Being raised in a middle class South East Asian culture, I am very much familiar with this interesting concept of success and failure.

Culturally, success meant being on top of your class, graduating with honors, making sure you have experience in a sport or a form of art, working a stable 9-5 preferably in the medical or legal field, saving money, getting married by 25, having kids by 30, placing said kids in a private school and them being on top of their class… It goes on and on.

On the other hand, I was taught how failure is not being able to finish school with honors (making one’s opportunities for work limited), working on an artistic platform (because the stability of artistic careers is questionable), failing to grow a business within a year, doing anything else with one’s money other than saving it, being single and childless by 30, (or worse) being a single parent, being overweight and unattractive (in the general sense)…

As I thought of this years ago, with the goal of contemplation and emotions detached, I realised that the concept of failure is simple.

It’s basically living life in ways that society doesn’t deem as proper or acceptable. It’s challenging the tribe’s perspective. It’s being isolated because you chose the path less taken.

This is what society deems as failure at its core. It’s a tagging of difference– moving yourself (unconsciously or unintentionally) out of the tribe’s way of living.

If failure is simply not reaching a certain expectation and does not mean anything about the kind of person you are, then it’s almost pointless that we have such an inherent fear of it and feel so much intense emotion from the experience of it.

Realizing this gave me a whole new level of freedom.

With this, I want to take things one step further. I want to redefine failure for myself.


Failure is subjective and surely has more of an emotional definition than a logical one.

If you’re being pedantic, a simple online search for failure brings you the definition of it being “a lack of success” or “the omission of expected or required action”. Both of which have no exact meaning since success and expected action in itself are subjective. Realising this taught me that I can reshape failure into something that served me.

And this is how I redefined failure to be: Failure is “gathering feedback”.

The moments I would previously label as failed would now mean that, in spite of the whole experience being unpleasant, I get to mine whatever gold I was there to gather. I mentally noted the feedback I got from the environment, the results of an action and the reactions I would have about certain things.

What was previously a moment of deep sadness became one of proactive motivation.


I practiced seeing failure in this way over the past half-decade. It was a conscious shift to a different way of thinking nobody in my inner circle shared.

I have since liberated myself from the pressures of having to be who others want me to be, from paving my path with someone else’s success blueprint in mind, from starting and raising a family to make someone else happy and from suppressing my creative expression to only show what’s safe for others to see.

I have learned a lot along the way of redefining failure for myself.

Lesson #1: Become a curious observer of yourself.

Redefining failure helped me feel into the situation without drowning in disappointment and frustration. Instead, I became curious. I gathered feedback as a (loving, compassionate) detective would. I constantly ask myself questions like…

  • What do you think caused you to react this way?
  • What are you trying to avoid?
  • What emotions are behind this action?
  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • What does it mean for you to be ____?

When you redefine failure, you instantly tune into the journey of self-mastery. You lean into knowing more about yourself and all of your active participation in the situation. It was no longer a question of blame. It became an interesting exploration.

Lesson #2: The moments we consider as failure are the ones that hold the most powerful lessons.

What many choose to ignore is that failure contains the most intense sensations and the most complex emotions, which means that the experience holds the most life-changing lessons. These golden nuggets have the potential to catapult you into the next level. But only if you recognize it and apply it in your life.

The earlier you see these moments as momentary setbacks, the faster and smoother you shall rise as well.

You can begin this process by asking yourself, “What am I here to learn?”

Wading through the emotions may take time but once you see it, the veil would be lifted and you’re ready to take on the next leg of your journey.

Lesson #3: Everything is subjective.

Failure is huge as both a cultural and societal concept. This is why I don’t go as far as saying that you can never fail. Saying that is too much of a mental and energetic stretch for many.

What I can impart to you is that a concept many thought as objective, as a common truth, is not how it looks like. It’s subjective and very much dependent on your own experience.

You can change it.

You can redefine what failing is for you. You can mould its definition into something that triggers a positive response over something that shackles you and keeps you stuck.