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My Greatest Failure

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Those were the droids he was looking for.
"Watson, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you."
Sherlock Holmes, The Yellow Face
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Nothing defines a hero better than his morals, and the biggest sympathy point can be guilt over some monumental screw-up that taught the hero to buckle down and stop taking his job too lightly. This is sometimes related to the origin of a Superhero, but has more impact when the hero's career has otherwise been going well for a while.

From a philosophical standpoint, this makes sense — if someone wins all the time, as most comic book heroes do, they would be more defined by their failures than their successes. In Marvel Comics, this is sometimes a consistent psychological flaw (the "Marvel Flaw") which occasionally prevents a hero from succeeding.

The hero will often declare "It's All My Fault" while their friends and family say "You Did Everything You Could."

The hero may recover from this and when they do, it's usually a sign they have grown, although retcons can cause an unpleasant return to status quo.

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The Failure Knight has this as part of his backstory to explain why he is so devoted to his new charge. Often produces a combination of Past Experience Nightmares and Anxiety Dreams.

See I Let Gwen Stacy Die for one of the most common failures. Might result in We Used to Be Friends. Often happens to heroes who fail to make amends. Can be a Career-Building Blunder. When the failure is what put the character on the path to being the current (better) person s/he is now, it's Necessary Fail. If the plot brings about an opportunity to correct or make up for their failure, you have My Greatest Second Chance. If failure puts the hero in a funk that takes years to shake off then you have a Scrap Heap Hero. For Real Life examples from creators, see Old Shame.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Played with in The Book of Life. Manolo's father tells his son when he is very small that he will grow up to be the greatest of the Sanchezes. But when Manolo refuses to kill the bull, he reacts very badly. But when Manolo lives up to his heroic destiny, his father says that Manolo has indeed become the greatest of the Sanchezes.
  • In the climax to Despicable Me, when Gru is trying to save the girls from Vector, Margo angrily yells at Gru that he had abandoned them before, making her hesitant to jump to him now. Gru admits, with obvious self-loathing, that said abandonment was the worst thing he had ever done. However, he also says that he'll never do anything like that again, and he follows through when Vector comes in to try to keep Margo.
  • In Finding Nemo, Marlin holds a great regret of having failed to protect his wife and multiple unborn children from a Barracuda attack, causing him to become overprotective of his only surviving son, Nemo. It's the journey to get him back that allows Marlin to let go of his guilt, having realized that his attempts to protect his son nearly got him killed.
  • Frozen (2013) sees Elsa harbor a great deal of shame for her powers nearly killing her sister on accident when they were children, causing her to become cold and distant from Anna as they got older. It's thanks to the events of the film that she's able to overcome this and rekindle her relationship with her sister, allowing her to move on with her life free of the guilt.
    • However, this comes right back around in Frozen II when Elsa and Anna's quests to Northuldra lead them to learn the journey on which their parents died was because they were attempting to try and learn the cause of Elsa's powers, causing Elsa to blame herself for what happened to them. Again, it's the film's events that allow her to move past this regret.
  • Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles blames himself for spurning Buddy (later known as Syndrome), his biggest fan. Later, Buddy turns to evil. Subverted as Buddy points out that Mr. Incredible hadn't given him a single thought until he became Syndrome.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, former Big Bad Sunset Shimmer feels this way about her previous actions in the first movie. As an Alpha Bitch who ran the school with an iron fist, Sunset's Heel–Face Turn has been met with rejection by the students of Canterlot High School. Even as Sunset tries to improve, her low self-esteem gets exploited to keep her quiet after Sunset finds out about the plans of the Dazzlings.
  • In The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, Jasper is haunted by a recent airship voyage where a mistake in his calculations led to a collision and a crewman going overboard.

    Podcasts 
  • Taako of The Adventure Zone: Balance screwed up a transmutation spell during his cooking show that resulted in everyone who ate the samples of what he made getting poisoned and dying on the spot. Retroactively subverted when he learns, years later, that his jealous roadie Sazed had actually poisoned the food with arsenic.
    • Magnus also deeply regrets his failure to protect Raven's Roost from Governor Kalen.
    • Lucretia sees her time in Wonderland as this.

