Admitting failure is often seen as a sign of weakness or of accepting defeat, which is why there is so much social stigma around it. At Accountability Lab, we want to change norms and perceptions around the notion of failure. We do this by providing people with a platform to speak honestly and openly about their failures while also sharing the learnings from their stories and recounting how they were able to overcome these failures. 

This enables other participants to recognize their own patterns of dealing with failure, counters the stigma around failure and helps relieve some of the anxiety related to it. Through such events, we aim to help  local communities recognize failure as a mark of leadership, innovation and learning. 

On 30th June, Accountability Lab organised a fail faire event inviting staff, alumni and students from the Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture in Multan. This virtual event was designed for students of the university to better relate with their professors by learning their failure stories and seeing how they conquered those failures to achieve a successful professional career. 

It also helped the students to envision the hurdles of starting a professional career through fail stories from university alumni and encouraged them to think about their behavioural pattern of dealing with failure. The event was a Facebook live event and reached more than 7000 viewers.

The event began with speakers selected from among senior faculty members of the Institute of Plant Protection (IIP) at the University of Agriculture Dr. Unsar Neem-Ullah and Dr. Mirza Abdul Qayyum.  Then the next two speakers were invited: Urooshiha Imtiaz and Muhammad Abubakar, star alumni of the UAM and true entrepreneurs in their own right. 

Urooshiha ran a restaurant called Ran Mureed, loves photography and is a keen storyteller. Abu Bakar also likes to capture moments through his camera lens and founded the media society at the university in his student days. He has now started an online platform supporting local artists called Puchick.

Dr. Unsar Naeem-Ullah talked about two types of failure: one that is due to your decisions and another that is due to the external environment. He shared his story of getting a PhD scholarship after seven years of his professional career and how he failed in the first attempt. This led to depression but thanks to the support of one of his good friends he regained his vigour and joined an academy to be better prepared for the exams the next time. Though managing the academy with work was very difficult, this struggle paid off and he was able to gain a scholarship for his PhD. 

Reflecting on his journey, he remarked that this was a failure of decision because at his first attempt he had not prepared. This decision led to the failure. Then he relayed the story of his colleague who was also attempting the same scholarship’s exam and was well known for his academic prowess. However, he was unable to take the exams due to a sudden bout of poor health and this failure was due to the external environment but he didn’t give up and passed the exam in the next attempt. 

The message Dr. Naeem-Ullah wanted his students to take away from his story was to never give up and to follow their own paths. He ended his talk with a couplet from Iqbal’s poetry in which the poet is talking to the eagle saying: “don’t be afraid of storms as they are only there to help you fly higher”. 

Dr. Mirza Abdul Qayyum focused on failures due to lack of effort. He shared his story of how it was his dream since high school to become a medical doctor but due to lack of effort wasn’t able to reach his dream. However, he continued his academic journey and after his M.Phil, he was offered a very suitable job. He refused it and instead continued with his PhD, eventually completing his dream of becoming a doctor, not of medicine but in academics. 

He also shared another story of how he lost his voice during high school. The problem could not be diagnosed and the doctors could not cure it.Motivated to regain his voice, he asked his friends to speak with him in the classroom and reflected on how to regain his health. He then got the idea to shout and use his vocal cords in hopes that they would regain function and so they did in a month. This experience gave him the motivation to conquer anything because he now fully realised the capacity of the human mind and he also learned to strategize for hurdles along the way.

Urooshiha shared multiple incidents from her student life and professional career to draw upon her understanding of failures and its indicators. She explained that anything identifiable is manageable. She shared that failure is anything from which you accept defeat but if you learn from it and apply those learnings in your journey then it’s no longer a failure. 

While sharing the indicators of failure, she highlighted; fear of what others would think, procrastinating out of the belief that you will never fail if you don’t apply yourself and taking fewer risks. The advice she drew from her stories was to focus on the goal of the activity rather than set criteria of success for that activity and to understand failure is manageable when you identify its causes and behaviours related to it. She encouraged the audience to take calculated risks because if you don’t take risks you can’t be truly innovative.You just have to assess the situation extensively before you act.

Abubakar also focused on causes of failure through his stories. He recounted how he failed to get into engineering college due to a lack of interest despite being a bright pupil originally. While reflecting upon not viewing your circumstances from the perspective of others he shared his mother’s quote: “Your reality is not what others say, rather what you make of it and in life you don’t get what you deserve rather what you negotiate for.” 

At the end, he said that behind every invention there is a need and behind every need there is a problem. As we have a lot of problems in Pakistan so it is truly a land of opportunities. His message to his fellow students was to determine your failure for yourself and redefine it at every stage of life. 

This event was organized for students to see their role models accepting failure as part of their learning journey; to learn from the speakers’ stories; to understand different concepts of failure and share their own stories; to become more connected as a community and reflect on their behavioural patterns of dealing with failure. The feedback we got from students showed that this was a discussion that helped them to reflect as one student shared,“I learned that the person who fails learns more than a successful person”.