How to deal With Failure

Published: Thursday 10th December 2020.
Things will be going well most of the time, sometimes even very well but some days they will not. You will make a mistake or simply fail. It is not great, but it cannot be avoided. However, what you can do is learn how to deal with failure. Remember no-one is perfect.

As Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.

1. Do not sweep your feelings under the rug

How often have you been asked: “how are you?” and you replied: “I am fine” when you are not. It is probably obvious from your tone of voice that you are not okay. In those cases, people do not tend to ask anything else as they worry that the conversation may make them feel uncomfortable.

When failing it is not un-usual to feel in destress and to want to hide our feelings. But remember your entire journey and what you have achieved so far, your successes. The fact that you may not have fulfilled one of your goals does not mean you will not succeed next time. It is okay to feel the way you do but you must discover what made you fail, learn from your mistakes, and move forward. We all know and understand the phrase “Keep clam and carry on!”

2. Do not compare yourself with others

Failures are not necessarily a bad thing, but people feel bad about them because they compare themselves to others. There will always be someone better than you, more successful, but there will also always be someone worse than you. You need to compare the comparable. For example, you can compare yourself with the “old you” and see which progress you have made in life whether private or professional.

We also get very frustrated with failures when others are succeeding. We often tend to compare ourselves with others looking at social media for example which does not always reflect the truth or maybe there is a different story behind their success, a different path to it. As a rule, only concentrate on yourself and how to deal with your own failures to ensure you will learn from them and progress further. Set yourself your own goals, realistic for you, not goals set against the success of others.

3. Failure is not a reflection of you

Each time you will not achieve your goals, each time you will fail you will always be self-critical. It will then be difficult for you to act positively as your motivation and self-esteem will be affected. It is therefore important to learn how to value yourself. Always value yourself as a worthy human being and you will learn from your failure.

You are not just a reflection of your own accomplishments; you are more than that. You have to focus on who you are and not what you do because if you perform well you will feel good but if you perform badly, you will feel less worthy. Doing your best and taking the decisions which seemed the best at a point in time even if resulting in failing does not mean that you have not tried your best. If you could have done better, you would have.

Often decisions are taken because you fell that they are the right decisions, at the time, and in those circumstances. Hindsight is wonderful, but sadly is only ever available to use after!

Sometimes it is better to be bold and take decisions but be wrong than go through life not taking decisions at all.

4. One step forward, two steps backward

Sometimes we feel the need to rewind a few steps, to ensure the decisions we have made, the path we have taken is the right one and that we have no regrets. However, it is easy to get back into the same old habits, the same addictions. Going through this cycle can help you know once for all that you no longer want to stay on the same track, and this will motivate you to improve your future and manage your failure better. You can learn your lessons from the past and get some inspiration from this. Sometimes you simply must take one step back before you can take two steps forward.

5. Experience is not what happens to us, it is what we think of what happened to us

According to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, this is the fundamental law of our life. Your thoughts influence your life. If you are always thing negative thoughts, you will create negative experience for yourself, and vice versa. You give interpretation and meaning to your actions so you should learn something new from your failure. You need to turn it into an advantage.

A laboratory technician once told me that following a series of tests on mice which saw them all contracting a virus and die, she decided to try something different. She gave the mice a new substance in different dosage and after checking all results, it ended up being the best experience of her life. The results were not expected but very promising. So, it is important to always ask yourself what more can be done, what can be improved. There is nothing to lose to try again. Often small changes in the way in which we think and react can lead to big changes in outcomes.

6. Only those doing nothing will not get it wrong

As Joseph Conrad the Polish-British writer said: “it is only those who do nothing that make no mistakes”

Slips: not doing what you are meant to do
Lapses: Forgetting to do something, or losing your place halfway through a task
Mistakes: Decision-making failures

Especially at the beginning of your journey you will inadvertently make some mistakes, slips and lapses. You will stumble and feel embarrassed. You will have to deal with people’s criticism. If this is what is preventing you move forward, try my “test of ten”. Ask yourself if in 10 years’ time you will regret not having tried to take your project forward. If you were planning to write a book for example, in 10 years’ time what will you regret for not having written it. If you dream to live abroad, what will you regret not having tried the experience. Trying my “test of ten” will illustrate your path and motivate you.

7. Ask for help

Dr Tara Brach the founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington always suggests looking for the helpers as they exist and will help you.

I really believe in this as I have experienced it many times myself. From a private or professional point of view, every time I felt the need of being supported, I asked for help around me and always found people genuinely happy to do so. Being to help with childcare or to help me move to a new house. To advise me on school places application process or to support and guide me in my career.

8. Do not give up, no matter what

“It always seems impossible until it is done” Nelson Mandela

No matter how frustrated and tired you might be, do not give up. Take a break, but do not stop. Remember what your goal is and keep going. Think about all the people you admire in the world and their stories. No matter how difficult and challenging their life has been, how many failures they had to overcome, they never gave up and they succeeded. And if someone criticises you, remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Download my list of inspiring quotes to help you see through failure.