    Roleplay 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! East Academy: While he tries to deny it, Marcus clearly feels horrible about the death of Sylvestre.
  • In Survival of the Fittest, Adam Dodd doesn't only have one of these, but two. The first of these is allowing himself to become separated from the other members of his group - among them his girlfriend and other close buddies of his. They all proceed to be killed, and in one case, raped. Adam blames himself for this. His second stems from an incident where his (mentally unstable) brother attacked him. Adam regrets throughout version 1 his failure to forgive his older brother until one of the very last scenes of the V1 endgame.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, this is how Green Sun Princes become Green Sun Princes. They're on the edge of a heroic, epic act that would grant them Solar Exaltation... but then they choke, and then, in their moment of weakness, despair, and regret, the Yozis are there to offer them the Deal with the Devil that grants them the Infernal Exaltation.
  • For decades in Forgotten Realms, Drizzt Do'Urden had kept a vow to never kill another dark elf. However, he couldn't keep it forever, and in order to escape, he had to kill one of his kin. He was guilt-wracked for this... but, in a possible subversion, not for long, as he realized it was a hypocritical vow, given that he had often seen the necessity of killing orcs, humans, goblins, duergar, wererats, and others who actually tended to be less Always Chaotic Evil than his own people. In addition, the primary reason he had been able to keep that vow for so long was that he had been able to avoid other members of his race for most of that time, and being able to keep a vow because you never end up in a situation where breaking it is possible doesn't mean all that much.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the vast Imperium of Man has its own greatest failure during the end of the Great Crusade. During the beginning, it was believed that there was nothing science and reason couldn't conquer. And then they met Chaos.... Horus rebelled, the Emperor was placed upon the Golden Throne, and suddenly the Imperium became very suspicious of itself. So new measures were taken to make sure such heresy never happened again.
    • Another 40K example is Sarpedon of the Soul Drinkers, who nearly led his Chapter into the clutches of the Dark Gods... and has eight legs to remind him of the danger of Chaos.
    • This is nothing compared to the Eldar race's greatest failure, which resulted in: 1) the destruction of their galaxy-spanning empire and the deaths of billions (if not trillions) of their race; 2) the fragmenting of the race into repressed ivory-tower ascetics, nature-attuned tribal agrarians, and blood-thirsty torture-obsessed sociopaths; and 3) the creation of one of the most powerful, and seriously messed-up Chaos gods.
    • Ahzek Ahriman feels a lot of guilt for accidentally transforming most of the Thousand Sons into suits of Animated Armor when he cast the Rubric and spends a lot of time trying to restore their humanity. The novel Ahriman: Unchanged reveals that he’s repressing an even deeper sense of guilt for failing to save his brother Ohrmuzd from dying of the flesh-change.

    Theatre 
  • In the Mrs. Hawking play series: In part four, Gilded Cages, it is suggested that for Mrs. Hawking this is her very first attempt at superheroing, when she tried to help her maid Malaika steal food for her starving village in Singapore. Their attempts resulted in failure, Malaika losing her job and imprisoned, and herself forced to marry in exchange for her father providing relief to the village.

    Toys 
  • Lesovikk in BIONICLE once briefly hesitated in a fight against a group of Zyglak, costing him his entire Toa Team, and driving him into a millennia-spanning Heroic BSoD and Walking the Earth for ages.

    Visual Novels 
  • Many of the prized possessions in Fleuret Blanc are, in fact, reminders of these. You usually only discover this after winning them and reading either the item description or Squeaker's commentary.
    • Le Neuvieme's grimoire is a reminder of how he disappointed his family by straying from the family profession, and the obligations he still holds.
    • Amara's metronome is a reminder of a time she failed to uphold her ideal of perfection and damaged the metronome during fencing practice.
    • Junior's stuffed animal is a reminder of a childhood embarrassment in which she discovered that for all her technical prowess and determination, there are some skills she is not capable of.
  • Ed from Policenauts can't use a gun anymore because of shooting Marc's father in front of Marc, who was revealed to be Ridley, Tony's brother. However, he does use a gun when he saves Jonathan from being shot by Gates.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Amane and Sachi are living with this kind of regret:
    • Amane: When her entire class got stranded in a ravine after an accident, things went to hell, the situation escalated until the survivors resorted to eating their dead classmates, something Amane and her best friend Kazuki not participated in; in fact, Amane didn't even now they were doing that. When she and Kazuki try to escape, the crazed survivors try to chase them down and Amane is forced to leave Kazuki behind. She feels personally responsible for Kazuki's death, living the rest of her life believing she does not deserve happiness.
    • Sachi: After her previously caring parents grow distant to her, being buried by work, Sachi doubles her effort both in school and home the earn their attention, but with little success. An entire year of neglect later on her 10th birthday, her parents seemingly come around suddenly, which angers Sachi and she runs away. Just when her parents find her at the local playground, they are run over by a truck right in front of Sachi's eyes. She convinces that it was her fault, for not being reasonable, and toughing out the neglect, this belief leads to severe mental issues for her.
  • Monster Prom: In a secret route, Liam reveals that he has two: getting the second Hope killed, which led to his fractured relationship with the Coven, and choosing Angelus as his villain name.

    Webcomics 
  • A villainous example in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: Dark Pegasus made a plan to take over the kingdom of H-Ann, a country renowned for its stable defenses and the protection of their citizens. However, he rushed his plans, and when it all backfired on him, he started making less and less stable ones. At the point of the comic, he's returned from the dead multiple times (and it's implied that he Came Back Wrong), and his family are more than a bit concerned about how lopsided those plans have become.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Grace cowered as Damien went on a killing spree breaking her and her brothers out of the lab that created them. Grace later finds out that she was created to fight Damien, and her guilt over failing to act the first time overcomes her pacifistic tendencies and drives her berserk when Damien threatens to kill Nanase and Ellen. Despite saving her friends' lives and freeing her brothers by defeating Damien, she feels even more guilty for losing control and then failing to keep him from committing suicide. This hat trick of perceived failure leads her to swear off using her shapeshifting powers until her sister and grandfather convince her to stop blaming herself.
    • Mr. Raven holds himself responsible for Tedd's mother having divorced his father and not having any further contact with her son. It's not entirely clear what happened, but from his reactions, it seems that Raven's zeal for fighting evil went a bit too far and pushed Mrs. Verres down a self-destructive path.
  • Homestuck:
    • Even after 413 years, WV still won't let himself forget that he failed to prevent Jack from murdering his army.
    • Equius still regrets failing to protect Nepeta. When he and Nepeta find themselves fused to other characters as sprites, he apologizes to her, admitting that his refusal to do anything against Gamzee due to the blood cast was the wrong idea.
    • Kanaya regrets her failure to protect the Matriorb.
  • Magical 12th Graders: Namgung blames himself for Gyeowul's death, and wishes more than anything that he can fix it—but the wish that the pin grants can't be used to revive the dead. He can, however, use it to turn back time, but he can't turn it back to before the moment where she died. He's still tried a dozen times.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Vaarsuvius is a highly intelligent elven wizard with a large ego. This sets them up for a fall on two occasions:
      • Their ego takes a severe beating when they're unable to defeat a highly spell-resistant death knight, fail to prevent the hobgoblins from overrunning the breach at Azure City and winning the battle (including having fleeing allied soldiers beg V to help them and one of them cursing the elf's "useless goddamn magic" with her dying breath after V is unable to help them due to having run out of spells), and then spends months trying to overcome the effects of an anti-scrying abjuration without luck, in a situation when the fate of the world practically hinges on the elf's success. The long-term consequences for Vaarsuvius remain yet to be revealed, but in the short term, they certainly include Past Experience Nightmares, every symptom in the book for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and easy temptation to a Face–Heel Turn when their self-perceived lack of ability puts their family in danger. Based on this strip, it looks like V isn't going to live down that Face–Heel Turn, either.
      • After that is the realization that the Familicide spell V used during said Face–Heel Turn wound up being responsible for the death of a staggering number of innocent people.
    • Elan gets a bit of this when the half-orc Therkla is killed trying to protect him. She's poisoned, and Elan lacked the Bard spell that would have cured her. It affects Elan enough that when he reunites with Haley, he reveals that he took "Neutralize Poison" at his next level up.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: When he was thirteen, Lalli's Mathematician's Answer in a scout report caused a group of soldiers from his military base to venture into a dangerous area and four people to be killed. The number was considered low in regards to the attack's violence. His older cousin reprimanded him quite harshly about it, and during the scolding implied that a single mistake from their grandmother was the reason they had left their old home to live on that military base five years before that event. In the present day, it causes Lalli to prefer fixing a mistake in finding a path while half-asleep to leaving it hanging and forcing the rest of the crew to backtrack. When he couldn't find a safe path to a new campsite, he put himself into a Power-Strain Blackout to create one via clearing a tunnel full of troll pods.
  • In Weak Hero, Alex holds himself responsible for Ben's arm injury, as not only was Ben protecting him, but it was Alex getting involved with the wrong crowd that led to them both being at the construction site in the first place. Even though Ben constantly tells him not to blame himself, Alex can't help but do so.

