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Failure has a bad rap. We are often told failure is a thing to avoid, a weakness of character or of planning. People who “fail” are those who did not put enough effort, were not smart enough, or did not “want it enough”. The truth is, failure exists and is a part of life that cannot be avoided. Why then, as a society, are we afraid to discuss failure?
What does failure really mean?
Unfortunately, a growing trend in society is to avoid negative feelings of any kind, especially when it comes to ourselves. If something goes wrong in our lives, we look toward others as a cause. We avoid taking responsibility for our choices because we do not want to feel we were “wrong”. Blaming a condition, a disorder, social economic status, and others, in general, feels better than admitting to ourselves we made a wrong choice.
Failure has become a paradox. We avoid admitting we fail because we do not want to feel bad about ourselves, yet we feel failure is a weakness. Truth is, failure is important for personal growth and for success. Therefore, we need to understand why we failed and how we can use the failure to our advantage.
Breaking Down Failure
No matter who you are, failure hurts. As failure is painful we do not want to focus on it. We want to move past it as quick as possible. The problem is, if we do not study and learn from failure, we may repeat it. Therefore, we need to study the reasons we failed and make a plan for the future.
The first question to ask is: what was your goal?
A well-defined goal is important for success. A problem I have seen is many people do not define their goals well. Goals that are vague or simplistic have little chance for success, as there will be limited motivation to follow them. Losing weight is a perfect example. A goal of “I want to lose 30 pounds” is limited, as no time frame has been set. In addition, there is no plan, no details of how this weight will be lost. A better goal would be, “I want to lose 30 pounds in four months by walking after dinner 5 days a week and limiting myself to three desserts per week”. This goal is more defined, which will be easier to follow.
The next question to ask is: was your goal realistic?
We often make unrealistic goals because we do not put enough thought into them. This is why properly defining your goals is critical. If my goal was to lose 30 pounds in two weeks, this is unrealistic and unhealthy. By failing at an unrealistic goal, we are tempted to beat ourselves up and stop future attempts.
Next, you need to analyze the failure by determining how much direct control you possessed.
Often in life, there are events out of our control. A downturn in the economy can ruin the goals and dreams of many, regardless of planning. By asking how much control you had, you get an idea as to the choices you made. Sometimes, your choices are limited. In our example above, if I wanted to lose 30 pounds in 5 months but failed, I need to analyze what I ate, and how much control I had over my eating choices. If I live in an assisted living community and have no say over my food, then I need to adjust my goal accordingly. Focusing more on the things you can change will make a more realistic, and achievable goal.
Asking others for advice is an important next step.
Many have succeeded as numerous goals. If they can succeed, why can’t you? Asking for help is critical for becoming successful. If you feel you cannot ask others because it is a weakness, then you need to make a choice, your pride, or your goal. Becoming successful means you will have to sacrifice your pride.
Lastly, recreate your goal with the knowledge you now possess.
You failed at a goal, but now you have something you did not before: experience. You know more about what success would look like because you saw what happens if you do not succeed. Redefine your goal with this experience, and begin again. Do not be afraid to change your goals or plans. Good goals allow room for change and are not absolutes. By breaking your failure down and determining why you failed, you will learn more about yourself in the process.
End the Stigma of Failure
Within your own mind, you need to end the stigma of failure. You cannot afford to think failure will not happen to you. It will. It already has. No one is 100% successful in all they do. In fact, most fail often. Do not personalize failure as something wrong about you. You are not broken if you fail at a task. You are broken if you use this failure as an excuse to quit.
As a therapist, I work with teenagers, most with a technology addiction. Many of them are afraid of their futures and do not know what they want to do for a career. Many tell me they are scared they will “make the wrong choice”, or will “fail at it”. Instead of tackling this fear, they escape into an addiction to avoid making a choice. The more they delay making a choice, the more they can delay at feeling like a failure. In treating them, I work at changing their definition of failure.
Sometimes, you will make an incorrect decision.
This does not mean you are a bad person or are a “loser”. Sometimes, you do not have all the facts. The stigma of failure is costing our younger generation greatly.
So, you failed. That’s ok. I have failed too. I have failed so many times I do not remember them all. Do not let self-esteem issues or pride make you miserable for the failure. Successful people do not sit there and think they are terrible or bad people for failing at something. Successful people are planning their next venture. The question is why cannot you?
Success = Failure
On the surface, this does not make sense. How can success = failure? They are opposites, no? A better way to view it is failure leads to success. Without failure, however, success often does not happen.
Why? Failure is a source of experience.
Everything we experience has value. Pain has value as it informs us of a problem. Anxiety has value as it warns us of danger. Why cannot failure have value?
Ask yourself this: which do you learn from the most, a success or a failure? Most learn from a failure more because a failure hurts more than a success feels good. As we want to avoid pain, we want to avoid failure, so we learn more from it. This is a natural feeling. Therefore, everything you do, especially the failures, learn from them, and over time, your successes will be greater.
Failure is a painful part of life. We cannot avoid it. As long as you are alive, there will be times you fail. This is not something to feel guilty for. This is something to learn from. If you have children, do not be afraid to have them fail. A healthy child needs a good dose of failure, to learn how to react toward it. How you react to failure will be a model for others as well. By breaking down why we fail, and by ending the stigma of failure, we will become more successful in life, and more in control of who we are.