How to Fail Book Summary - How to Fail Book explained in key points
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How to Fail summary

Elizabeth Day

Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong

3.9 (161 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

'How to Fail' by Elizabeth Day is a memoir and self-help book that acknowledges the inevitability of failure and offers insights into how to learn from it. It encourages the reader to embrace imperfection and use failure as a springboard for personal growth.

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    How to Fail
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 8

    Failing at fitting in can teach you how to be resilient and prepare you for the future.

    Primary school can be a challenging experience for a lot of kids, but if you were a young English child growing up in Northern Ireland during the eighties, it was probably extremely rough.

    This was the case for the author, Elizabeth Day. Though Day was born in England, her family moved to Northern Ireland when her father took a job at a hospital near the town of Derry. Since this was during the Troubles, the English were seen as the “hated occupiers,” and Day’s accent was enough to make her fellow students dislike her.

    Though her parents raised her to have a strong sense of individuality, at school, Day longed simply to fit in and to this end even tried to talk as little as possible. But given the circumstances, it was next to impossible for her to fit in, and the teasing got so bad that she succeeded in getting her parents to send her to a boarding school in England instead.

    While failing to fit in was a terrible experience, it led Day to learn some beneficial skills. By keeping quiet, Day became an adept observer of human behavior, a skill that came in handy later in her career as a journalist and novelist.

    Day has spoken to many successful people who grew up alienated or bullied at school, like American actress Christina Hendricks and Guyana-born political campaigner Gina Miller, both of whom learned how to be resilient and determined as a result.

    Hendricks was so bullied in school that her classmates weren’t above spitting on her. But it caused her to respond in ways that may have actually helped her future career. For starters, she adopted a new persona, dressing in black and wearing Doc Martens boots as a form of armor against the bullies. She also found sanctuary in the school’s drama department, where she could take on even more personas and let loose her feelings through acting.

    As for Miller, her boarding school tormentors went so far as to steal the bottle of her mother’s perfume that helped keep her from becoming too homesick. But instead of getting angry, Miller developed a resilience that took the form of determined goodwill, having learned that bullies are routinely disarmed by kindness. This lesson served her well later in life, providing her with the resilience needed to cope with the death threats she received after questioning the legality of Britain’s Brexit plan in court in 2016.

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    What is How to Fail about?

    How to Fail (2019) is an honest and revealing look at the abundant rewards that come from making it through the toughest of times. Author Elizabeth Day takes us through many of the formative events in her life that some could call failures, yet she is nonetheless grateful for. Many fear failure like the plague, but it is often unavoidable – and for good reason too, because if we didn’t fail, we wouldn’t learn the many important lessons that make us smarter and better at living life.

    How to Fail Review

    How to Fail (2018) by Elizabeth Day is a thought-provoking exploration of failure and its transformative power. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • The relatable stories and experiences shared throughout the book make it incredibly relatable and comforting, reminding us that failure is a universal experience.
    • Through examining failure, Day offers insights and lessons that can help reshape our perspective on success and motivate us to embrace our vulnerabilities.
    • With its playful tone and humorous anecdotes, the book takes a refreshing approach to a topic often seen as negative, making it a compelling and enjoyable read.

    Best quote from How to Fail

    Yes, you might be hurt and heartbreak is always shattering, but it is never fatal and it does get better.

    —Elizabeth Day
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    Who should read How to Fail?

    • Anyone going through a tough time
    • People looking to rebound from a failed project
    • Women thinking about starting a family

    About the Author

    Elizabeth Day is a best-selling author and the host of the popular interview podcast How to Fail With Elizabeth Day. She is also an award-winning journalist, having been a staff writer at the Observer and subsequently contributing to the Telegraph, The Times and Harper’s Bazaar. Her novels include Scissors, Paper, Stone (2012), Home Fires (2013) and The Party (2017).

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    How to Fail FAQs 

    What is the main message of How to Fail?

    How to Fail encourages us to embrace failure as a valuable learning experience and an essential part of success.

    How long does it take to read How to Fail?

    Reading time for How to Fail varies. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is How to Fail a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How to Fail is worth reading for its honest and relatable insights on failure and resilience.

    Who is the author of How to Fail?

    How to Fail is written by Elizabeth Day.

    What to read after How to Fail?

    If you're wondering what to read next after How to Fail, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Discomfort Zone by Farrah Storr
    • Fail Fast, Fail Often by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz
    • Rising Strong by Brené Brown
    • Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell
    • Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
    • How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
    • Built to Last by Jim Collins
    • Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear