Are You a Failure or Worse Than a Failure?

by Alexander Heyne · 10 comments

“You’re not a failure. You’re worse than  failure — because a failure is someone who has at least tried.” 


I was watching a movie the other day and one scene really stuck in my head. A young guy is driving drunk, with his friend doing a bunch of drugs in the passenger seat.  They get into a car accident, and a cop shows up at the scene (which turns out to be the driver’s father).

The kid in the driver seat says “Thank god it’s you Dad, we’d be in jail for a long time if it weren’t you.”

The dad didn’t care it was his son, “Shut the hell up and get on your goddamn knees,”  he said.

And he proceeds to arrest his son.

His son starts crying and pleading, saying he’s such a failure and he knows it, talking about how he hasn’t done anything with his life and he’s trying his best.

His father replies, “No son. You’re worse than a failure. Because a failure is someone who has at least tried.”


Lots of us assume we’re failures, or assume other people are failures, but in reality we’re worse than failures.

We say we “tried” something — the soccer team in high school, starting a business after college, a relationship or marriage with a person — and that it’s time to give up now, because we “tried.”

“At least I gave it a good run,” we lie to ourselves.

Well, you’re in for some bad news.

So much of the time when we tell ourselves “I tried my best,” we’re full of shit.

The title “failure” needs to be earned

A failure is in a whole different category than someone who hasn’t tried.  For some reason we tend to just put people in two categories: success, and everything else.  But the reality is that there are degrees of non-success.  And they aren’t all created equal.

You don’t deserve the title of “failure” if:

  • You have a ton of “million dollar ideas” that you haven’t seriously tried
  • Many of the decisions you should be making aren’t made because of fear (it’s a common thread)
  • You lack commitment to one cause or idea
  • You don’t risk something (money, safety, happiness, time)
  • You haven’t tried seriously

The threads underlying the worse-than-failure personality? Fear and laziness.  Laziness – because it’s easier to dream up a million dollar idea than to do it.

And fear – because “worse-than-failures” prefer the predictability of a mundane life to the uncertainty inherent in an excellent one.

What “trying seriously” actually means

The last point about “worse-than-failures” is that they don’t try seriously. But they deceive themselves into thinking they do.

It’s like a young boy running a 100 meter dash who is too afraid of hurting himself or too afraid of throwing up his lunch to push himself to win.

It’s like the business owner who sees some success but quits as soon as some deals fall through or progress isn’t going as quickly as she thought.

It’s the blogger who has been writing blog posts for months and hasn’t seen any income from it.

And it’s the guy in the bar who chats up a pretty girl but is too afraid to ask for her phone number.

They all say: “I tried my best..”

Unfortunately it’s the fear talking, and not you.  And none of those entail really trying.

Trying half-assed is like not trying at all.   So many choices we make in life are actually black and white – but fear makes us put in the grey area.

Seriously trying something entails constantly getting knocked down, and then getting back up.

It entails running until you think your lungs will explode and you’ll collapse on the ground dead.

It means creating a business that flops once, twice, three times, and starting over.

And it means pushing past the fear to ask a pretty girl for her number, and instead, doing it regardless of the consequences (scarier than death for most men).

The truth about failure

The truth about failure is that it’s a thousand times more respectable than what most people end up calling a “failure.”

Most of us are “worse-than-failures” and it’s time to accept it.

Real failure entails risk, it entails constant difficulty and constant striving, it entails heartbreak, gain and loss, and blindingly hard work.

It entails many days of talking yourself off that ledge.

Calling someone a failure, therefore, says a lot about a person’s character. It’s a title of respect.

And many of us don’t deserve the title of failure.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt


It’s time for you to ask yourself. Are you a failure, or worse than a failure? 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Alexis January 19, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Hey Alex,

Found your site via Tiny Buddha. Just want you to know that I like a) your writing style, and b) what you choose to write about – really resonates with me.



afheyne January 20, 2012 at 12:32 am


Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if I can help you out in any way —

Happy Friday



Paul January 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I find that so many people have the lost in head lites look when you ask them their plans for the future. I was recently told by a friend that he doesn’t have the luxury to think about a future. How sad that so many people are lost and tied to a paycheck. Of course we will alway need people to say would you like fries with that! By the way how goes the search for martial arts training ?


afheyne January 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm


Agree, when I ask most people my age (I’m 24) what their plans are… I get blank stares. Usually followed by “ummm, travel?”

There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s so surprising to me that no one answers like this: “Run a marathon, start my own business, go bungee jumping, live in another country, learn French… ”

I realize we all have our own constraints and limitations, but not being ambitious is a huge limitation in and of itself.

Just pick something and roll with it.. go on an adventure is my advice to most people.


Annie Andre January 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Love the description of the dad and son. And the best thing about failing after dozens of times is the sweet taste of success. Because inevitably success always comes.


Robin August 31, 2012 at 1:46 am

Oh my…
This is the macho B.S. I’ve read in a while.

I know you won’t understand this, but living
an “excellent”, “exciting” life gets boring after a while.
Creating your own business? pffft..
that’s 90% marketing Travel the world? I’ll bet most
airline attendants have seen more than you ever will.
And if you believe it’s inpossible to fail as long as you don’t
quit, then I know a legless & armless Black Knight you should

We start living when we die with each moment. Our circumstances or tasks
do not make life “alive”, but rather our attitude to whatever life offers
wherever we are. Life is impersonal, there is always someone stronger, smarter,
faster, or more able than we but who did not get as far in life as we did.
The rich and intimate life is made of both the miraculous and the mundane,
the willingness to engage life however it is with openness is what brings potential and energy. This is not some Oprah-speak happy talk. Just what I’ matill trying to learn, going on 35.


afheyne August 31, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hi Robin —

I’m sure most airline attendants have seen quite a lot, seeing as they travel full-time for their jobs and I don’t. Although I’m quite satisfied having been to 40+ countries as a 25 year old.

I hope I didn’t convey the idea that “it’s impossible to fail as long as you don’t quit.” Not even close. My archives on this very site are loaded with my personal failures! I’ve failed at every business I’ve tried so far – I won’t lie for a second and claim that’s true.

Again it’s not a matter of comparison – who cares if people have more successful businesses than me, or have been to more places? That’s like comparing people you date – other people may be more attractive, or more intelligent, or more successful, but you’re ideally with a person because the whole package you like. The same is what I aim for in enjoying my life – an overall fun, fresh, adventurous kind of existence.

And there is definitely plenty of wisdom behind your saying “we start living when we die with each moment.” It’s not an easy skill though! I think it’s the state of mind most sages of old spoke about – in finding meaning and excitement in everything we do , especially the most “mundane” of things.


Glen April 30, 2014 at 9:33 pm

When all of these fail…kill yourself.


Alexander Heyne May 1, 2014 at 6:22 pm



… Get back up, and start all over again. When you think about it – you don’t have an option.

This poem might help:


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