“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure […] a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
These words have been taken from J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement address, a speech dedicated to discussing the virtues of failure. J.K. Rowling summed-up the worst period of her life in these simple words and then, credited the very same period of her life for the success she eventually achieved.
Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Stephen King, Abraham Lincoln are just a few of the many famous people who turned failures into stepping stones to success. Then there are all those who may not have made it to the list of world’s richest or achieved what you and I may define as success but have demonstrated incredible strength by rising out of the ashes of constantly disappointed hopes. People who despite extremely difficult beginnings, through sheer grit and determination, built a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
You see, rock bottom is actually a very friendly place to be but only in hindsight. When first confronting failure, we all have very similar reactions – disbelief, denial, frustration, and worst of all, self-pity. It’s only as we rebuild our life that we realise that the failures we faced made us stronger and wiser. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it out of the miasma of hopelessness and misery that engulfs you when you fail at something built on the foundations of hope and faith.
Last year, I decided to work on my own childhood dream of writing a book. Now, I grew up reading books by authors like Ayn Rand, Thomas Hardy, Alexander Dumas, Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle which means that everything I write reads like garbage to me. It’s been almost a year since I started working on my book, but I have nothing to show for it.
Initially, I felt such frustration when the words on the screen failed to match the vision inside my head. Then, as I kept going without any tangible progress, I went from disbelief to fear that I was never going to be able to create a physical copy of any of the many books I have written inside my head since I was an inquisitive, precocious 5-year-old. I would have given up except, this is not my first showdown with fear, disappointment, or even blind panic, and I happen to know that a victory is all the more sweeter when won after a long, hard struggle. I shifted some of my focus to other ventures and the rest of it on improving my writing skills and maintaining my faith in myself.
“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.”
― Les Brown
As I fight to maintain my stride towards my own goals, I hope that this post will help anyone looking for a little strength and motivation to keep fighting against all odds.
Here are a few ways you can overcome failure and achieve all your goals –
1. Before you even try to master your sense of defeat, process it in its entirety.
More than anything else, an emotion with the power to stun us into stillness has a purpose to it. Before you try to get past it, let yourself process the loss.
Say a firm no to self-flagellation. A lot of us don’t just grieve over our failed attempt, we get upset about getting upset. It’s okay to press pause and take a breather. Show yourself a little self-compassion and even indulge in a pity party if you must. To handle your emotions in a constructive way, you can journal or confide in a trusted friend.
The solution is deceptively simple, but sometimes talking or writing about an issue can help you process and maybe even find a solution. If nothing else, it will leave you feeling lighter, freer.
It may even help you appreciate the situation from a different, more useful perspective. If negative and fearful thoughts of failure constantly intrude on your focus, set aside a time of the day to do nothing but rail and rant. Spend a tiny amount of time venting so that you can spend the rest of your working day taking positive steps towards your goals.
2. Don’t play the victim
I can’t remember the last time I wrote a post and didn’t remind my readers to always take responsibility instead of choosing the stance of a victim, no matter the circumstances.
In 1914, Thomas Edison lost his life’s work in an explosion that destroyed 10 buildings in his plant. He could have doubled over with grief. He could have been angry. Through no fault of his own, he lost so much but instead, he took everything in his stride.
He was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”
The very next day, he was back to recreating everything he had lost. The article shares that Edison lost $919,788 (about $23 million in today’s dollars), years of priceless records and prototypes, and his plant’s insurance covered only about a third of the total damage. Edison and his employees worked double shifts and ended up making $10 million in just 4 years.
Maintaining a victim mentality is a surefire way of staying stuck, and it really only prolongs your misery. You’ll have the worst moments of your life playing on a loop in your head. Accepting responsibility, on the other hand, opens you up to the possibility of change and growth. So, if you’ve failed, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Maintain brutal honesty as you dialogue with yourself.
Again, process the event so that instead of causing you pain, it becomes the instrument of change. You may fail again but make sure that you don’t fail for the same set of reasons.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
– Samuel Beckett
3. Go into learning mode
I have found this to be a great piece of advice for anyone tackling big, intimidating goals.
Don’t go into the fight hoping for anything except growth. Once again, assume the persona of a student. Seek to learn. A thirst for knowledge cannot be defeated in any capacity for even failure has its own lessons to share.
If you’ve failed, it’s time for a deep review of the strategy employed, the methods used, set timeline, and even the goal itself. The best way to snap out of your misery is to channel all your mental energy and focus into finding the cause for your failure and then, correcting it so that your next attempt has a different outcome.
You can do this by –
1. Measuring your goal against your current skills and resources. This gives you a target to work on. If the desired goal requires skills you don’t currently have, the identification of this gap gives you the solution as well. Instead of wallowing in misery, you work on acquiring the skills and resources needed.
