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Don't fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail. —Bruce Lee
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. —Samuel Beckett

Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.


Qui vincit non est victor nisi victus fatetur. —Ennius
  • All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
  • In the lexicon of youth, which
    Fate reserves for a bright manhood, there is no such word
  • He that is down needs fear no fall
    He that is low, no pride.
  • They never fail who die
    In a great cause.
  • Imagination is a force that can actually manifest a reality. … Don’t put limitations on yourself. Other people will do that for you. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t bet against yourself. And take risk. NASA has this phrase that they like, "Failure is not an option." But failure has to be an option. In art and exploration, failure has to be an option. Because it is a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks. … In whatever you are doing, failure is an option. But fear is not.
  • Stop thinking of failing.
    • Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (p. 75).
  • It's a failure only if you don't get anything out of it, Thomas Edison said he knew 999 ways that a light bulb did not work; yet we have lights today.
  • If failure has the strength to turn your life into bitterness itself, then patience has the strength to turn your life into the sweetest joy. Do not surrender to fate after a single failure. Failure, at most, precedes success.
  • Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.
    • Thomas Edison, The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948), p. 110.
  • I'm proof against that word failure. I've seen behind it. The only failure a man ought to fear is failure of cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best.
  • Qui vincit non est victor nisi victus fatetur.
  • Failure concentrates the mind wonderfully. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.
  • To me the greatest moment in an experiment is always just before I learn whether the particular idea is a good or a bad one. Thus even a failure is exciting, and most of my ideas have of course been wrong.
    • Ivar Giaever, Electron Tunneling and Superconductivity, Nobel Lecture [2] (December 12, 1973).
  • You are responsible for all of your successes, and the lack thereof. And that is the essential point that failure, your ever-faithful friend, wants to make: that your failure could not exist without you—without your stupidity, without your lies, without your mistakes, your uselessness, your lack of faith, your ineptitude, your unjustifiable confidence in your alleged abilities, you stupid loser—failure is your only friend. Failure is your only lover. Failure is your only hope.
  • Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one's horse as he is leaping.
  • The acceptance of ambiguity implies more than the commonplace understanding that some good things and some bad things happen to us. It means that we know that good and evil are inextricably intermixed in human affairs; that they contain, and sometimes embrace, their opposites; that success may involve failure of a different kind, and failure may be a kind of triumph.
    • Sydney J. Harris, Clearing the Ground, "Learning to Live with Ambiguity" (1986).
  • Genius is often only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it — so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience, would have achieved success. As the tide goes clear out, so it comes clear in. In business sometimes prospects may seem darkest when really they are on the turn. A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.
    • Elbert Hubbard, as quoted from Electrical Review (c. 1895) without further attribution in The Search for the North Pole (1896) by Evelyn Briggs Baldwin, p. 520, this was later published as part of various works by Hubbard, including FRA Magazine : A Journal of Affirmation (1915), and An American Bible (1918) edited by Alice Hubbard.
  • If one cannot have success, the next most agreeable thing is failure.
    • Jean Ingelow, Chapter 3, John Jerome, His Thoughts and Ways (1886)
  • I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying (no hard work).
    • Michael Jordan, Jordan, Michael. I Can't Accept Not Trying : Michael Jordan on the Pursuit of Excellence. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. p. 129.
  • I chose my path. You chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while... the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see the hero fail, fall, die trying.
  • I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.
    • John Keats, Letter to J. A. Hessey (October 9, 1818).
  • There is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object.
  • Don't fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.
    • Bruce Lee, Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living, Part VIII : On Ultimate (Final) Principles, p. 121 (2000).
  • Greatly begin! Though thou have time
    But for a line, be that sublime—
    Not failure, but low aim is crime.
    • James Russell Lowell, "For an Autograph," stanza 5, The Writings of James Russell Lowell (1890), vol. 9, p. 175.
  • That’s what failure did to: run you out, plucked your bones, sucked you dry. It was revolting. A failed man is a loathsome thing.
  • It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness. And if it be said, that continual success is a proof that a man wisely knows his powers, — it is only to be added, that, in that case, he knows them to be small.
  • With engineering, I view this year's failure as next year's opportunity to try it again. Failures are not something to be avoided. You want to have them happen as quickly as you can so you can make progress rapidly.
  • In God's world, for those who are in earnest there is no failure. No work truly done, no word earnestly spoken, no sacrifice freely made, was ever made in vain.
  • I have no use for men who fail. The cause of their failure is no business of mine, but I want successful men as my associates.
    • John D. Rockefeller, as quoted in Silas Hubbard, John D. Rockefeller and His Career, p. 72 (1904).
  • It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, speech at the Hamilton Club, Chicago (10 April 1899) The Strenuous Life (vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed.), chapter 1, p. 320 (1926).
  • We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.
    • Samuel Smiles, Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct, Ch. XI : Self-Culture — Facilities and Difficulties (1859).
  • Failure makes success so much sweeter, and allows you to thumb your nose at the crowds.
    • Wilbur Smith, The Secrets of My Success, an interview for Live magazine, the Mail on Sunday (UK) newspaper (December 5, 2010).
  • Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it's no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing. Is fear preventing you from taking action? Acknowledge the fear, watch it, take your attention into it, be fully present with it. Doing so cuts the link between the fear and your thinking. Don't let the fear rise up into your mind. Use the power of the Now. Fear cannot prevail against it.
    If there is truly nothing that you can do to change your here and now, and you can't remove yourself from the situation, then accept your here and now totally by dropping all inner resistance. The false, unhappy self that loves feeling miserable, resentful, or sorry for itself can then no longer survive. This is called surrender. Surrender is not weakness. There is great strength in it. Only a surrendered person has spiritual power.
  • Never mind failures; they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life, these failures. What would life be without them? It would not be worth having if it were not for struggles. Where would be the poetry of life? Never mind the struggles, the mistakes. I never heard a cow tell a lie, but it is only a cow—never a man. So never mind these failures, these little backslidings; hold the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.
  • Every failure is a step to success. Every detection of what is false directs us towards what is true: every trial exhausts some tempting form of error. Not only so; but scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of Error is without some latent charm derived from Truth.
    • William Whewell, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England, Lecture 7 (1852).
  • Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
    • Oscar Wilde, Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young (1894).
  • Value of age is it gives you visceral understanding that the journey never ends, the ultimate answer is never “No”, and new opportunities are endlessly creating themselves. Grief and loss at times are simply part of the process. What’s important is who we choose to be as we go through the grief. If we can allow ourselves to feel the pain but avoid bitterness, learning whatever lessons are inherent in the loss, then we’re stronger and the opportunities are greater on the other side of the hurt we feel now
  • Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.
    • Earl Wilson, as quoted in 0 to Bitch in 10 Seconds Or Less : Quips and Comebacks for Quick-Witted Women (2005) by Amy Hatch, p. 268.
  • Failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 252-53.
  • [Oxford] Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs and unpopular names and impossible loyalties.
  • Now a' is done that men can do,
    And a' is done in vain.
  • He that is down can fall no lower.
  • Camelus desiderans cornua etiam aures perdidit.
    • The camel set out to get him horns and was shorn of his ears.
    • Erasmus, Adagia. Chil, III. Cent. V. 8. heading. Greek proverb from Apostolius, IX. 59 b, VIII. 43. English a free translation of the same from the rendering of the Proverb applied to Baalam by the Rabbis of the Talmud. Sanhedrin. 106 a.
  • He ploughs in sand, and sows against the wind,
    That hopes for constant love of woman kind.
  • Failed the bright promise of your early day?
  • You may boldly say, you did not plough
    Or trust the barren and ungrateful sands
    With the fruitful grain of your religious counsels.
    • Philip Massinger, The Renegado. Arenas arantes. Plough the sands. Phrase used by Mr. Asquith, Nov. 21, 1894, at Birmingham. Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part III, Section 2. Mem. 1. Subs. 2.
  • "All honor to him who shall win the prize,"
    The world has cried for a thousand years;
    But to him who tries and fails and dies,
    I give great honor and glory and tears.
  • If this fail,
    The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
    And earth's base built on stubble.
  • Nam quamvis prope to, quamvis temone sub uno
    Vertentem sese, frustra sectabere cantum
    Cum rota posterior curras et in axe secundo.
    • Why, like the hindmost chariot wheels, art curst
      Still to be near but ne'er to reach the first.
    • Persius, Satires, V. 71. Dryden's translation. English, one of the mottoes of the Spectator, Tatler, Guardian.
  • Quod si deficiant vires, audacia certe
    Laus erit: in magnis et voluisse sat est.
    • Although strength should fail, the effort will deserve praise. In great enterprises the attempt is enough.
    • Sextus Propertius, Elegiæ, II. 10. 5.
  • Allow me to offer my congratulations on the truly admirable skill you have shown in keeping clear of the mark. Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing.
    • Thomas De Quincey, Works, Volume XIV, p. 161. Ed. 1863, quoting the Emperor Galerius to a soldier who missed the target many times in succession.
  • [Il] battoit les buissons sans prendre les ozillons.
  • How are the mighty fallen!
    • II Samuel. I. 25.
  • Here's to the men who lose!
    What though their work be e'er so nobly plann'd
    And watched with zealous care;
    No glorious halo crowns their efforts grand—
    Contempt is Failure's share!
  • And each forgets, as he strips and runs
    With a brilliant, fitful pace,
    It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
    Who win in the lifelong race.
    And each forgets that his youth has fled,
    Forgets that his prime is past,
    Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
    In the glare of the truth at last.
  • Abraham Van Helsing: Nothing is too small. I counsel you, put down in record even your doubts and surmises. Hereafter it may be of interest to you to see how true you guess. We learn from failure, not from success!
  • Not all who seem to fail have failed indeed,
    Not all who fail have therefor worked in vain.
    There is no failure for the good and brave.
  • For he that believeth, bearing in hand,
    Plougheth in the water, and soweth in the sand.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • A man's life is interesting primarily when he has failed—I well know. For it's a sign that he tried to surpass himself.
    • Georges Clemenceau, conversation with Jean Martet, June 1, 1928—Clemenceau, The Events of His Life as Told by Himself to His Former Secretary, Jean Martet, trans. Milton Waldman, chapter 30, p. 220 (1930).
  • I have no use for men who fail. The cause of their failure is no business of mine, but I want successful men as my associates.
    • John D. Rockefeller. Silas Hubbard, John D. Rockefeller and His Career, p. 72 (1904). Hubbard states that this was a favorite saying of Rockefeller's.
  • It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, governor of New York, speech before the Hamilton Club, Chicago, Illinois, April 10, 1899. The Strenuous Life (vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed.), chapter 1, p. 320 (1926).
  • Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
    • Oscar Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young," The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, vol. 10, p. 213 (1923).

See also

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