It seems obvious that when we think of something like the term failure, that we all have the same basic idea of what that is. For the most part that is true; failure is usually defined as the opposite of success, or something ceasing to function altogether. According to the Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam-Webster dictionaries failure involves a lack of something, an omission, a denial of something, a collapse, or a cessation of function.

To get a better sense of the scale of the term failure, here are other words that share the same meaning: breakdown, loss, deficiency, deficitcollapse, deterioration, defeat, and decay. The words success and failure can be applied to almost any context: personal life, academic life, professional life, relationships, careers, communication, technology, ideology, buildings, bridges, economic and transportation systems, emotion, ideas, and health.

Failure also occurs along dimensions and spectrum; minor to major, small to catastrophic, comical to humiliating. Whatever the context or the scale people interpret success and failure through the lens of personal experience and individual differences. This means that an event that one person interprets as a failure, someone else could experience as a success and vice versa.

Culture, ideology, and environment also play a role in how individuals perceive an experience of success or failure. This can also be true within the same nation; culture, ideology, and environment are not necessarily shared between all members of a country. There are cultural differences between regions, ideological differences between political and religious groups, and environmental differences between levels of socioeconomic status.

In short, beauty is not the only thing in the eye of the beholder; so is success and so is failure. How we react to failure (and success), how we cope with it, whether we are conditioned to fear it or taught to seek it as a friend and learning ally, says a lot about who we are as individuals and who we are as a people. It says a lot about human nature and personal resilience.