The title of this article comes from a question I received recently from a reader.
At first I wanted to respond to him privately. As I was contemplating the message, I realized that this would be of benefit to other readers as well. Focusing on failure is thematic amongst a lot of us humans.
This by no means is a comprehensive guide on dealing with failure. It’s a practical (i.e. short) guide on recognizing past failures and starting to move forward.
How can we move forward when we feel we’ve failed on so many levels?
To answer this question, we’ll need to look at two things: past failures and moving forward.
What failure means
Think of the word failure and go with the feelings that come up. When I think of it I feel a tightness, discomfort, and pain. It’s not pleasant.
But why do we feel this way?
I think it’s a conditioned response that builds up over the years till it becomes automatic. Once we view something as a failure, we feel pain and then we want to avoid it at all costs.
The conditioning is different for each one of us based on our upbringing, situation, and experiences. Unfortunately, most of the time though we end up in the same place—hating failure and avoiding any action that can potentially lead to more failure.
Failure is the opposite of success. It embodies disappointment, things not working out our way, and unfavorable (if not humiliating) outcomes.
Failure and the bottom line
The thing with failure is: it’s results based.
A lot of the time we view any outcome that doesn’t meet our expectations to be a failure. And we forget the experience itself. By focusing on the outcome, we ignore the most important part—the experience that got us to that outcome.
The journey itself is where all the lessons and growth lie. The end result is the icing on the cake. So it shouldn’t matter as much.
Even if we view an entire experience as a failure, we can’t know for sure what’s going to come next. And the failure might turn into a stepping-stone for another, more rewarding experience.
The harsh critic
It’s easier for us to forgive others than to forgive ourselves. Our view of reality when it comes to ourselves is more distorted. We don’t like what we perceive as our failures, probably more than any other person.
The harsh critic within thrives on failure. It feeds and dwells on our mistakes or absence of success.
Blurring the line
With time, we become our mistakes and failures. We don’t fail. We are a failure and that’s where we trap ourselves.
If we think we’re a failure, we’re going to attract and create what supports our thoughts. We always find what we’re looking for. And we keep feeding the self-made failure monster.
You are not your mistakes or the success you achieve. The end result is just an outcome. It shouldn’t take away from the richness (pleasant or unpleasant) of the experience.
If you feel that you’ve had a lot of failure in your life, reflect on the following questions. You’ll realize that you’re more successful than you thought.
Are you still alive? If you are, then you are not a failure. You’re succeeding at the biggest game by breathing and being here.
Did you learn to walk? Type? Read? Communicate? You have succeeded at very important skills that help you tremendously every day of your life.
Did you smile? Laughed hard, from the belly? Offered or received an act of kindness? You have changed the energy of the world to the better with your acts.
Did you (or still do) take care of yourself? Cared for family, a plant/garden or pet? You are nourishing life with every act and if that’s not success, what is?
Have you ever paid for a cup of coffee or a meal or a service? Have you received any compensation for any work you’ve done? You moved the economy along in more ways than you realize.
Have you ever loved or been loved—even if it didn’t last? You have changed the chemistry and the heart of life.
Did you forgive anyone for his/her mistakes or failures? You have helped heal the world.
These are just a few questions to remind you of how rich your life is. You’ve had a lot of successful experiences. You just don’t think about them because most of the times we take these things for granted.
Exercising your imagination
If you still view your life as one of failure, take a few moments and do this exercise.
Close your eyes and imagine that you are out of your body. You’re sitting on a cloud but can still see your body perfectly. Imagine now the body going through the experiences that you determined were a failure. Observe without judgment. What would you see?
Did this person do the best they can at that point? Did they mean well? Did they do it with an open heart?
Send love and compassion to your physical body. Do you see the person as a human being going through a journey the best they know how? Or do you still think they’re failing?
After questioning and reviewing your experiences, you should be able to open up to the possibility that what you perceive as failure may not be that bad after all.
We all make mistakes or fail to get the results we want sometimes. It doesn’t matter. We can always pick ourselves up and start again.
To move forward you need to do one simple thing: start moving. Just take one step in the direction that serves you best.
Zoom in – Determine the area of your life where you want to move forward—a relationship, career, health, finances, where you live … etc.
View – Spend a few minutes (or more) visualizing and thinking about what would it take for you to get started.
Act – Take the first step. If it’s too daunting, split it into smaller parts and do one of the parts. Once done, move on to the next step.
A couple of examples:
A new relationship: If you want to pursue a new relationship, join a dating site as a first step. Next, work on your profile, third take a picture & upload it, fourth look around for people who might be of interest to you.
Finances: If you want to work on your finances, determine the most important bills you need to take care of right now. If you have many, just pick one. Can you pay it? If not, can you call and arrange for a payment plan? If not, look at the next bill and do the same. If there are so many and it’s a mess, look for a financial adviser and book an appointment.
You get the picture. One tiny step then the next one and the one after. It’s a slow process and you may feel discouraged if you don’t get results right away.
But no matter how small the steps are you’re moving forward.
A couple of articles from the archives that I hope can assist in moving forward and taking action:
- Finding Peace in Failure: A Simple Approach to Moving Forward
- The Next Thing: A Simple Approach to Action and Getting Things Done
If you try the above and you still feel stuck, look within for any other fears (other than failure) lingering in the background.
Failure is not as bad as we’re conditioned to believe. It’s part of a life well lived—a journey of ups and downs and everything in between.
I’ll leave you with a few words of wisdom about failure from people we respect and admire.
“My reputation grows with every failure.” ~George Bernard Shaw
“There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.” ~ Kin Hubbard
“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” ~John Wooden
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” ~Michael Jordan
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” ~Zig Ziglar
“I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Photo courtesy of Iwan Wolkow