2. If you already have all the necessary skills and resources then, perhaps your strategy wasn’t the right one. The planning is always done with a vision and a goal in mind. If you don’t get the desired result, you go back to the drawing board and come up with a different plan.
3. If you’ve drafted the right plan, perhaps its execution needs improvement.
Regardless of the field chosen, progress can always be measured which allows for comparison and conclusions. Measure your progress, identify the weak spots, review every tactic employed, and make the necessary adjustments. This is the most constructive thing to do in the event of a failure.
On the Oprah Winfrey show, the famous fashion designer, Vera Wang called her entrance into the fashion world, ‘a happy accident’. She failed to get into the Olympic skating team, and so she had to come up with a new life plan which led her to the world of fashion.
Your failures happen for a reason. Instead of losing heart, focus on the hidden message. You are not a failure, you’ve simply failed to find the right approach.
As Thomas Edison said,
‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’
Related: 50 quotes to help you heal
4. Understand the true value of failure
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
– Arnold Schwarzeneggeer
Whenever I need to remind myself of my strength and fortitude, I always think about the obstacles and the hurdles I have overcome. The time I spent trying to overcome my mental health issues acts as a reminder of just what I am capable of when I am truly driven.
We never think about the good days or the victories we’ve had when we need a reminder of our capabilities; it’s always the failures we have overcome that act as motivation for us. Every disappointment and humiliation builds your character like no achievement ever could.
All those people who have made the world a better, more interesting place, they were all individuals of incredible strength. They were men and women with the capacity to take hit after hit without giving up on their passions and their convictions.
“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Steve Jobs was fired from a company he created. Walt Disney’s first cartoon business went bankrupt. Henry Ford lost both his first and second company, the first to bankruptcy and the second to an internal dispute. Oprah Winfrey was dismissed because she was deemed unfit for television. Stephen King’s first book (Carrie) was rejected by 30 publishers.
In a way, the creations that we take such joy in were all created by failures. If you research their stories, you’ll be able to see failure as simply a speed bump on your road to success.
Deepa Malik is another truly unbelievable example of the rewards of perseverance. She was diagnosed with a spinal tumour. After 31 surgeries and more than 180 stitches between her shoulder blades, Malik was left paralysed from the chest down. Despite the many odds against her, she chose to fight. She started participating in para-sports and after a long arduous struggle, she went on to become the first Indian woman to win a medal in the Asian Para Games.
“Sports was one of the steps I took on my journey of ‘ability beyond disability’…The fact that I have turned into an achiever is because I never gave up.”
– Deepa Malik
This is why, no matter the nature and size of your failure, you must persist. Let the world slap you with unking labels, take the pain and process it as best as you can. Then, reset the clock, review your strategy, and ignoring the doubts raging inside your head, show up and keep fighting.
5. Use the following exercises –
1. Imagine the worst-case scenario.
One tiny failure can derail your whole life plan if you give in to the misery and the fear. It might help to do one simple exercise. Imagine the worst thing that could happen if you were to fail again. Now, build a strategy to undo that particular result, a strategy that will help you get back everything you stand to lose in the event of failure be it your dignity, money, or loved ones.
Put it all down on paper. This will help you see that even the worst-case scenario isn’t as bad as you imagined. You’ll find that in most cases, the damage can be repaired. Hopefully, you’ll also see that not trying will be a lot more painful than failing.
Visualise the journey ahead. Focus on the obstacles and then, visualise yourself overcoming those obstacles. Use thee power of your imagination to shift your mindset and your beliefs.
3. Take it one day at a time and do it in little chunks
If your goals and plans scare you, don’t look too far ahead. Simply take it one day at a time. Just focus on getting through the next day and then the day after that and then the day after that. If your ideated strategy is intimidating in its immensity, break them down and execute them in little sections. Focus on the present task.
Our minds are negatively biased. The fear, negative emotions, pain are all more keenly felt than everything good and positive. Our brain is wired to choose comfort over growth. So, you must constantly push yourself. React quickly and keep moving on. Don’t let fear settle or you’ll find yourself endlessly procrastinating.
Apart from these exercises, you can take strength from your loved ones. Focusing on the people in our life often inspires to get past the fear. It helps us create a better life so that we can share the glory and good fortune with those who have chosen to trust us.
Here’s an inspirational video to spring you into action –
Trust your struggle and don’t let the pain of failures drag you into darkness. Don’t let one event define the course of your life. Even if you have had nothing but failures, tomorrow is a new day.
You get to write your story from scratch. Make sure it’s one of courage, confidence, and strength.