What Failure Really Means

What Failure Really Means

No one likes to fail. It’s disappointing and, depending on what failed, is accompanied by various negative emotions. And there are just countless ways in which we can fail, aren’t there? We fail in relationship, flunk out of school, and fail at our jobs or in our careers. We can fail board exams, sobriety tests, and physical exams. Really, at every turn, there is an opportunity to fail. Life can start to feel pretty daunting… depending on how we value failure.

Failure means different things to different people. To some of us, it might mean we’re not good enough or that we didn’t try hard enough. To others, it might mean something is wrong with us. However, we look at it, under these assumptions failure is something to be ashamed of.

There’s another way to understand failure. We can look to it as a teacher. If we fail, it means we tried something. We put ourselves out there and took a risk. Maybe the failure is there to tell us what doesn’t work. Maybe it means we should try it a different way or at a different time or using alternative components.

We’re going to fail. It’s inevitable. If we try enough things, we’re going to fail. It’s part of living. The healthier our relationship with failure, the more useful it will be to us and the easier it will be to manage.

So, how do we do it? How do we become more open to the negative or uncomfortable experiences that are a part of the journey of accomplishing our goals?

It’s helpful if we have a growth or “challenge” mindset versus fixed or “threat” mindset. With a growth mindset, we view things as experiments. Everything is a teachable moment. With a fixed mindset our beliefs are absolute, impermeable to change, and everything is a threat. We’re much more insecure and defensive in a fixed mindset. The first step, then, is to try to talk ourselves through an endeavor or a failure as though it’s an experiment… because it is.

A helpful way to become more psychologically flexible is to access our curiosity. “What didn’t work? Why? What should I try next?” The more we move toward curiosity and away from self-judgment, the less we will view failure as an exhibition of our lack of worth and the more inclined we will be to make the necessary changes.

We’ll spend less time ruminating, hiding, and avoiding and more time learning about what we need to do to fix the problem. We will increase our emotional resilience.

Most of us know we need to make improvements, but we start to lose the value of that knowledge when we take failure personally. Taking a position of curiosity will help us get closer to our goals.

It takes courage to fail. It takes courage to be open to the lessons failure has to teach. It’s common for us to avoid trying so that we can avoid the discomfort it brings. It’s common for us to experience failure and let it define us instead of gathering the information, reassessing it, and bouncing back for another experiment. Hiding from avoiding failure is a great way to teach ourselves to become more fearful of failure. It’s an effective way to clip our own wings and make sure we stay stuck.

But if we let it, failure can mean that we have the courage, strength, and resolve to try something again and again, that we are unstoppable champions of our goals.


Love and Be Loved,

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

Managing and Learning from Fear and Failure

I’m willing to bet that you have experienced failure. In fact, you have probably had some real showstoppers. I can relate.

We all want the experience of success whether it’s in our relationships, careers, academics, finances, safe-driving records- whatever. Failure isn’t usually one of our goals. It’s a funny thing about failure, though; we go from “not counting failure as a goal” (reasonable), to “failure is the worst thing that could ever happen.” How… did we get there? And more importantly, why?

Perhaps some of us grew up in an era during which undiscerning praise and awards were given to us for merely showing up. Perhaps, through that, some of us now believe that there is no failure or that failure is not our fault. Others might have understood those trophies and awards, as a sort of “Hail Mary”, deliverance from such failure that is a dark abyss of shame into which we would fall and never get out. Maybe some of us were intentionally taught that failure is an outcome worse than death, and we still believe it. Maybe we’re afraid of failure for other reasons.

Why? What does failure mean to us? Some people overidentify with failure- failure means “I’m not a good (fill in the blank).” Others become overwhelmed- “I just can’t handle going through that again,” and attempt an escape in various ways. It’s easy to be blinded by our pain and forget that these are stories we tell ourselves, not facts. But we believe them. We believe that if we fail a test, we’re (feel in the blank); if we end a relationship, we must not be (fill in the blank); if our business isn’t thriving, it’s obviously because of (fill in the blank).

Failure is a lot less powerful than that, although we can find our power in experiencing it. Failure does not define us. It communicates to us.

If we failed that (again, fill in the blank), maybe it means that we didn’t use the best form of preparation, that we need to learn how to manage conflict better, that we didn’t have all of the information we needed.

Maybe it wasn’t a failure at all, and something was incompatible for or with us. When we experience something as failure, we get to ask ourselves “why?” We get to find out what we need to do differently and how we can produce better results next time. We have the chance to learn, get smarter, get better.

When we fail, we can connect to our resilience. We get to see that, after all, the hardship, pain, and rejection we’re still standing. We’re given the chance to learn that we are our champions. We get back up after each fall, and continue with more knowledge, courage, and perspective, each time less controlled by our fear.

With that kind of perseverance, self-trust becomes increasingly available to us. We begin to realize our potential. We need less external validation. Reassessing our parameters, lifting a boundary here while strengthening a boundary there seems more doable for us… because we’re more comfortable with the truth about who we are.

This week, let’s be curious about our failures. Hey- and whatever you do? Don’t fail. Just kidding.

Love and Be Loved,