Everybody Fails: Channeling Our Inner WD-40

Often, we face the prospect of failure as soldiers do their enemies; braced and guarded. It can prevent us from taking action in the first place. When we experience failure, we marinate in the sensation as if it were a perfume to be worn only on our worst days. As a society, we have given failure power. But what exactly is failure? Not meeting a goal you set out to meet? Not achieving a goal by a certain timeline? And really, who among us has never experienced failure? By changing our relationship with failure both through normalizing it and redefining what it means, we can harness the productive value of failure to help maximize success in the long term.

Avoiding failure has been ingrained in us our entire lives, from when we take our first steps to when we first learn to drive. Failure is often maligned in society as a source of shame or embarrassment, equating to skeletons in closets that should be left undisturbed. We are socialized to both avoid and fear failure. Instead, as a society we focus on successes, neglecting to discuss the (likely messy) process it took to get there; yet in doing so, we have inadvertently increased our aversion to failure.

The Rocket Chemical Company of San Diego, California, and its staff of three began the process of creating a rust-prevention solvent and degreaser for the aerospace industry in 1953 (WD-40 History, 2022). They found success in the water displacing formula on the fortieth try, hence the name, Water Displacement 40 (WD-40 History, 2022). They wear their failures as a badge of honor, embedded in their very name; it is proof of their actions, demonstrating their lengthy and tenacious path to success. 

Despite our attempts as a society to create binaries, very few things in life are ever black/white, good/bad, he/she, yes/no. So why must failure be viewed in the same light: either to fail or not to fail. Without any action at all, there can be no successes, and when viewed with the wisdom of hindsight, our failures are often the starting points to these successes. Likewise, while failure is somewhat relatable, what is success to me is likely different to how you might define it.

Learning to fail productively can increase ownership of the process and while it does not maximize performance and learning in short term, it will maximize them in the long term. Ultimately, the secret to success isn’t to avoid failure, but to embrace the process with the intention to learn from it. After all, if no one ever experienced failure, the value of success would be eroded completely. So, go out there and channel your inner WD-40 to fail at something.


WD-40 History. (2022). WD-40 history: Learn the stories behind the WD-40 brand. Retrieved from https://www.wd40.com/history/

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