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Published on January 12, 2021

10 Critical Lessons To Learn When You Feel Like a Failure

10 Critical Lessons To Learn When You Feel Like a Failure

They write songs, books, inspirational quotes, and movies about it, but they always talk about failure in the past tense, like it’s somehow okay to discuss once we have transcended, made meaning, and are back on the come up. News flash—failure sucks. When you feel like you have failed in life, it can be difficult to identify the romantic, poetic, or meaningful messages we are intended to learn, mostly because we are too angry or broken-hearted to look for them.

Feeling like a failure in life is energy-consuming and takes many forms. The only guarantee in life is that we will, in fact, fail. We will do so repeatedly, and when failures compound, it can feel like the earth is crumbling beneath our feet.

Here are some ways how failure can look and feel like.

Failure can look like:

  • Getting fired
  • Going bankrupt or experiencing financial hardship
  • Missing a promotion
  • Getting ghosted
  • Breaking a diet
  • Going through a divorce, sometimes more than once
  • Standing by when you wanted to stand up
  • Failing to complete a major goal or just your daily task list
  • Doing everything right and still losing where it seems to count.
  • Something you poured time into coming out all wrong (IKEA fail, anyone?)
  • Your twenties (just kidding—well, kind of)

Failure can feel like:

  • Disappointment
  • Disillusionment
  • Deflation (lots of “d” words, I know)
  • Emptiness

On the other hand, failure can also feel like:

So, what exactly are the lessons that happen in between that help us transcend from the depths of despair to emboldened by wisdom? Turns out, they are there if we are willing to see them.

Here are 10 critical lessons to learn when you feel like you’ve failed in life.

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1. There Is Merit in Trying

If you have failed, the underlying truth is that you must have tried to be in this position. The fear of failure runs so deep that many people choose not to try just to avoid the possibility of failing.

In a survey by Linkagoal, fear of failure plagued 31% of 1,083 adult respondents—a larger percentage than those who feared spiders (30%), being home alone (9%), or even the paranormal (15%).[1]

If you have found yourself feeling like a failure, then it means you summoned the courage to do something hard. Remember that same courage hasn’t disappeared just because it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. Celebrate your willingness to try and note that this is the same spirit that will fuel you as you move forward and try again or try something new.

2. Failure Humbles Us if We Don’t Give It Too Much Power

If we give our failures too much credit, we memorialize them as predictors of future inevitable failures. It’s as if by failing at something in life, you can never succeed in that area again. We catastrophize our failure, widen its scope, and turn a single moment in time into a self-fulfilling prophesy we are destined to replay.

But we don’t have to. When we acknowledge our failure for exactly what it is—no more, no less—we allow it to humble us. We take it in and name what has happened, narrate its impact, and keep it just like that. We see it as data and acknowledge that it has little to do with whether or not we will fail or succeed in the future.

3. The Mental Gymnastics of “What if” Are Useless—Repurpose the Time

What’s done is done. Reliving our failure moment serves nobody. “Would’ve’s”, “could’ve’s”, and “should’ve’s” rush through our minds as we consider all of the ways things could have turned out differently, if only. But the truth is that the time we spend in this place of unnecessary replay could be better spent working to take 100% ownership of the parts we had control over that led to the failure.

This is our chance to spend time in reflection and identify the key factors with utmost honesty. Many of us seek the opportunity to let ourselves off the hook when failure hurts too much. Rather than admit to the thing that we could have changed, we look for external sources to blame or distort the memory with excuses.

Not every failure is within our full control, but there are often pieces we can be accountable to, learn from, and show up better for in the future. It is better that you “focus solely on those aspects that are in your control. Feeling in control is a literal antidote to feelings of helplessness and demoralization that will motivate you to try again, minimize your chances of another failure, and increase your likelihood of success.”[2]

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4. Accountability Cannot Be Shared

Martyrdom is not the goal, and we want to avoid blame. Accountability, however, is important. We want to own up to the pieces of error we recognize through self-reflection and express 100% accountability in conversation with external parties who were impacted by our failures.

Responsibility can be shared and the other party may have some part to play, but to make meaning of our failures, we should use this opportunity to state our impact regardless of our intent. The point is to eliminate excuses, name what occurred, and state what comes next, even if there is nobody else involved.

For example, when you feel like you failed in life for being passed over for a promotion in your career, it may not call for a conversation with your boss, but you can reflect if there is accountability to be taken for the times you could have been more intentional toward your work and set a goal for how you might focus harder next quarter and make a point to self-advocate more publicly.

Conversely, if the failure is a break-up and self-reflection surfaces ways you could have been more communicative or transparent during the relationship, you can make a point to admit that to the affected party and note that this is something you plan to work on before pursuing your next relationship.

