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Chude Jideonwo: Let us call Failure by its Proper Name



Dealing with FailureSomething is happening across the country that worries me deeply – young people in business are failing across the country.

It isn’t worrying because it is strange (businesses – including multi-billion-dollar investments have been failing since the origins of African business; the only difference now is that our generation is coming of age and hearing/sharing our own stories), it is worrying because of the nature of the things we are hearing.

People are sharing stories of failures, and, ab initio, that should be a good thing. But is it?

I am not sure. And I am not sure for a simple reason. How are they reporting failure?

If you pay close attention to two of the recent mainstream narratives about business failure – something may have struck you: people aren’t really confessing failure, they are spinning failure. They are telling you that failure was success, that they did these great and powerful things that separates them from mere mortals. That their instincts were right in the first place, and everybody else wrong. That they made the right decisions all through – it’s just that Nigeria, or their enemies, or their investors, or their competitions, or their staff made them fail.

Thus, they posit to tell a story of failure, but actually they are trying to tell you that they succeeded.

This would be fine if it didn’t have consequences. Unfortunately, it does.

When we do this, when we pretend that we succeeded rather than failed, when we spin a yarn, when we under-state our role in the process, then we send the wrong signal to the young people who are failing at the moment, who may fail in the future – and will handle it poorly, continuing a vicious cycle of deception, half truth and manipulation.

We don’t give them the skills and the resilience to handle their failure when it comes, to embrace it, and learn its lessons, and use it as a tool to build character. They begin to wonder – “if Mr. A failed but it was actually a success, why is my own failure just a basic failure? There must be something very wrong with me”.

But nothing is wrong with them. They failed, just like everyone else fails.

Of course, talking about a personal failure is not an easy thing. It is incredibly shattering to the ego to admit that you were wrong, to admit that your critics were right, to acknowledge that you didn’t know what you were doing while you pretended that you did is beyond humbling, to confess that you had been lying and leading people along all the while. It leads one to question self, to reassess the world, to feel a sense of insecurity about place, reputation and future.

But no one forces anyone to tell their stories of failure. No one gives anyone a timeline to share their story. Therefore if you choose to share a story, and especially if you claim that the story is meant to inspire other young people – then speak that truth clearly, wholly, fully.

People fail. That’s the course of the world. That’s how we were made. That’s the beauty of existence – its many uncertainties, and probabilities, and curves. We should just pretending we are super men or super women or lions or bulls when we are just ordinary people like everyone else finding our way in the world, and losing our way sometimes.

We must normalize failure. And when a person fails, there is dignity to it that can be ennobling and can lead that person to truly rise again.

We should stop stigmatizing failure. We stigmatise it when we spin it, when we refuse to own it, when we refuse to accept it.

We should stop spinning failure. We spin it when we pretend what that we did things right, when we didn’t. We should stop selling a false picture to the many young people who look up to those who have gone before them for guidance, clarity and models.

If we want to inspire young people, or people generally, if we claim, or posture like that is what we are doing – then we can only inspire them by telling them the truth, or saying nothing until we are ready to tell them the truth.

When you share the truth, then share the lessons. Don’t just soothe ego, reach deep into yourself and find your truth. Actually, if you don’t have clear lessons to share from the experience, then what is the purpose of sharing the story with the world?

If the truth is too hard, and to painful to share, then an inspired silence can always be a thing of grace and dignity. In that space, we can come to peace with our failures – treating ourselves with kindness and compassion, taking the time to heal through vulnerability.

And even better, we won’t tell half-truths that lead passionate, trusting, open young people astray.

A false story is worse than no story at all.

Photo Credit© Andrii Kobryn

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Jideonwo is a storyteller, using the research and evidence on human flourishing to inspire new narratives about politics, markets, faith, identity and society in Africa. He is a co-founder of RED, which he ran for 13 years before stepping down in December 2017. One of its companies, StateCraft Inc. handled communication for the Muhammadu Buhari campaign in 2015 and has worked in elections in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.


  1. Sylvia Okparaeke

    March 7, 2018 at 8:53 am

    You know Chude you shouldn’t write when you are angry. It comes across as unclear and like you are contradicting yourself. This sounds like its a smart read, but really its a jumbled gibberish. If your intention is to take a shot at Paddy Adenuga, do so. Don’t come and be forming like this is a wise write up for people to read and learn from.

    People should be able to tell their stories, win or fail. People are allowed to read those stories and take away whatever they want to from it, whether it sounds like a spin or not, that is the way of the world. Even Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, they all have their fail stories and yet here they are. Are the stories as accurate as it happened? We will never know. Did we learn something from it, yes we did. Is it a false story, it’s really none of our business if we learnt from it or took away something, anything from the story.

