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It’s okay to fail!


Is there a risk that we become less resilient in handling setbacks if we embellish and trivialize our failures? In this article, Sweden’s foremost high-altitude climber and esteemed speaker Fredrik Sträng problematizes a phenomenon that can weaken your “mental fortitude” if you are not honest about how you define success.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

It’s -30 degrees Celsius. I’m gasping for breath at 7650 meters. The wind blasts my frozen cheeks with its razor-sharp snow particles, and I’m wading through snow up to my waist. It’s a Sisyphean task to take one step up and slip half a step down. I’m on Broad Peak in Pakistan, the world’s 12th highest mountain at 8047 meters. The year is 2012, and this is my first attempt on this often underestimated peak. I will make two more summit attempts this year, but each time the mountain defeats me, and each time the weather gods thwart my chances. Defying the relentless storms is akin to suicide. So I turn back to see the light of another day. I swallow my pride, accept the disappointment, and remind myself that the powers of weather are beyond my control.

In 2017, I return, stronger than ever. Once again, I climb without oxygen and this time with a group of eight mountaineers. The weather is once again not on our side, and the higher we climb, the thicker the fog becomes. After what feels like an eternity, climbing on a steep ridge with 2 km drop on one side and 500 m drop on the other, the group cheers and raises their arms in euphoric victory. The summit! Finally! However, I feel doubtful. Is this really the highest point? Back in Sweden, historian Eberhard Jurgalski contacts me and questions our claim to the summit. After what feels like a Sherlock Holmes murder investigation, we conclude that I and the group missed the summit by 17 meters…

I publicly retract my claim. As the skier Per Elofsson once said, “break down, pull yourself together, and come back.” In 2018, my friend David Roeske and I stand at the place I presumed was the summit the year before. Now under blue skies and shining sun, but the wind gives us no respite. I film myself and point along the ridge, which first dips into a saddle and then winds up to the true summit, 17 meters above my feet. It took three expeditions and 5 summit attempts before I finally stood on the absolute highest point of Broad Peak. The sweetness of revenge was indescribable. But this story is not about whether it was worth all the effort to reach the summit. This article is about the danger of not acknowledging failure and the resilience we can cultivate if we become better at getting up every time we fall.

Did I fail on 4 out of 5 summit attempts? Most people I ask this question to tend to disagree. They argue that it can never be considered a failure not to reach the summit of an 8000-meter mountain if you come down alive. The goal is not solely the summit. For example, it’s not called “summiting,” but “climbing,” as the famous American climber Ed Viesturs puts it. While this is certainly true, is there a danger in not accepting defeat, in embellishing our failures, rewriting them as valuable lessons, and using the old cliché, “the mountain is still there!”?

I want to argue that there is a danger in vaccinating ourselves against the concept of failure. From childhood, aren’t we fed the notion that everyone is a winner until we suddenly wake up in adulthood and collide with a reality where everything is tougher? For instance, all children who complete the children’s Vasaloppet, for example, receive a medal, regardless of time. Accepting failure is an important part of personal and professional development, and there are several reasons why it’s important not to embellish failures:

Realistic self-image: Embellishing failures can lead to an unrealistic self-image and overly inflated self-confidence. A realistic assessment of our successes and failures is important for making informed decisions.

Better problem-solving: By carefully examining failures, we can identify underlying causes and work towards more effective solutions. This can be crucial in avoiding repeated failures.

Greater creativity: Confronting failures can lead to increased creativity and thinking outside the box as we seek new ways to solve problems and achieve our goals.

It’s important to emphasize that accepting failure does not mean devaluing oneself. Instead, it’s about being realistic, honest, and constructive in how we reflect on and learn from our experiences. This can help us become more resilient and effective when facing challenges and setbacks in the future.

A while ago, there was an adventurer who garnered widespread media attention by announcing her plan to summit Mount Everest without oxygen and without the help of Sherpas. However, she failed to complete the challenge and decided to climb with oxygen and with Sherpas, yet she still called her ascent successful and the media followed suit. Would we consider the Swedish national hockey team winners if, on one hand, they declared they would take gold but came home with a fourth place?

Your value doesn’t decrease just because you fail. But communicating that you’ve failed to accomplish what you set out to do is not only taking responsibility but also a part of the learning process to eventually succeed. Embellishing the image, as the woman did with her Mount Everest ascent, is manipulative, and believe me, there are no shortcuts to success in mountaineering.

Michael Jordan is known for his attitude towards failure and learning from it. One of his most famous quotes that highlights this is:


“For me to become the greatest basketball player, I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


This quote emphasizes Jordan’s willingness to accept and learn from his failures. He points out that it’s thanks to the missed shots and lost games that he has been able to achieve success. He sees failures as part of the process of becoming better and reaching higher heights. This attitude has inspired many and has made him one of the most iconic athletes of all time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t shy about embracing the value of failure. In addition to his famous movie quote “I’ll be back,” this also goes down in history:

“It’s okay to fail. You have to fail in order to climb the ladder. There is no one that does not fail. What is not okay is when you fail, and you stay down. Whoever stays down is a loser, and winners will fail and get up. You always get up.”


Did I fail four out of the five times I attempted to reach the summit of Broad Peak? Yes, I did, because the goal was to reach the top. I want to argue that the earlier we teach children that it’s okay to fail in life, the better equipped they will be to handle adulthood. The more entrepreneurs we will have who dare to take risks, otherwise, we risk creating a society that believes they can buy lottery tickets. As Apple says in their ad film “Intention,” “there are a thousand no’s for every yes.”

So, what is an effective trick to succeed? I have found that the better you are at defining what needs to be achieved to reach your goal, the easier it becomes to know how to train and prepare yourself. In other words, it’s wrong to say that only the summit is the goal. The summit is only halfway there. The goal is to get up and down with your life intact, without frostbite on your feet and fingers, still being friends with your friends, and hungry for new adventures after the mission is completed. With this mental image, it becomes clearer what is required to achieve your goal.

But are there other ways to define failures? There is a popular quote attributed to Thomas Edison that says: “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” This quote highlights his perseverance and his positive view of failures as part of the process of achieving success. Edison is known for his inventiveness and his work in developing the commercial light bulb, and this quote exemplifies his attitude that failures are a natural part of the research and invention process. It emphasizes the importance of seeing failures as learning opportunities rather than obstacles on the road to success.

What is your own relationship with failures? Do you pick yourself up after every setback?

Everyone fails, and that’s okay.

About Fredrik Sträng: Fredrik, in his leadership role, has climbed seven of the Earth’s fourteen 8,000m peaks, set a Guinness World Record, and lectures on leadership, communication, decision-making, and crisis management.


Fredrik Sträng 

Alpinist – Speaker – Coach

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