5. The Process of Elimination Applies

Think about the last time you tackled a multiple choice question on an exam. You had to use logic to rule the choices down to the most likely possibilities, and in the absence of certainty, you probably took an educated guess.

Life offers us similar opportunities all the time, and we can see failure as helping us to widdle down closer and closer to the “right answer.” All the ways that something shouldn’t go get us closer to knowing the way how it should. Failure in life serves us in this way. When we can process our failures productively, extract the information they provide, and proceed with insight, we get closer to the outcomes we hope to find.

6. Subpar Stats Still Belong to Winners

Baseball players who have a batting average of 300 or more are usually considered all-stars or potential hall of farmers. What this means though is that if you have a batting average of 300, you are essentially failing 70% of the time.[3]

Now, that doesn’t sound as impressive does it? But the reality is that we fail more times than we succeed over the course of our lives. It’s time to put things in perspective and reflect on your failures.

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7. You Find Out What You Are Made Of

Failure isn’t for the faint of heart. When you fail, I mean really fail in life, it hurts—a lot. It is no easy feat to overcome the hardship that comes with failing in life big time. Still, there is something we prove to ourselves when we choose to get back out there and give it another go.

Trusting after having your heart broken, applying for a promotion after being passed over before, asking the next person out on a date after being ghosted—the metaphorical step we take to “get back on the horse” proves to us that we are more resilient than we realized. We have tried and failed before, so we can try and fail again.

When we learn to rebound, we learn just what we are capable of.+

“The experience of going out of your comfort zone is not a pleasant one, But the confidence, the feeling of relief—we call it ‘excitation transfer’—are very intense. That sense of mastery, ‘Wow, look what I just did,’ is a learning experience. The fear itself is not pleasant, but people never remember it. What they remember is that positive high.”[4]

When we muscle through failure in the direction of trying again, we can master the art of failing forward.

Little kids learning to walk fall to the ground hundreds of times, but they don’t just decide to crawl for life. They keep on standing. When we tap into that same child-like comfort with failure, we can approach life more light-heartedly and push back on all of the negative self-talk we learn as we grow. “If I fail people will judge me,” If I try and everyone sees me fail I will lose their respect.” Who cares? Living life is hard.

8. It’s All in the Framing

You have to decide how you want to think and talk about your failures moving forward. What you choose to mention says a lot about what the failure meant for you. If you are dwelling on and talking about all of the painful residuals of the failure, you perpetuate life’s greatest problems.

Like Yoda said, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” When you talk about the learning, you perpetuate the growth the world aches to see.

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9. Sharing Is Caring

Repurpose your learning and save someone else the trouble, I have always questioned the saying that every generation must learn for themselves that the iron is hot—I call bull! Some folks may heed the warning.

Granted, failure finds us all, and there are some lessons we have to learn ourselves, but it never hurts to share your story. Be open, transparent, and bold in the way that you offer your insights to the world. Whether it is in the context of a mentorship relationship, publicly sharing in your blog, or snippets you share when you sit on a panel one day, never underestimate the impact you can have by sharing the “aha!”s that came from your failures. People will appreciate your humility and feel like they, too, have permission to fail.

10. It’s Okay to Let It Go (You Know, Like What Elsa Said?)

If you are notoriously hard on yourself, you may feel compelled to hold onto failure, but once the reflection, accountability, and learning have occurred, the failure has served its purpose. Let it go, and free up space to take your next steps. Besides, you have plenty more failures left in you!

Final Thoughts

Life is really just one great big chance to get really good at failing. There are so many opportunities to muck it up when you feel like you failed in life, but there are far more than 10 big lessons to learn.

See each day as a new shot at courage—a new day to practice learning from mistakes and applying that learning to the next big risk. It is okay to fail in life because that does not mean that you fail for life. Nobody has ever succeeded without first failing in some way.

Whether you have been failing full throttle or tentative to avoid missteps, let today be the first of many days you fail with full confidence that there is purpose in everything you do.

Read These If You Feel Like a Failure

Featured photo credit: Eric Brehm via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Staci Taustine

Founder & CEO, Stubborn Heart Consulting LLC.

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Published on February 19, 2021

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

Whether it’s planning a public speech or a kid’s birthday party, our intentions lean toward success no matter the endeavor. And whatever success we are hoping to attain, there will likely be obstacles that we must face. When these obstacles surface, we can either shy away and miss our chance or meet these challenges informed and ready.

Although obstacles can seem like the outside world is plotting against us, in reality, these external challenges are merely triggering hurdles that already exist within. They might be memories or beliefs we have about ourselves that act like mud and slow us down. We can be trapped by our own self-sabotage.

What could happen if you knew about and prepared for these obstacles beforehand?

If you knew what you were up against, perhaps you could come equipped with just the right tools to get through anything that threatens your chance at success. Perhaps you could take an obstacle that felt like a mountain and turn it instantly into a mere molehill!

Here are 8 of the greatest obstacles you must overcome on your way to success:

1. Perfection

One of the most common obstacles we face is the need for perfection. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, shared that her mother always used to say, “done is better than good.” Anyone prone to perfectionism is going to find it difficult to remain on the road to success if everything has to be “just so” all the time.

Perfection is the killer of creativity, vitality, and accidental discoveries! There are so many instances of people fortuitously discovering things that we use every day.[1] If they had been so concerned with perfection, they may never have enjoyed the success of their “mistakes!” Plus, learning from our mistakes is how we develop and grow throughout our lives. Therefore, “perfect” will never provide a straight shot to success.

How can you stop going for perfection? Just as it may have taken years of practice to “perfect” a skill you have acquired, it takes practice to undo perfectionism.

Try the following:

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  • Try new things and let go of your expectations.
  • Don’t do everything on your “To-Do” list. See what happens when you leave it for tomorrow.
  • Learn how to prioritize (no, everything isn’t equally important all the time).
  • If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, send an email with a typo in it!

Have fun with this and learn how to laugh at yourself. Welcome to the wonderful world of being human.

2. Fear

Fear is triggered when we have a thought or perception that we are not safe and secure. This is quite a useful tool when there is a real threat to our safety. However, when the threat is imaginary, fear can actually prevent us from doing the work we need to do to achieve our goals.

As with perfectionism, the best way to deal with fear is to become more mindful.

Here are some steps you can try in working through fear:

  1. Sit with the emotion of fear and notice where you feel it in your body. Notice the thoughts that accompany the feeling.
  2. Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen and write down your answers.
  3. Visualize yourself experiencing your worst fears. How did you feel imagining your worst fears coming true?
  4. Ask yourself when you have felt this way before. How did you cope with it that time? What strengths could you use in your previous visualization?
  5. Imagine yourself using your strength with the imagined worst fear. How does it feel to know that no matter what happens, you have the tools and resources to handle it?

In this exercise, we’re trying to be okay with the emotion of fear. Fear is actually trying to help by keeping you “safe.” It calls upon memories of when you were threatened in your life. But when we spend all of our energy trying to prevent the feeling of fear, we make it stronger. We also deny ourselves the memories of all the times we have faced our fears and triumphed.

Allowing the fear to be present and calling upon memories of making it through challenging times helps to convince our minds that, as President Franklin Roosevelt said, the “only thing to fear is fear itself.”

3. Lack of Clarity

Imagine that you are going on a trip and you need to pack. Your suitcase is out, but you don’t know any details of the trip. You haven’t decided where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, or what you’ll be doing. How easy will it be to pack for this trip?

If we’re trying to run our careers or lives without clarity, it can be nearly impossible to figure out what we need to be doing to get to our destination of success. So, how do we get clarity?

Author and speaker, Simon Sinek, had some excellent advice for businesses on how to get clarity, and it applies beautifully to just about any area of life. According to Sinek, when clarifying your “message,” you should start with your WHY.[2] In other words, why are you doing what you do? Once you are clear on your “why,” it will be much easier to figure out your “how” and your “what.”

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Let’s go back to the packing analogy. Perhaps your why for vacationing is to get some much-needed rest as you have been stressed out lately. That tells you that a quiet vacation might be better than one with lots of museums and crowded attractions. Your “why” tells you that you don’t want to be very active, but you do want to take care of your body, mind, and spirit, perhaps by spending a few days at a nearby spa. Less travel means less stress. Looking at the spa, you see they have a 3-day retreat. Now, you know how to pack.

See how easily those details fell into place once you got clear on your “why”? Imagine what success you could achieve once your “why” is uncovered!

4. Making Comparisons

It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to other people. That’s how we know whether we’re doing things correctly or not and how we can continue improving. When we get into a habit of making comparisons all the time and feeling bad about not being able to “keep up with the Jones’,” this can pull our energy down. And when our energy is down, so is our motivation to keep working toward our goals.

As with perfection, it’s important to be mindful about how much importance you’re placing on “keeping up” with what you think everyone around you is doing.

Want to stop sizing yourself up to others? Try the following:

  • Notice the feelings that come up for you when you compare yourself to someone else.
  • Ask yourself, “what information am I really getting from this comparison, and what’s helpful about it?”
  • Keep the helpful bits from that line of questioning and let go of the rest.