    Your attempt at sounding smart in this write-up is a false story because it sounds vindictive.. Bella Naija, please edit more before posting so we are not left trying to figure out what the writer is saying.

    • Lailatu

      March 7, 2018 at 1:22 pm

      @ Sylvia, you’re so on point. I gave up halfway through the article. Chude, it’s their story to tell, don’t be a hater.

    • Weezy

      March 7, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Funny, because I found nothing angry in his style of writing. I think you’re reading too much into this, based on your obvious distaste for Chude (see the shots you’ve taken at him about trying to “sound smart”). I’m not a fan of the man myself. But he has a point.

      Sometimes we need to be objective about things.

  2. Onyie

    March 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Thank you for this very necessary article Chude. Honestly i have begun to notice the same thing – how we have started accepting failure as the norm by spinning it into some form of success story and this is just wrong. How do we take stock of lessons learned which we can apply to the next venture if we do not acknowledge that we made the wrong decisions or took some wrong turns that led to failure.

    It is important that we stop this new trend. Just accept that we failed and learn from the experience rather than spinning our failures as some sort of success story.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      March 8, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      @ Onyie, I am trying to get your point. When you state “how we have started accepting failure as the norm…” Failure is a norm, regardless of one’s background.
      While Alakija’s “failure story” had a success spin. I am yet to understand how Paddy’s story had a success spin. While his story rang of privilege and is glarmarous. It very well ended on one note: resounding failure!!! That there were lessons to be gleaned from said story does not make it untrue or somehow change the story line to one of success.

      The truth is we all fail and our backgrounds does not make us immune to the bite/sting of said failure. Would we rather individuals only share their success stories i.e stories where they were able to turn things around and pretend like failure does not exist? I.e be silent about times when no matter how hard you tried you were not able to turn things around. That is honesty, that is reality, that is LIFE!!! It does not make your story wrong and neither does it somehow “spin” your story into a success one. It just shows that we all fail and that is a norm of life.

  3. Aibee

    March 7, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Oh Chude, you shouldn’t have!

    Why would you want to take an underhand shot at Paddy Adenuga? It was his story to tell! How about you tell your own stories and leave “young people” to learn what lessons they want to learn? As all the responses on social media would have shown you, if you bothered to look, people are not the fools you think them to be. We can sort the chaff from the wheat, thank you very much.

    • Jatau

      March 7, 2018 at 5:34 pm

      Aibee oh…

  4. M

    March 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

    But look at who is talking? Someone who helped sell failure and called it success to foolish Nigerians for money? Shift! I couldn’t even read the confusing article.

  5. Uberhaute_Looks

    March 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Chude Jideonwo, kindly add a rejoinder of how you successfully sold failure to Nigerians wrapped in beautiful packages… That’s what you should be writing about. Ole!

  6. Peyton

    March 7, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Everyone has their own story failure or success let them tell it their way. I recently attended a career talk and the speaker talked about his own failures something I could personally resonate with. The quest to be “successful” is not always paved with actual success, there are bumps and detours failures and long the road. This usually is meant as as a lesson to those listening so they avoid the detours in their own case

  7. SoniaPaloma

    March 7, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Too many ‘misyarn’ in this article to be honest. We have to realise that people tell their failure story differently. Some when they have moved on from that hurt, learnt a thing or two or generally have a new successful Business which gives them a different perspective on how they tell the story .They share the part of their story they believe people can learn from. To be honest, failure is not all about failing, in most cases there is always a form of success in whatever they failed in. It might be the contacts you got from it, the confidence of actually being able to start a business, the first profit, et al. It is left for who ever they share the story with to pick what will benefit them and keep it moving.

    Failure to me is success in so many ways as much as it was not a common sense daft investment/business.

  8. Dami O

    March 7, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    This resonates deeply with me. Not every failure can or should be turned into thought leadership. Same goes for successes. Not every story is worth telling especially if it’s incomplete or your motive is dishonest. Sometimes just sit down and be humble.

  9. larz

    March 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I agree this article did not read very well but I agree with the underlying message:

    – people are trying to sell failures as success.
    – also people are sharing stories of breakthrough when it hasn’t even been proven to succeed. I remember the story of someone who was selling a coaching event. This person struggled with an issue for years; the apparently found a breakthrough and two months later, they are introducing an event on how the conquered the issue.

  10. missdodo

    March 7, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Dear Chude, we all have different journeys and however it is told definitely sends a message to the right audience. You came across as upset … please don’t be, it’s not that deep.

  11. Ephi

    March 7, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    Busybody. I wonder who asked him his opinion ?

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