Failure to Launch: What it Is and What it’s Not

To understand failure to launch syndrome, let’s begin with the medical definition of a “syndrome.” A syndrome is a recognizable complex of symptoms and physical findings which indicate a specific condition for which a direct cause is not necessarily understood (National Institute of Health). This failure to launch refers to young adults that experience difficulties in taking on adult responsibilities, making life decisions, and achieving financial and emotional independence. In fact, calling failure to launch a syndrome may inadvertently add to the challenges surrounding what’s really going on here. Let’s not overtly pathologize a growth point where young adults struggle to transition into independent, self-sufficient lives and become stuck in a state of dependency on their parents or caregivers. There’s more to it.

Failure to Fail: Inherent Flaws to the Failure to Launch Concept

We hear of young adults who seem to be struggling to launch into adult life all the time. It’s easy to think of them as failing. However, the typical failure to launch perspective is shortsighted and negatively affects both the young adult and the relationships around them. The whole idea that failure is something more detrimental than learning and growing sets the whole narrative up as a problem to fix. Instead, we should try to look at it as failing to fail. 


Many young adults are stuck in a cycle of trying, failing, and then giving up. It’s the giving up that prevents young adults from launching. At PIVOTPoint, we understand the cycle. Our six-week therapeutic adventure program helps young adults break free and begin to find and define success.

How Fear of Failure Impacts Young Adults

Failure is scary — we all know it. This is especially true for young adults who are often testing their limits for the first time. When they fail, it can be a significant blow to their confidence and self-esteem. And intentional or otherwise, not all parents are creating an environment where failing is either expected or accepted. But what if we reframe the lot of it? What if we start to encourage young adults to take risks and remind them that failure is just part of the process?

How we PIVOT Failure to Launch to Action

Setting Goals

To help young adults avoid the cycle of trying and failing, it’s essential to help them set achievable goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, and realistic. When they achieve their goals, they will feel a sense of accomplishment, which will boost their confidence and make them more likely to continue trying new things.

Building Positive Relationships

Parents, coaches, teachers, and mentors can help young adults build the types of relationships that will support them as they try new things; but this isn’t always the environment that our clients are coming to us from. These relationships can provide encouragement and assistance as the young adult navigates unfamiliar terrain and faces new challenges. It’s important to note that these positive relationships do not have to be perfect. In fact, relationships that involve disagreement and conflict can help young adults learn valuable communication and problem-solving skills. Modeling secure attachments is an essential way to build a foundation of security, confidence, and drive to try – as opposed to leaning into debilitating, anticipatory fear.

Failure is Not the End 

It’s important for young adults to know that failure is not the end of the road. 

Failure is not the failure to launch. It’s just the gravel on the road to success.”

– Matt Nannis, PIVOTPoint Founder

When young adults experience setbacks, we can encourage them to take a step back, re-evaluate their goals, and try again. In those instances when we all feel they need more help, we can help them find the resources they need, like a tutor, mentor, or additional counseling.

Celebrate Success

Finally, it’s essential to celebrate successes – of all sizes. Celebrating success reinforces the idea that trying new things is valuable and rewarding. It also reminds us that we’re capable of achieving the things we set our minds to.

A Final Rumination of Failure to Launch

“Launching” into anything – anything at all – takes an incredible amount of energy. It takes a lot of work. It’s challenging, frustrating, and often involves detours and distractions and missteps. So if we’re going to assess the effectiveness of anyone’s ability to “launch,” let’s keep in mind just how much work such a process actually involves. Stepping into adult life is a challenging and complex process. As parents, it’s normal to feel anxious about how to support young adults. However, by reframing failure as an invaluable learning opportunity, we can help kids break free of the cycle of inaction and work towards success. By setting achievable goals, building positive relationships, reminding them that failure is not the end, and celebrating success, we can support young adults as they find their place in the world.