Remember that when you compare yourself to another person, oftentimes you are seeing the potential that already resides within you.[3]

5. Untamed Inner Monologue

How do you talk to yourself? Do you tend to say uplifting and encouraging things to yourself? Or is your self-speak often negative? An untamed inner monologue can serve as a great obstacle to many people.

Many people grow up with the idea that the inner monologue is what drives us to become better people. We get “tough” on ourselves to prevent laziness or sloppiness. If unchecked, the monologuing can quickly become negative and purely critical. Despite our intentions for self-improvement, this constant habit of pointing out what’s “wrong” with what we do and who we are can become a huge energy drain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, overcoming negative self-talk is good for our health.[4] Some of the benefits of maintaining a compassionate inner voice include lower levels of depression, better immune function, and improved coping skills in stressful times.

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Activities to develop awareness about your inner monologue and make it more compassionate include:

  • Keeping a thought diary (there are so many great apps for this!).
  • Reframing negative self-statements neutrally or compassionately.
  • Asking yourself what a trusted friend might say to you.
  • Thinking about what you might say to a friend if they were in your shoes.
  • Considering EFT Tapping or saying affirmations.
  • Allowing yourself to follow the inner critic down the worst-case-scenario path (this version might have you laughing at how ridiculous your inner critic’s imagination truly is).

6. Unclear Boundaries

So far, we’ve covered several ways that internal boundaries are necessary on the road to success. These include monitoring your fear, limiting your need for perfectionism, lacking clarity about what you want, making unhealthy comparisons to others, or having a mean-spirited inner monologue.

How about those boundaries we need to clarify with other people in our lives? To be clear, boundaries are not about saying “no” to everything and cutting yourself off from everybody. Healthy external boundaries are about being communicating to others about what you want, how you want to be treated, and what your plans are.

If we have unclear boundaries with others, success will result only by accident, if at all.

People pleasers and empaths especially know how challenging it can be to set boundaries with others. The desire for harmony can be so strong for some people that they convince themselves that it is easier to let others make the decisions rather than risk creating conflict.

The problem here is that no matter how hard we try to avoid conflict with others, we will create conflict within ourselves that results in roadblocks to success. If you have trouble setting clear boundaries with others and you want to be successful, start building your muscles around this skill slowly.

Here are a few steps:

  1. Identify little things that you like and want.
  2. Tell people about what you like and want in your life.
  3. Notice what happens in your body when you say this out loud.
  4. Identify things you don’t like or want.
  5. Notice what happens in your body when you think about these things. (Your body is really smart when it comes to telling you what you don’t want!)
  6. Tell trusted people what you don’t like or want.
  7. Notice how it feels in your body to say this out loud.
  8. Practice saying “no” to something really small that you don’t want and work your way up to bigger things.

Without boundaries, it’s like being water and trying to hold a shape without being in a container. You get to create your own container and watch your success take form.

7. Unreasonable Expectations

It’s important to dream big. It’s how we allow inspiration and big ideas to come to the surface of our awareness. But if our dreams are not grounded in the reality of our current resources, we might be headed for some disappointment or even worse, the loss of our dreams!

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Setting reasonable expectations is the bread and butter of success. If you haven’t been introduced to setting SMART goals at this point in your life, it would be a good idea to try it out.

It might not always be possible to know whether or not something is reasonable, especially if you’re trying out a brand-new-to-you project. If the expectation is for a new project to work without any bumps or glitches, this is likely to be unreasonable. The consequences of this experience could be losing your drive to succeed.

If the expectations for a new project include the idea of bumps and glitches that hold seeds of learning and growth, then even the perceived “mistakes” will turn out to be a success. This has the positive benefit of fueling your motivation to keep working toward even more success.

Be mindful of where you set the bar—neither too high nor too low.

8. Unreasonable Definition of Success

What is your definition of success? Asked in another way, from what perspective are you seeking success?

It’s easy to think that success means achieving the goal(s) you set for yourself. But there are so many ways to look at success. You might be missing out on some opportunities to really feel like you are shining in your life.

An unreasonable definition of success might be one that only allows for one specific outcome. If that outcome is not reached, then success is not the result. But if we allow for multiple definitions of success, we might find that success is much easier to come by than we previously thought!

To expand your definition of success, ask yourself the following:

  • What would need to happen to make me feel successful?
  • What else could happen to make me feel successful?

Keep brainstorming all the outcomes you could experience to create a feeling of success.

Final Thoughts

Being successful requires overcoming a lot of obstacles, and many people will fail at some point. The key is to tackle these obstacles one step at a time. In the words of Joyce Brothers, “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”

More Tips on How to Overcome Obstacles

Featured photo credit: asoggetti via unsplash.com

Reference

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