Failure sucks. Period.
Failure is like a fart. Common. Unavoidable. But still embarrassing. And it sometimes feels like you are the only one it happens to!
We would all prefer to be successful 100% of the time but that is literally impossible. There can be no up without a down, no top without a bottom.
The only surefire way to avoid failure is to avoid trying to succeed. Or at least avoid trying to succeed at anything remotely challenging. Unless you want to live a life that is void of the thrill of accomplishment, you have to deal with the reality of failure.
How you deal with failure is incredibly important. In fact, it is not failing that ruins us, it is reacting badly to our failures.
I have seen it again and again in the business world. Entrepreneurs who fail with their first start up and never try again. Professionals who experience a career setback or two and settle into mid-range jobs. And countless brilliant, lovely people who have wonderful ideas and big dreams but act on none of them because they fear failure.
Don’t let failure – or the fear of failure – stand in your way.
I have been self-employed my entire adult life. Like the trapeze artists in the old circus acts, I work without a net. And I fail… regularly. But my failures don’t paralyze me or make me doubt my life choices.
In fact, I am often at my most optimistic and energetic after I have dealt with failure. It reminds me that I am strong and capable and resilient.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” -Maya Angelou
5 Simple Steps to Move Past Failure
It is essential to learn how to move past failures. The good news is that the process isn’t complicated. The bad news is that you need to work through the stress and the negative feelings that accompany each step. It is important to remember that the situation, no matter how dire, is temporary and so are the feelings that go with it.
To quote my very wise grandmother, “It’s not the end of the world. It only feels like it.”
Step 1: Accept It
Acknowledging that you have failed is arguably the hardest part. We live in a society that programs us to “push through” and “dig deep” and “hang in there.” But there is a point where perseverance is no longer in our best interests.
For example, pouring more and more money into a business activity that isn’t producing any return on investment is a recipe for disaster, yet we have all seen people do it – and we have all done it ourselves at some point or another.
Remember that “failure” is a verb, not a noun. We all fail. This does not make us failures. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Failure is usually a sign that you are out there swinging for the fences. You are trying new things. You are pushing yourself. This is what successful people do!
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” –Arianna Huffington
Step 2: Create Some Distance
Acceptance is good. Wallowing is bad.
There are very few things in life that cannot be put on the back burner for 24 hours. In fact, I believe that taking a “time out” is a necessary coping mechanism when you are dealing with failure.
It is easy to ruminate and replay the history of your failure over and over in your mind. It feels productive but there is no real benefit. In fact, it exasperates the stress and negative feelings which just makes everything worse.
As an alternative, choose to be kind to yourself. Take the day. Go for a walk in the park or a drive into the country. Exercise. Roam around a book store with an over-priced coffee. Slide into a matinee with a giant bucket of popcorn. Allow yourself to be distracted, in a positive way.
Note: Avoid drinking. It seems like a good idea but seldom helps. Stay away from sympathetic friends because they tend to let you to go on (and on and on) about the situation. And avoid making major purchases. Stick with activities where the sticker shock and the health risks are low and the positivity factor is high!
Step 3: Make a Recovery Plan
Failure comes with consequences.
The morning after your 24-hour reprieve, it is time to start dealing with the realities of your situation. Don’t put this step off. The longer you procrastinate, the worse the outcomes!
If your failure has created a financial setback, your recovery plan needs to identify practical ways to (a) increase revenues and (b) decrease expenses.
With careful evaluation, expert advice, and a pro-active approach, you will likely be able to weather the storm. And you may even find yourself in a stronger position, with new initiatives, new clients, and more innovative ways of doing things!
“Failure is part of the process. You just learn to pick yourself up. And the quicker and more resilient you become, the better you are.” – Michelle Obama
Step 4: Do a Forensic Audit
Successful people learn from their mistakes. This can be hard to do when you are in the middle of the storm. Give it a bit of time. 30 days is usually good for me. That gives me a month to “fix” the problem so that I can look back calmly and objectively. Hindsight is always 20/20!
Schedule time to really look at the failure. Ask (and answer) the hard questions, like:
- What did you do wrong?
- What choices could you have made differently?
- Were there alternatives that you didn’t consider?
- What changes do you need to make to avoid having this happen again?
- What changes are the most difficult for you? Why?
- What would you do differently if you could go back in time?
Be 100% honest with yourself. Failure is one of the best learning tools in the world. Don’t deny yourself the benefits.
“Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” –Mia Hamm
Step 5: Move On
It can be hard to move past failures. They erode your confidence and leave you a little shaky. That’s normal. But you need to get up and move on.
That’s why my step-by-step approach works for me. It helps me regain a sense of control. It feels linear and logical.
I accepted responsibility. I did everything possible to recover. And I learned from the experience.
When I can say those three things with complete honesty, I am able to put things to rest and move on.
Failure is an unavoidable side effect of trying to succeed. There is no shame in it. And failing doesn’t mean you will never achieve your goals. In fact, your failures may help you navigate to the path you need to be on to succeed!