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Why do we secretly love to see others fail?

We live in a competitive society; this is no secret. Why do we secretly delight in watching others fail? The answer may surprise you.

happy smiling

happy smiling

Open conversations about failure remind us of our humanity

Schadenfreude. The German word used to describe the emotion of taking pleasure in others’ misfortune, and it’s considered to be worse than envy because it borders on cruelty.

But let’s drop the dramatic philosophy and apply the concept to the professional landscape.

Learning through others’ mistakes

We live in a competitive society. The first, crucial step of starting a new business that doesn’t flop is to evaluate the already existing competition in the market. The failure of others is a vicarious experience from which we observe, take notes, and move forward.

Interested in developing an app that helps people improve their commutes? Although that idea’s already been taken because traffic is a big problem in most cities, your next move is to figure out what current users don’t like about the most popular app out there and address those issues. There you have it: You’re using someone else’s failure to build your own success.

But this isn’t always the case. When people aren’t in direct competition with one another and someone’s failure doesn’t equal someone else’s success, are we just morally corrupt individuals who thirst to see a trainwreck?

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No, we’re only human.

Picture perfect lives on social media

Misery loves company, because it’s nice to know you’re not alone in the struggle. But in the social media world we live in, failure is hard to come by. We all know that we’re only getting a glimpse of the highlight reel of peoples’ lives from their online posts. We see new opportunities, a successful Kickstarter, a dream trip.

It’s much more rare to see people open up about rejections, closed doors, and delayed dreams.

For the handful of post-grad friends that post exciting updates about their “big boy/girl jobs,” there’s dozens who have kept quiet as they struggle to navigate life in the oversaturated jungle that is “the real world.”

Sharing your failures

But when someone does decide to share a vulnerable revelation with the outside world, it sends out a comforting message. It reminds us that success – however we personally measure it – is a process, and failure is a natural step along the way. We shouldn’t expect failure… but when it does happen, we should evaluate and learn from it.

So get out there and share a recent failure and what you learned from it on Facebook. I dare you.

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Written By

Staff Writer Larisa Manescu cringes at the question "Where are you from?" because it's a long story, but it's one she loves to share if you ask her. Her interests include storytelling, social justice and choreographed group dance classes.

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