Become the kind of person who fails

Or, how I became an expert at sucking

Mark Shrime, MD, PhD
6 min readJun 16, 2022


In April, I stepped down from a job I’d held for just shy of two years.

Out of respect for the many good people who work there, I’m not publicly discussing the reasons I left. That’s not the point of this post.

Instead, today will be about how we talk—and don’t talk—about failure.


What we communicate when we don’t talk about failure.

Some backstory:

I’d been hired into that job to accomplish a few things—exciting things, hard things, things I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into. I took the post believing I could engage in consequential work, in a field I love, with people who themselves were up to their elbows in world-changing activities.

Twenty-two months later, I boarded a westbound plane and left the job behind.

When I talk about these last two years to my friends, I often use the word failure. “I failed to accomplish things I wanted. Heck, I couldn’t even work out the entire length of my contract,” I’ll say.

Invariably, they bristle. “Wait, wait, wait,” they’ll retort, “the whole thing was an unwinnable situation from Day 1.”

Or they’ll try a softer tack: “Sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s ok”

Or they’ll point the finger at Covid: “Going to a new country, for a new job, in the middle of a pandemic is an insanely difficult task.”

No one has yet to agree with me. No one says, “Yup, you’re right. You failed.”

And that—that aversion to, that dread for the word failure—that says a lot.

How I became an expert at sucking

If you’ve read my book, you know that I’ve spent a few years competing on American Ninja Warrior. (Side note: the nerdy, shy, sixth-grader that still lives inside me remains shocked at that).

My decision to try out for ninja warrior came in the way that all bad decisions do—after midnight, while watching YouTube videos.

A rock climber for six years by that point, I watched as climber after climber made a meal of…



Mark Shrime, MD, PhD

Author, SOLVING FOR WHY | Global surgeon | Decision analyst | Climber | 3x American Ninja Warrior Competitor