Failure comes in many shapes and forms. It could be a bad mark on an exam, disappointing a loved one, or it could be failing to stay on course.
How many of you are all too familiar with that pit of the stomach feeling when you realize you have committed the sin of doing something wrong. When we experience failure, the emotional effects can hinder our thoughts and wound our self-esteem. For many of us, that horrible feeling can stay around for days or even weeks. Sometimes, one such experience could knock us out completely and we suddenly find ourselves struggling to get back up.
Our society and the good ‘ol education system have conditioned us to the negative effects of failure. Heck, after 16 years of school where an F meant the death sentence, there’s no way we can suddenly see it in a different light. As we go through childhood, high school, college, and into the real world, we are constantly wary of being judged, disliked, or imperfect. We try to act in ways that portray ourselves in a positive light, whether it’s through our work or our attitude. As time go by, we develop a protective shield to armor ourselves from everything that might put us at risk. We become hesitant to charter into unfamiliar territory, we are mindful in how we articulate our thoughts, and we are constantly worried about accidentally exposing our flaws to the world.
Since starting on this journey to understand who I am and redefining my life’s purpose, learning to cope with failure and mistakes had been one of my biggest challenges but also the most rewarding experience. Like how all journeys began, I struggled at first with accepting my mistakes and seeing them in a positive light. I remember being consumed by self-doubt and self-depreciating thoughts. I was ashamed of the things I had failed at, which led to low self-esteem and fear of trying new things. I had my own safety zone where I was comfortable living in, one where I never had to face the hazard of doing something wrong. I only wanted to do things that I knew I could do and displayed the best side of me.
As you could probably guess, I didn’t really get anywhere while that mentality. What really pushed me past that thinking was repetitively reminding myself of the consequences of not exploring the unknown. I had goals of living a life of freedom, of being my best self every day. How was I supposed to achieve them if I am stuck on the carousel of sameness every day?
To me, forcing myself to recognize my ignorance on the subject was the very cornerstone that led me to accept them for what they are: harsh but valuable lessons. Although I had gone through those disappointing moments in the past, I still made it to today. Although I had ‘failed’ by missing out on the true purpose of what failure served in the first place, the experience of realizing that is in itself a wonderful lesson.
My goal is not to tell you to love failure, because why would anyone like to fail? My goal is to guide you to look at failure through a different lens. I want you to see failures for the purpose they serve rather than how they might have made you feel in that single moment in time. I want you to love failure not for what it is, but for what you might gain in return.
If you had been struggling to cope with failure, read on for 5 of my tried and true ways to make you seriously rethink failure the next time you are about to attempt something completely outside of your comfort zone.
1. Acknowledge what happened
By instinct, when we make mistakes, our immediate response is to react defensively. We automatically start looking for excuses to justify ourselves in an effort to make our mistakes seem less significant than they appear. But when we do this, most of the time we end up looking pitiful, and lose respect from our peers.
How do we react without losing respect from the people around us? The answer is by acknowledging. Acknowledging that we are wrong means exposing our vulnerability to the world. Sometimes that act in itself can be more dreaded than making the mistake in the first place.
I am a firm believer that when we can acknowledge our reality, that is when we can evaluate an experience in its fullness. Rather than brushing off our mistakes, when we take an objective stand at what happened, we can better pinpoint the cause of the mistake in the first place. Instead of seeing ourselves as the victim, take a step back and look at the whole picture. What exactly had happened? At which point did things turn for the worse? Pay attention to the actions that took place rather than the end result.
When we reflect, and I mean REALLY reflect, and not just reflecting on the negative outcomes, it is the best opportunity for us find out something new about ourselves. Maybe something about our flaws, our habits, or our personality which we hadn’t been aware of in the past. That’s why I always push myself to reflect on the purpose that was served through my experiences and take responsibility for it. It is only through acceptance that we free up room in our heart to learn and grow.
2. Give yourself grace
The degree of apprehension and criticism we have all but stem from the expectations and beliefs we had instilled upon ourselves. And where do those expectations come from? Most of the time from other people. How many times have you found yourself comparing with others? He cooks better than me, she’s more beautiful than me, he’s so intelligent, and we wish we could be just as good if not better than them. And then, without even realizing it ourselves, we had mentally set a bar on ourselves that we constantly try to compare towards.
