I am struggling. I’ve been thinking about failure lately, to be honest I’ve been feeling like one. There are so many books and articles that advise us to use our failures as steppingstones to success. There are great stories of people overcoming their failures to achieve greatness. These are very inspirational stories. But… why is it always after someone has achieved something that they want to impart their wisdom of failure on us? Why do we wait until we are successful to celebrate our lessons learned, if the learning & growth that come from failure are apparently the most important part?
First, some definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Failure (noun) not successful;
1. Lack of success in doing or achieving something
2. A person or thing that is not successful
3. An act of not doing something, especially something that you are expected to do
4. The state of not working correctly or as expected
Well, that doesn’t sound very inspiring now does it. The expectation aspect is what trips me up the most. Think about it: when we try and fail at something that has no expectations, isn’t it funny how we tend to recover easier, maybe give it another shot? But when there is an expectation of a desired result, the absence of that result can be devastating or immobilizing. We have this grand idea with these high hopes… then it crumbles when we don’t achieve it on the first try. That can stop us in our tracks, the fear of failure leaves us unable and unwilling to try again, sometimes to try anything again if we haven’t already had success with. Sometimes it can even have us doubting those things we know we can do! But I challenge -is it really the fear failure itself, or can it be the fear of feeling that way again? Maybe it’s the fear of disappointment: disappointing ourselves OR others. We can’t trust our abilities or our instincts.
So, disappointment – how does that feel? Maybe you worked your ass off for something, did the research, set a plan, created resources and… all for not? Wasted time, wasted energy, it can be demoralizing! Disappointing others is a special Hell, too. Can you remember a time as a kid that you got into trouble and a parent told you “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed in you”? Dagger to the heart! I don’t want anyone feeling that type of way about me. I don’t want anyone to regret putting their faith in me or counting on me to do something that I could not deliver. Will this person ever trust me again? Will I get another chance? Will they see me differently? We truly do put too much weight on others’ opinions of us, don’t we?
We might feel disappointed because we really, really wanted the outcome we were working towards. Now we question where we went wrong - and THIS is where we tend to go wrong – we blame others or blame our circumstances (even if these are part of the failure). Then, when we can’t easily identify a specific reason, we then blame ourselves, our being -something must be wrong with ME. I’m not smart enough, not cut out for this, I don’t have the ability or skill or stamina or creativity or... or... this thinking feeds our insecurity, resulting in shame, self-doubt, and fear.
So, what if we could agree that the failure itself is not what we fear, but the feelings of being disappointed (or in disappointing others). Can we somehow arm ourselves against this agony? This is no easy thing to do, but little by little maybe we can get back up and try again. Let’s take the pressure off, I’m not saying to lower expectations - every personal development & business leader would cringe at this – but we can remind ourselves that it will not be the end of the world if things don’t pan out the way we had hoped or planned. Start by telling ourselves “I will not be disappointed in myself if I fail.” Start by eliminating the notion that this is life & death, that we will never get another chance, that we can’t try it again damnit! Now, insert the lessons learned while planning. Ask yourself these questions: Is this the first time I’m trying this? Can I think of another time I tried something remotely similar? What worked with that? What didn’t work with that? Why? What can I do differently?
I understand this is easier said than done, that secretly we are all wishing after one failure we suddenly become capable of accomplishing whatever we set out to do. It will be hard, it will be unnerving, and yes it will be *gasp* disappointing at times. Just reframing our minds around failure and shame is a whole damn project. Then we have to rip the Band-Aid off that still bleeding wound to assess where the mistakes were made? Fun… But really, what is the alternative? Status quo and boredom? Chances are, if your failure was enough to knock you off your feet and leave you reeling, you have some degree of ambition and yearning for growth.
Right now, I am knee deep in the torturous failure > disappointment > shame cycle. I feel like I’ve been messing up left and right. I keep asking the universe to chill out, but I guess it doesn’t work like that. I must have some learning to do. There’s something else I’m feeling too, though. I’m feeling bored. I don’t like feeling bored, I have ADHD damnit! I’m at the point where being bored & restless can result in one of two things: I can either wallow and become bitter, or I can start to dream again. I can start to imagine accomplishing something, doing something new or going back to the drawing board on a past failure. If I am able to start thinking this way again, then maybe I can start trying again too. It’s that itch, so small and out of nowhere, that sparks a flame. I’ve spent enough time licking my wounds – its time to start dreaming again. I might actually take my own advice too.
Thank you for reading! How do you get yourself out of funk? What ways have you learned from your failures?
Until next time,