Health & Wellbeing

Mar 28, 2023 14 min read

Overcoming Failure

A gold medallist in Communication Studies, Ms. Ciny Mathew Philip is a Corporate Communications professional, with 20+ years of experience in Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., Currently working at Gujarat Refinery, she has rich experience in internal & external communications, brand building, media relations; with in-depth understanding of Oil & Gas sector, socio-economic environment and developmental issues for strategic communications and advocacy


The poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling is a timeless work of literature that offers valuable insights and wisdom on overcoming the fear of failure. Written in 1895, the poem continues to resonate with its message of resilience and perseverance in today’s success-obsessed world. Kipling’s poem encourages us to stay focused on our goals, to keep our head up in difficult times, and to never give up, no matter how hard the road ahead may seem.

Through ‘If’, Kipling teaches us to accept failure as a natural part of life and to view it as an opportunity for learning and growth. He also emphasizes the importance of patience, self-belief, and mental toughness in the face of setbacks. This article highlights the key lessons that ‘If’ offers, and suggests that by adopting a growth mind-set, practicing self-compassion, and remaining resilient in the face of adversity, we can turn failure into a stepping stone toward success.
Overcoming Failure: Lessons from Rudyard Kipling's Poem ‘IF’

The theme announced for soliciting articles for the upcoming issue of HR Vista on ‘Dispelling the Fear of Failure’, immediately made me recall the famous poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. The poem ‘If’ which is an iconic piece of literature, continues to inspire as a timeless work of art that serves as a guide for overcoming failure or setbacks in our personal and professional lives. I am sure that most of us recall having read the poem in our secondary school, however, for many of us, often it was just part of the syllabus. Revisiting the classic works from the lens of life experiences allows us to better recognize the valuable insights they offer.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an India-born British Nobel laureate poet, best known for his popular works of fiction such as "The Jungle Book" and “Kim”. His poem "If" is considered one of his most famous works and still resonates with its message of resilience and perseverance in the face of failure and adversity in today’s success-obsessed world, which not only grants success more than its due, but have also become far more unforgiving of failure.

The poem encourages us to stay focused on our goals, to keep our head up in difficult times, and to never give up, no matter how hard the road ahead may seem. By reading and reflecting on this poem, we can gain valuable insights and wisdom that can help us navigate the challenges of modern life with grace, courage, and determination.

The poem begins with “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” setting the tone for the rest of the poem, introducing the idea that the world is a chaotic and unpredictable place (even when the poem was written in the year 1895!). The key thought is to maintain our composure and not let fear or panic control our actions.

The poem believed to be written by Kipling to his son asks him to trust in his own abilities, but also contemplate on the reason for their doubt too; thus accepting that there is possibility of limitations or shortcomings; and thus develop the inclination to review and learn to become a better version of oneself.

The poet emphasises fundamental life lessons that it's important to be patient and persistent in pursuing your goals, even if progress is slow. He also advises against engaging in dishonesty, even when others are lying about you and not to give in to feelings of hatred or bitterness, even when facing hostility or opposition. Kipling shares that while it's important to be confident and knowledgeable, it's also important not to appear arrogant. He advocates for a balanced approach to life, where one strives for excellence but also remains humble and grounded.

Kipling then talks about dreaming bigger, but dream realistically and not get overpowered by impossible ambitions. He further says that thoughts too must be controlled and not left unbridled. The poet proceeds to call both ‘triumph’ and ‘disaster’ as imposters – as success can make us complacent and disaster can make us lose our hope and confidence. Both are cheaters as they do not last for long and can deceive us and make us loose our goals and sense of purpose.

The poet emphasises the importance of tolerance and holding on to one’s senses when others crumble your efforts taken over the years. He advocates for gathering up the scattered bits and rebuilding what was broken with patience and the mental toughness. He talks about the capability of taking big risks to achieve much greater success and having the mental toughness for keeping quiet even if we lose the bet. To hold on with grit and determination and not give up is the message that the poet gives his son.

 The poet then shares another life lesson of not getting affected by any kind of company – to be true to oneself even in the company of the king or the commoner. He advocates to be resilient and self-sufficient to not get affected by both friends and enemies and not to give overly importance to anyone in our lives for preservation of our happiness and self-worth.

Kipling describes ‘Time’ as unforgiving, as if we lose even a minute, it is gone forever and can never be relived again. We only have one chance at time and therefore we should always make the most use of our valuable and limited time. The poet tells his son that ‘If’ he follows all his advice then he can achieve great things and make use of all that the world has to offer.

Failure and setbacks are an inevitable part of life, and everyone experiences it at some point. However, what distinguishes successful individuals from those who struggle is not the absence of failure but rather how they respond to it.

One way to deal with failure or setbacks is to adopt a growth mind-set. This means viewing failure as an opportunity for learning and growth rather than a setback. This approach helps you see failure as a temporary obstacle rather than a permanent defeat. Another way to deal with failure is to practice self-compassion and treat oneself with kindness and understanding which will enable us to bounce back from failure with greater resilience and confidence. Even when life is not happening as per our plans, we should not give up or give away to bitterness or hopelessness. Instead, we can take recourse to positive distractions such as hobbies, social activities or self-improvement pursuits.

To quote Paulo Coelho, ‘there is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.' Though fear is a natural part of the human experience we should not allow it to overwhelm and stifle our growth and happiness. By viewing failure as an opportunity for growth, practicing self-compassion, and remaining resilient in the face of adversity, we can turn failure into a stepping stone toward success.

Finally, here is the poem "If" for you to read and reflect upon the timeless wisdom.


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!



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