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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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Last Updated on June 4, 2021

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

Failure occurs everyday, in school, jobs, housework, and within families. It is unavoidable, irritating and causes pessimism.

While the thought of flinging your hands in the air and walking away is all too appealing, take a second to connect with the people who have been there and survived.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. — Henry Ford

Here are 10 famous failures to success stories around the world that will inspire you to keep going and achieve greatness:

    1. J.K. Rowling

      During a Harvard commencement speech, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling outlined the importance and value of failure.[1]

      Why? Simply because she was once a failure too.

      A few short years after her graduation from college, her worst nightmares were realized. In her words,

      “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.”

      Coming out of this failure stronger and more determined was the key to her success.

      2. Steve Jobs

        The now revolutionary Apple started off with two men in a garage. Years later we all know it as a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees.

        Yet, almost unbelievably, Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he began.

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        The dismissal made him realize that his passion for his work exceeded the disappointment of failure. Further ventures such as NeXT and Pixar eventually led Jobs back to the CEO position at AppleJobs said in 2005:

        “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”

        Lost your job today? Keep kicking and you could be just like this guy!

        3. Bill Gates
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          Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout. He co-owned a business called Traf-O-Data, which was a true failure.[2]

          However, skill and a passion for computer programming turned this failure into the pioneer of famous software company Microsoft, and the then 31-year-old into the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

          In his own words:

          “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

          This isn’t to say that dropping out of Harvard will make you into a billionaire, but maybe that shiny degree isn’t worth as much as the drive and passion to succeed.

          If you haven’t found your passion like Bill Gates, this will help you:

          How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

          4. Albert Einstein

            The word ‘Einstein’ is associated with intelligence and synonymous with genius. Yet it is a famous fact that the pioneer of the theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein himself, could not speak fluently until the age of nine. His rebellious nature led to expulsion from school, and he was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

            His earlier setbacks did not stop him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. After all, he believed that:

            “Success is failure in progress.”

            To this day, his research has influenced various aspects of life including culture, religion, art, and even late night TV.

            Just because you haven’t achieved anything great yet, doesn’t mean you can’t be an Einstein yourself.

            5. Abraham Lincoln

              Failing in business in 1831, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1836, defeated in his run for president in 1856, Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to rejection and failure. Rather than taking these signs as a motivation for surrender, he refused to stop trying his best.

              In this great man’s words:

              “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

              Lincoln was elected in 1861 as the 16th President of the United States of America.

              The amount of rejection you receive is not a defining factor. Success is still within your reach.

              6. Michael Jordan

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                “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

                This quote by retired basketball legend Michael Jordan in a Nike advertisement speaks for itself.

                It would be an easy misconception that Jordan’s basketball skills revolve around natural talent. In fact, in his earlier years,  basketball coaches had trouble looking past the fact that Jordan didn’t reach the minimum height. It was years of effort, practice, and failure that made the star we know today.

                Michael Jordan’s success all came down to his Intrinsic Motivation, one of the most invincible types of motivation that drives people to succeed.

                7. Steven Spielberg

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                  Regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Steven Spielberg is a familiar household name. It is surprising to realize therefore that the genius behind Jaws and E.T. had poor grades in high school, getting him rejected from the University of Southern California three times.

                  While he was in college, he caught the eye of executives at Universal, who signed him as a television director in 1969. This meant that he would not finish his college degree for another 33 years.

                  Perseverance and acceptance of failure is the key to success, after all.

                  “Even though I get older, what I do never gets old, and that’s what I think keeps me hungry.”

                  Bad grades in high school aside, there is no questioning the genius involved.

                  To date, Spielberg has directed 51 films and has been awarded three Oscars.

                  8. Walt Disney

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                    Mickey Mouse creator Walt Disney dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt at joining the army.[3] One of his earlier ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt due to his lack of ability to run a successful business. He was once fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.”

                    Yet today, The genius behind Disney studios is responsible for generations of childhood memories and dreams. From Snow White to Frozen, Disney will continue to entertain the world for generations to come.

                    The logic behind this is simple:

                    “We don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

                    9. Vincent Van Gogh

                      During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh suffered mental illness, failed relationships, and committed suicide at the age of 37.

                      He only ever sold one painting in his life, pinning him a failure as an artist. However that did not put a damper on his enthusiasm and passion for art.

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                      He would never know that years and years after his death he would become known as a key figure in the world of post-impressionism, and ultimately, one of the greatest artist that ever lived.

                      He would never know that he became a hot topic in art classes and his image was going to be used in TV, books and other forms of popular culture.

                      In the words of this great, but tragic man:

                      “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

                      10. Stephen King

                      01-Stephen-King-Rags-to-Riches-Celebs-1

                        As a paranoid, troubled child, tormented by nightmares and raised in poverty, it is no surprise that Stephen King grew up to the title: “Master of Horror”.[4]

                        An addiction to drugs and alcohol were his mechanisms to cope with the unhappiness he felt with his life. The frustration he felt towards multiple rejections by publishers in combination with illicit substances caused him to mentally contemplate violence towards his own children.

                        These intense emotions were those that he focused onto his writing. And that’s why he said:

                        “We make up horros to help us cope with the real ones.”

                        Writing became his new coping mechanism, and this is how the master author we know today grew to success.

                        Fail More Often in Order to Succeed

                        Like Albert Einstein said, failure really is just success in progress. If you’d rather not to fail, you will probably never succeed.

                        Success comes from moments of frustrations when you’ll be most uncomfortable with. But after you’ve gone through all those bitter times, you’ll become stronger and you’ll get closer to success.

                        If you feel like a failure and think that you’ve failed all too many times, it’s not too late to change things up! Here’s how to turn your limitations into your opportunities:

                        Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, start failing, and start failing often; that’s how you will succeed.

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                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                        Reference

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