All of us face failure at different points in our lives. Sometimes it takes the form of a small failing, something that is easily dismissed and disregarded as part and parcel of life. But sometimes it’s not so easy to dismiss from our consciousness. Sometimes failure can be overwhelming, debilitating even. However, no matter the scale of the failure, or how it is perceived, every such instance can be regarded as an opportunity for learning, for growth, for self-development.
- Accept failure as an inevitable, even necessary, part of life
When dealing with many things in life, acceptance is oft cited at the first stage in a constructive process of dealing with difficulty. And responding to failure is no exception. There can be no growth if at first there is no acceptance. Accepting that we have failed at something can be difficult, and that’s understandable. Failure can challenge our notions of who we are, where our strengths lie, what our life roles are, and other psychological constructs that are central to our psyche.
Often people make the mistake of confusing acceptance with tolerance. We have to see the critical differences between these two concepts. Tolerance is the equivalent of ‘putting up’ with something. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an absence of resistance, distaste, prejudice or even something as powerful as hate. Acceptance, on the other hand, involves embracing an experience for all that it is, without any lingering feelings of resentment. We need to accept failure unconditionally as an integral part of our lives, and something that can be harnessed as an agent of positive change.
2. Develop an objective perspective
The feeling of failure is an intensely personal one. It attacks our thoughts, feelings and conceptions of ourselves. It can be a destructive force that penetrates to the core of our psychological being. It can cast a shadow not only over our present, but over our perceptions of the future as well. It can colour everything in our lives and be the sole lens through which we see ourselves and everything around us. Because the feeling of failure is so potentially harmful and overwhelming, we need to gain a more objective perspective. Clarity is essential.
One of the best ways to gain clarity and perspective is to speak to someone you trust. Whether it’s a friend, relative or health professional, an outsider’s perspective can help us see our failure from a more objective viewpoint. Because failure is such an intensely personal experience, our immediate heightened emotions more often than not warp our sense of perspective. It’s not unusual for our immediate reaction to be coloured by an exaggerated sense of failure. You need to see your failure and its repercussions clearly, without the distorting lens of intense negative emotions. This is not to say that we should negate our failure and replace feelings of failure with those of denial. Rather, it is important that we gain a realistic sense of our failure, its causes and its repercussions.
3. Analyse the failure to see what it reveals
In order to learn from our failures, we need to understand their anatomy. This can be a difficult and painful process because it requires us to face our failures head-on without the protective shields of doubt and ignorance. But it is a necessary process, and one that will enable us to reap rewards that are surprisingly fulfilling.
We need to understand what caused our failure. Here again, objectivity is important. Too often we fall all too easily into the trap of attributing failure to ourselves as inadequate human beings. We all possess faults, and these faults can lead to failure. But that does not mean that we ourselves are failures. We need to separate our failures from who we are as individuals. Once we have accomplished this, we can then start the process of analysis.
Our personal common culprits of failure are usually known all too well by us, if we are truly honest with ourselves. We know if we are selfish, if we jump to conclusions, if we don’t look before we leap. It doesn’t really matter exactly what the cause of our failure is; what matters is that we identify it accurately. It is only through this process of identification that we can then learn and grow from failure.
4. Adapt you attitude, behaviour and habitual responses accordingly
It has been proven time and time again that behavioural change is unlikely, and probably impossible, without prior attitudinal change. Therefore, once we have identified the root cause of our failure, we need to genuinely want to adapt our lives accordingly. We have to have the attitude that whilst failures are inevitable, we can choose to learn and grow from them. It is then up to us to effect the necessary changes in our lives to alter whatever it was that caused the failure in the first place. This is not as straight-forward as it sounds. It requires effort, motivation, and determination. It won’t be easy, and it won’t come right the first time. But with the right degree of resolve, we can change. We can improve ourselves. We can develop as people. And that’s what life is about.
Failure comes into our lives to teach us lessons, to grab our attention and focus it. Without failure, we would be less likely to address our shortcomings and develop as people to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. In this way, failure can be seen as blessing. However, it is only a blessing if we respond in a constructive manner when things don’t go as planned. If we do nothing about it, failure is failure. If we accept it and what it can teach us, failure is yet another step along the path to self-development and true happiness.