feel like you have failed, look at your map again and find a new route to success.



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