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By Quentin Green
So you have failed.
Not just a fear of failure, but an actual failure. Now what do you do? Maybe you first business went belly up, or you tried for a promotion and didn’t get it, or your marriage broke up or you lost your job. Failure comes in all sorts of unpleasant flavors.
First of all, we all fail at various times in our lives. We cannot be successful at everything we do, all of the time.
Even the most successful people fail.
But this post isn’t about stating that failure is okay and expected. Failure hurts and nobody wants to experience it.
It’s about what you do next.
1. Feel the pain.
I can’t put it in any other way but to acknowledge its painful and allow the hurt. I’m not suggesting wallow in it, but people you love will always encourage you to “look on the bright side.” If you can, great. They are well meaning, but the reality is, you may go through a grieving process. It takes time for the mind to process, don’t feel like you have to get back into the game right away, or at least give yourself permission to have the emotions you have.
At the hardest points of my life, as miserable as I felt, at least I knew I was alive. My pain was MY pain. There is something basic and human about the experience.
2. Realize failure doesn’t define you – what you do in spite of it does.
People fail. Failure is is an event, a situation, its not a personal quality. You are not your failure. Perhaps your actions were, perhaps not, but failure doesn’t have to define who and what you are. You can change, you can try again, you can choose what beliefs limit you or empower you.
Put the failure in its proper place as a situation that is already over or soon will be. Its in the past and your future is a blank slate.
3. Realize that most failure is designed to teach you something.
Failure is a lesson and perhaps a valuable one. Scientific experiments are just that, ‘experiments.’ If they succeed, you only confirm your hypothesis, but you haven’t learned anything. A failure, on the other hand allows the scientist to examine what happened, adjust the experiment and try again. That’s a productive way to learn.
If your marriage failed, then maybe you learned something about what your needs are and what you can and can’t live with. Maybe you learn to make better, more informed choices, or take your time.
If you fail at business, maybe you learn about the market and how you misread your customers, or the demand, or what efforts are most productive and what aren’t.
You don’t need to dwell on this or do a complete post-mortem of the failure, just learn what you can. Once you have done that, you can relieve your mind from having to re-live the experience over and over.
4. Open your mind to the possibilities, and open your heart to hope.
Its hard to have hope or feel it, believe me. In the end however, the statement that the future is a blank slate is true. You can choose what trajectory you are on. You have learned valuable lessons so now you don’t have to repeat them.
A friend of mine once said that life is about choices. Its true that if you make bad choices, bad things happen. Good choices allow good things to happen. I didn’t say they would, because there are no guarantees, but that’s okay. Life is largely what you make out of it. The more good choices you make, the more likely you are to have success, at whatever it is.
Pain recedes eventually. You will heal and you will move forward again as a better person. Failure is a crappy way to build character, but it does!
Know that people genuinely care about you and want what’s best for you. People love you. I want what’s best for you and we haven’t even met. Its because I care about people and would rather help people than hurt them. You aren’t alone.
5. Take care of yourself. Falling into a trap of self-pity will effectively get you nowhere.
Now is the time to care for your mental health and your physical health. Sure, splurge and don’t feel guilty at first. Get it out of your system. But understand that a healthy body can help your mind be healthy. Take a vacation, get away for a couple of days, even go for a short hike on the weekend. Maybe get a massage. Whatever it is, make positive steps to care for your body and your psyche.
6. Engage in what’s positive.
What this means is that you will feel what your mind is focused on. If you constantly dwell on the negative, the positive cannot take hold. Read good books, find inspirational resources and surround yourself with positive people. Don’t let them focus on the negative “He/She’s not good enough for you!” Instead, be around people that are forward thinking and supportive. The more you surround yourself with the positive, the more positive you will become.
You can choose how you frame experiences and your thoughts. The more you practice this, the better you will get at it.
7. Get back on the horse. It’s not the same thing as talking about getting back on the horse.
I don’t ride horses, but I’ve heard that if you fall off, you need to get back on before fear sets in and you never do it again. Eventually, in small increments, start to move forward again.
Action is important as nothing happens if you sit still. Slowly it will get easier. Action also focuses your mind in the right direction and pushes the negativity aside.
These are just a few things you can do as you are capable of doing them. You may bounce back quickly, but maybe not. Just don’t despair. You will go through a natural process and there is light at the end of the tunnel, if you just hang in there.
I’ve been through plenty of failures in my lifetime, some small, some big. I don’t like to fail and sometimes I don’t see it coming. Usually, when I look back on it, I should have seen it coming. I become complacent, going through life not facing the hard decisions. In my case, I own the failure and don’t blame others, even if they contributed to it.
It doesn’t help anything to be resentful or hold a grudge, but to look towards a brighter future. Through all the ups and downs in my life, I have trended upward over time, like the stock market.
I wish I had an easy, instant solution to failure, but these steps are what I have experienced. By reading them, and writing them, I am conscious of what the process is and can be prepared if and when failure strikes again.
Life is a journey, but a good one. It can be and it should be. You deserve it to be.
Reach out and somebody will grab your hand. You are not alone.