Failure is the most important step to reaching success, but it can still feel like it’s crushing your soul. To make failure your friend and not your enemy, you must overcome it. Here are some strategies for moving on after a tough break.
What Is Failure?
Failure is defined as a lack of success, but its true definition is really up to you. Small things can be failures. Maybe you blew an easy sale today at work, or forgot to grab something important when you were at the store. We all make mistakes, and the mistakes we make that have some weight to them — big or small — make us feel like we’ve failed.
Normally, we reserve the word failure for the bigger things. The times when we’ve let others down, and, more importantly, ourselves. Trying your hardest to do something important and failing is when it really stings and shakes your confidence. Maybe your startup business idea failed, you lost the big game, or you let someone you care about down. Sometimes failure can leave a mark — but it doesn’t have to.
Feel What You Need to Feel
Failure can take a hefty emotional toll, and that’s OK. What’s important is getting the negative feelings you have out of your system so you can regroup and tackle what’s next. Don’t keep how you feel trapped inside of you like a shaken up soda. Bottling your emotions can lead to two things:
- An emotional outburst: Eventually the pressure will build and it will be too much for you to contain. In a moment of weakness, everything you’ve kept inside could explode and set you back even further. This not only affects your mental state, but it can affect your relationships too. When you have an outburst, the people you care about often end up in the crossfire.
- Creeping negativity: If you only loosen the cap, the negativity will slowly and persistently enter your mind. You need to openly confront the mistakes you made and give yourself the chance to feel it all. Otherwise, anxiety will start to linger in the back of your mind and the soft hiss of failure will continue. Constant anxiety is incredibly unhealthy and can lead to even more problems.
So, how do you let it all out? There are a few ways to get the bad, and — most importantly — retain the knowledge you gained:
- Set aside some time: It’s ok to feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. Completely ignoring what happened isn’t helpful, so set aside a specific amount of time to wallow as much as you want. Take some time to be angry, upset and frustrated so you can get it all out. If it’s something small, all you may need is an hour to pace around or cry in a pillow. For something larger, give yourself a full 24 hours to let it all out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. If you need more than a day, that’s OK, but make sure it’s an amount of time set by you and that you stick to it. You get that time to be as mopey as you want, but when it’s over, move on.
- Talk about it: Talk to somebody you know about how you’re feeling. It’s well known that just talking about something can make you feel better. Take a load off and express yourself. Chances are whoever you talk to will try to make you feel better, but even if they don’t, saying how you feel out loud puts that information out somewhere besides your brain.
- Don’t let it become a part of your identity: Failure is something that happens, not something you are. Susan Tardanico at Forbes explains that just because you haven’t found a successful way to do something doesn’t mean you are a failure. Be careful not to blur the lines between making mistakes and being someone who only makes mistakes. Our actions may define us, but our failures do not. The actions you take to move past failure and reach success will define you in the end.
Failure can leave an open wound and it’s unwise to ignore it. Without acknowledging it, your wound will continue to hurt, take longer to heal and possibly get infected.
Look at the Failure of Others
Don’t think for a second that you’re the only person on the planet to nose dive. Often we look at other’s success and assume they have everything together when the reality is that they encounter failure just as much as anyone. Some are better at hiding it than others, but failure is universal. Before you start bashing yourself for not hitting the mark, explore the world of failure and see how vast it truly is.
What successful person do you look up to? Take a look at the failures they have encountered in their lives and work. Read biographies, blogs, and listen to speeches. Successful people talk about failure just as much as they talk about success, and it’s because they respect how important it is to embrace it. Even the greatest people in our world have fallen, and fallen hard at one point or another.
Your friends and family fail too. Think about the failures they have encountered, and remember that you’re not alone. It’s not to point and laugh, but to show yourself that failure is ok. You’re human, just like everybody else.
Change Your Definition of Failure
Have we mentioned that failure is good? It can be hard to think that way, but changing your definition of failure can help you cope. Failure is a learning and growing opportunity that is necessary for growth.
Robert Spadinger at Pick the Brain has a list of truths that can help adjust your own definition of failure:
#1: Failure is an integral part on the way to success and self realisation.
#2: Whenever you step outside the comfort zone and whenever you try something new, failure becomes inevitable.
#3: Each failure brings you one step closer to reaching your goals.
#4: Failure is a great teacher and it allows you to learn some of the most valuable life lessons.
#4: Each failure makes you stronger, bigger and better.
#6: Making mistakes is not a big deal as long as you learn from them and avoid repeating them.
#7: Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation and that there are better approaches.
#8: Successful people will never laugh at you or judge you when you fail, because they have already been there and they know about the valuable lessons you can learn from failure.
#9: No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up.
#10: Each time you fail, your fear of failure becomes smaller, which allows you to take on even bigger challenges.
Every mistake is a learning opportunity, and after you’ve moved past your emotions, it’s important to revisit your mistakes with a new perspective. Look at what you did that went wrong, but also look at what you did that was right, and what you can do better next time. Failure is rarely so black and white.
Start the Next Project to Occupy Your Mind
Once you’ve had your grieving time, try again or move on to the next thing. Fill your head with thoughts on the next task at hand so there’s no room for negativity to slither in. You don’t want to completely block out the mistakes you’ve made — you won’t learn that way — but you also don’t want to dwell on them either.
Get started on your next project and really focus on it. Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki suggests having your next project ready so you’re always equipped to carry on. Nothing takes your mind off of things like hard work. If you need some time away from work, find a hobby. There’s bound to be something you enjoy and are good at that will keep your mind moving forward. The key is to switch your focus and give yourself time to remember that failing isn’t the end of the world.
The best part about failure is that you often get another chance. Angel Chernoff at Marc and Angel Hack Life points out that mistakes are simply a form of practice:
Every great artist was once an amateur. The sooner you get comfortable with practicing and making mistakes, the quicker you’ll learn the skills and knowledge necessary to master your art. You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. So get out there and try again. Either you succeed or you learn a vital lesson. Win — Win.
It’s OK to fail at something over and over, but as soon as you give up altogether — that’s the real failure.
Remember, failure is inevitable, but it’s not something that has to define you. It’s actually good for you, and setting yourself up for it can be good for you too. Make failure a tool, a stepping stone, to get you where you want to go. It’s OK to feel defeated when it happens, but losing the battle never means losing the war.