Can you fail your way to success?

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by Levi Belnap

Del Close, the legendary improv teacher used to say, “Follow the fear”. He knew the only one to get better, face your fear and practice.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already a believer in the power of practice. That’s what Medical Improv is all about, becoming better communicators by creating an environment where you can take risks and practice without the fear of failure.


How do you feel after reading that word? Just the thought of failure can scare us, but we weren’t born with a fear of failure. Failure is how we learn to talk and walk. At first, failure = learning. Then school starts and little children begin to feel the social pressure to succeed. Our definition of failure changes, success = good and failure = bad. By the time we’re adults, most of us have learned from painful personal experience to avoid failure at all costs.

Nurses are not immune to this fear of failure. In fact, many nurses are all too familiar with failure.

We recently studied 2,500 nursing students who struggled and experienced failure on their path to become a nurse. Our research identified 6 primary obstacles nursing students face that cause many nursing students to struggle and fail during their schooling. Regardless of which obstacle nurses were struggling with, they often felt alone and ashamed. We heard expressions of self-doubt from these aspiring nurses. They were not sure they could pass a key prerequisite like Anatomy & Physiology or master the Algebra necessary to do dosage calculations in their Pharmacology class. And for the nurses who failed the NCLEX one or more times, lack of confidence was a big issue.

However, failure was not permanent. During our research we heard some amazing stories of transformation. Students who had failed the NCLEX 6 or more times were able to pass with the right help and practice. RNs going back to school for their BSNs overcame their statistics class despite being out of school for 20+ years.

To overcome failure and learn, sometimes we just need a safe place to practice and someone who will listen to us and show us the right way to do it.

We can all find more opportunities to be that person.

When we help others who fail to keep practicing, learning, and moving forward, we make failure an acceptable part of the learning process and less lonely for everyone.

Levi Belnap is a son of a nurse, a lifelong learner, and a proud husband and father to 2 young boys (soon to be 3). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and works for Wyzant helping millions of learners find 1-to-1 help with expert tutors and instructors.

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This entry was posted in Assertiveness, Communication in Healthcare, Complexity in nursing, Diversity, Healthy Workplaces, Listening, Medical Improv, Nurse Entreprenuers, Nurse Leadership, Patient Advocacy, Patient Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can you fail your way to success?

  1. I believe in this. I am in my mid 50’s and recently took my boards after being out of clinical nursing for over 15+ years. My license lapsed while raising four children and when both my parents were diagnosed with cancer. I cared for both of them over 18 years, thankfully as a stay at home Mother. My earlier clinical experience in med/surg and cardiac nursing were a bit rusty, and my strengths are with holistic nursing and nutrition. I completed CNE’s while studying for my boards but it came down to the days just prior to taking my test. There was some undo stress in my life at that time, and instead of rescheduling I chose to take the exam. I knew there was a chance of failure and I did not pass but I have not given up. Thank you for this post, it is great encouragement.

    • I’m so glad you are not giving up, Diane! Sounds like you have lots of experience to offer….and it can’t be easy with all the new technology and info!!! Keep at it and good luck! Beth

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