    Web Original 
  • Gameboys - Cairo, when he ran away in fear when he was outed to his family. His father got sick of COVID-19 while looking for him, and eventually passes away. His older brother London is upset with him over this. The two siblings get better, though.
  • In Greek Ninja, Sasha fails to save her sensei during the invasion of Ariadnio.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Agent Carolina is this in SO many spades over her previous overly-competitive nature to please her disconnected father so long ago, where she had a great many opportunities to drive off her self-destructive path of proving herself to Project Freelancer, with the Project itself destroying the other Freelancers' lives over time during its ruinous slog of development of its AI Fragments during the years of its activity. she definitely feels multiple ripples of this BIG time after many of her former comrades died, earning the eternal vengeance of an inferno-obsessed pyromaniac and seemingly forgets a time she accidentally killed a very dear friend of a Simulation Trooper, thus having him vengefully haunt her later on in the future and giving her a VERY horrific view of what happened to the other surviving agents leftover from the disbanded Project Freelancer. She especially gives a past version of herself a very scathing "talk" involving her aforementioned self-destructive victory-obsessed-self, essentially hating on her past-self a very great deal.
    • Doc reveals that when he was young, his little brother Deke fell into a river and drowned. Doc tried to save him, but he didn't know CPR, so Deke died. Doc became a medic so that a tragedy like that would never happen again.
  • Whateley Universe: Captain Patriot of SPECTRUM once talked a young mutant into surrendering to the MCO: the kid promptly disappeared and was never seen again, and the MCO still steadfastly denies he even existed. He will go rogue before he lets the MCO get their hands on Stacey and makes sure they know it.
  • RWBY: Jaune Arc is hit hard with that. He blames his own weakness and inability to stop Pyrrha from fight Cinder as the reason why his partner and best friend dies. Not be able to recognize that [[spoiler: Pyrrha was actually in love for him made that worse to Jaune. It takes until Volume 6 to Jaune forgives himself, but he still misses her and mourns her absence. Part of his current armor and weapons are made to honor Pyrrha's memory.


 
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Lord Sakai's Death

As a younger man, when rebels invaded their home, the elder Sakai begged for Jin to save him, but the boy hid in the house instead, resulting in his father's death. Whether it's reasonable to expect anything more from a boy in his early teens at most aside, this has been eating at Jin even when he became an adult, and his failure to rescue Lord Shimura is a stark reminder of that time.

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