Everyone posts anonymous stories of times they have failed; everyone gets to tour the gallery to read about the fact that all of us – even the most accomplished, seemingly perfect people – have struggled.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Post-Its
  • Sharpies


  1. Give everyone Post-It notes
  2. Tell everyone in the room that they are going to write down failures that they have experienced. On each Post-It, they will put a separate failure. This is all anonymous and confidential; they won’t disclose anything that will give away their identities. You can tell everyone that the failures could be humorous; they could be serious. There’s usually quite a wide mix in the classroom.
  3. After they have written 3 to 5 failures, they will post their notes on all the walls of the classroom. It’s like an art gallery, but instead of having a room full of paintings, they will have a room full of failures.
  4. Then, tell everyone that they can walk around the gallery, looking at the failures that everyone has posted. There are usually stories of people who have failed tests, failed classes, failed relationships, and failed in jobs.
  5. Afterwards, the facilitator can lead a powerful debrief.
  • Sometimes you can pair this activity with “One Percent More Courage” - another exercise that involves people confessing their vulnerabilities, flaws, and failures.
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There are two ways to debrief this activity. You could have everyone get into small groups, and talk about the notes that most resonated with them and why. Or you could just lead a discussion with everyone in the room. Ask them how they felt when reading these stories of failures. Usually, we hear from participants that this is reassuring. They might have felt alone; they felt that they were the only ones who were struggling. Many students have said that they look at other people’s lives (especially on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram), and it seems like everyone else has perfect lives full of happiness, romance, and adventure. When they see how everyone in the room has failed, it’s liberating.

Indeed, many people comment about how powerful this “Gallery of Failures” activity is because it teaches them that they can overcome their failures and struggles. After all, everyone in the room has stumbled and fallen, yet everyone has gotten back on their feet. Indeed, on the surface, it seems like their colleagues are all successful and accomplished. But in reality, we only achieve success after countless failures. It’s part of the process of being human and nothing for which we should feel shame. (Indeed, in retrospect, many of these failures that are posted on the wall are quite humorous. One person wrote that he/she somehow broke the Hubble space telescope; it probably seemed like a tragedy at the time, but years later, this person looked back on it with laughter.)


Students have reported that, after going through this exercise and having seen that everybody screwed up numerous times, they feel more resilient when they subsequently struggle and get bad grades in school. Indeed, much research has been done on activities like this. For example, researchers at Columbia University had students read stories about famous scientists. The students in the control group just read about these amazing people (Marie Curie, Michael Faraday, and Albert Einstein) and their major discoveries. Two other groups of students were exposed to either stories of these people’s personal failures and struggles throughout life; or to a story of these famous scientists’ numerous professional failures and missteps, something about which we almost never hear. Both groups that learned about the famous scientists’ failures ended up doing significantly better on their science tests afterwards, and felt more connected to the subject.


Transformative Action Institute

Additional Readings

Lin-Siegler, Ahn, Chen, Fang, and Maya-Lucero. (2016) Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science. Journal of Educational Psychology. 2016, Vol. 108, No. 3, 314–328