It’s not wrong to have expectations on ourselves, expectations can help us continuously learn and improve to become better. The problem is when those expectations become the scoreboard we base our efforts on in everything we do. Can you imagine how exhausting that is? To constantly compare ourselves to the impossible? Yet so many of us do it to ourselves every single day unwittingly, that eventually we cannot even grasp who we are anymore, and start rejecting our own inner authenticity.
Think back to the last time you made a mistake, how did you cope with it? Did you spend long nights mulling over what had happened? When we repeatedly playback what had happened in our minds, most of the time we end up over-amplifying the situation for more than what it was.
To give ourselves grace is to understand that we are only human. What most of us forgets (and I am guilty of this as well) is compassion and forgiveness for ourselves. Think about all the many, many successful people out there that you know, have they been perfect all along? No, of course not. We are not alone in making mistakes, some people have done worse, YOU could’ve done worse.
Our errors are what drives us towards continuous growth, why are we so hard on ourselves when we are just trying to learn? By dwelling on the failure you are leaving yourself behind in the past. It is only through forgiveness of ourselves that we can truly move on. When we are saying YES to imperfection, YES to being vulnerable, and YES to accepting this experience for what it is, that is when we regain trust in our inner authenticity and move forward.
3. Recognize the victories
This one is huge, and it is recognizing the positive things that came out of the failure. It might be difficult to determine these at first because we are so consumed by the end result. But ofttimes, when we take a giant step back and observe the entire picture of what happened, things that weren’t apparent becomes more apparent, especially the good things that happened.
For example, although you lost your chain of thought in the middle of an important presentation and presumably embarrassed yourself, the fact you got up there to speak in front of a whole bunch of people is an enormous feat in itself. You are now one experience point higher in speaking in front of an audience, you have gained the respect of others on your leadership qualities, you have found out a little bit more on how to speak your voice, and so much more.
Just like how a painting is not painted with a single stroke, failing does not define an entire situation. Sometimes it might take us a moment to realize the good efforts we had put in, reminding ourselves of the process that took place and the good things that came out of it are the foundation of what pushes us forward.
4. Plan your comeback and every comeback after that
It is inevitable when we screw up that we tend to replay what had happened in our mind over and over again. What if I didn’t do this, what if I tried that, those are the unanswerable scenarios that we so wish we could turn back time to try again.
But life is not a game, there are no infinite lives. What we do have is the gift of knowledge and the ability to experience. We can experience something once, mess up, learn from it, and then do it again next time but with the learnings from last time to go along with it. And the best part? We can always give ourself second chances. I mean, how cool is that? It’s like having infinite lives but in this case, it’s infinite chances at winning at something over and over again.
While it might seem easier to pretend like nothing happened, sometimes it is important to remind ourselves that life is a journey and nothing is ever perfect. So why expect that of ourselves? It is OK there are stumbles and falls on this journey, that’s how we learn and grow. If you were cruising on a smooth, ripple-less path, wouldn’t that get boring fast?
5. Write your thoughts on paper
I am a big journaling fanatic, and one of the things that always helped me cope with failure is a brain dump of my thoughts and emotions on paper. Somehow the act of writing down what’s on my mind grants me the permission to look at my failure outside of myself.
It might sound a little counter-intuitive to write things down when you are already thinking of it, but from experience, I can tell you the perception of seeing your thoughts on paper serves a completely different purpose. To me, it is like finishing a good mystery novel (my favorite genre by the way), where in the end the whole story comes together and the suspense finally comes to an end, and you feel that satisfaction runs through your whole body that all the questions you had were answered.
So, try this next time. I want you to grab a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind at that moment when you are feeling like the world is crashing down. What are the emotions you are feeling? Why are you feeling them? Write a story of what happened. What do you wish to have done differently?
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Delight in the journey, I live by that every single day. There are no one-hit wonders or overnight successes. The fact there’s been nobody in history whose been perfect at their craft is proof in itself that you shouldn’t expect that from yourself.
The world is your oyster, and your life is the journey. So get out there, make mistakes, and fail spectacularly. You are an amazing human being (honestly, the fact you are reading this post is enough to prove that), and I cannot wait to hear you have learned!