The Value of Failure

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Many have argued the merits of life experience over the value of college and academia. Some uphold academia because of its strictly book-sense and controlled environment. Others prefer experience because of its ability to provide tested & proven results time and time again. However, the inquiry that needs to be made is not that of which is better, but which teaches the individual and facilitates his/her learning. The best way to learn is not an ‘A’ on a test, or merely being out in ‘the real world.’ It is through failure. Failure most effectively teaches an individual what works and what does not. When this knowledge is gained, an individual is able to repeat what does work and create success.

Experience is often judged to be ‘the best teacher’ because it teaches through failure, something which simply attending and passing courses does not. Failing an academic career, however, and realizing one was meant for another path would have the same effect. Failing a test doesn’t have the same risk as failing at life. The test can be made up, the class can be made up, or a new course can be started entirely. There is no backup for losing one’s livelihood in a gamble to make it in a trade, business, or another line of work that doesn’t require academic training. Many of the most successful people dropped out of school to pursue their goals- and achieved them, despite being told they would fail without academics. While reading and other skills are certainly necessary for life, learning to read Shakespeare and being tested with, “Who was Hamlet’s lover?” does nothing to enhance a person’s life. Yet meeting a stranger and being able to trade lines from The Tempest, may make one a friend for life.

Recently, there has a new pull to break away from strictly academic forms of learning. Millions of students, burdened by debt and seeking new ways to earn money, are finding that “experience” and “over-qualification” are often cited reasons for why they are being turned away. Some blame the broken system for financing academics - that college affordability is an oxymoron: “If college is so expensive, why doesn’t it provide a truly stellar, unrivaled learning experience? Part of the reason is that very little of the exorbitant costs go towards educating. Only 21 cents out of every tuition dollar goes to instruction…” (Bowyer, 2014). On the other hand, millions of How-To-Be-The-Perfect-Applicant articles- listed in Google Search- blame job applicants for not having the right resume, the right interview skills, or the right interview outfit for the job. Would-be employees aren’t learning how to succeed; they’re learning how to recreate the same formula over and over again in hopes that it will work: the definition of insanity.

Those who are making money and reaping the benefits (and praise) haven’t usually gone to school. They’re entrepreneurs, risk-takers, rule-breakers, who have tried and failed in business, or various other forms of employment until they discovered what worked for them. They don’t all work the same way; there is no formula, no right or wrong, for succeeding in life. Academia often teaches students to graduate, be competitive enough to get a job, get a job, climb the corporate ladder, and work until one dies. Those who have lived from experience have chosen different lives.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference,” (Frost, 1920).

In his famous “The Road Not Taken” poem, Robert Frost does not say he read about the paths. He does not say that he went down one, returned and then studied the other. He remained on the same path (although he wanted to turn back). He took a risk, chose a path and says it was his choice that made all the difference. Whether one chooses to learn via academia or by experience alone, the failure of one path will certainly lead to the success of the other.


Bowyer, Chris. (2014, January 23). The First Person in My Family NOT to Go to College. Retrieved from:

Frost, Robert. (1920). The Road Not Taken. Retrieved from: