At times in life we all fail at something. Nobody's perfect. None of us deliberately sets out to fail, but the reality is that, at some point, we all experience failure. Whether it's relationship breakdown, failing an exam, a missed opportunity, a wrong decision, a bad idea - or a combination of them all – the feeling we have failed can set us back and knock us off-track. But our failures do not define us...
Failing can impact negatively on our emotions, leading to disappointment, bitterness, resentment and loss of confidence. It can bruise our self-esteem and leave us with a sense of hopelessness or despair. However, we learn as much from failure as from success.
In a recent article: 'Falling Short' - seven successful writers reflected on their failures and disappointments in life, love and work: Margaret Atwood wrote,
"Failure is just another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish ends in failure, at least in our own eyes. Who set the bar so high that most of our attempts to sail gracefully over it ... end in an undignified scramble or a nasty fall into the mud! Who told us we had to succeed at any cost?"
It takes courage, but we can survive the experience of failure. Survival enables us to become stronger, more resilient and determined in the future. As long as we can say we have learned from our experience, then good or bad, we have succeeded. We mustn't allow failure, or the fear of failure, to prevent us from 'getting back up on the horse' again.
Fear of failure can impact upon our life in a destructive way, holding us back, preventing us from doing or saying things in case we're wrong or are criticised. Fear of making a mistake can be a barrier to taking action; to taking the risks that are necessary for new learning to happen. Fear of failure can lead to debilitating perfectionism. Fear of not living up to expectations (our own, more than anyone else's) can hamper motivation and inhibit us from even trying - to pick ourselves up and start again.
Driving ourselves or trying too hard in an effort to achieve (impossible) perfection is often born out of fear that we may not reach our goals; that others may perceive us as a 'loser' (maybe we even see ourselves as such!) We need to take the pressure off ourselves and 'try softer' – do differently.
Remember, failure always has something to teach us. It may not be obvious straight away, but eventually it will emerge. Failing often presents us with an opportunity. Sometimes life feels like trying to climb a mountain, only to discover (with a sinking feeling) that it was the wrong mountain! However, failure can offer us a valuable signpost, alerting us to the fact that maybe we need to change course. Here are some simple reminders which can be helpful when dealing with failure:
• Accept your failures. Don't hide from them; face them straight on without blame or shame. Understand that no-one is perfect
• Be realistic about your expectations. Did you set yourself up for failure? Were your expectations of your results too high to begin with and you didn't give yourself a fair chance? Identify where you may be sabotaging your chances of success.
• Acknowledge yourself for trying. Failure may not be something you're proud of, but give yourself credit for trying in the first place. Be kind to yourself; don't be your own worst enemy.
• Pause before you 'beat yourself up' about it. Acknowledge it was a learning experience - without knowledge we cannot grow. Recognise that failure can present a new opportunity.
• Let go of what you have lost or can't have and move on; instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, focus on new possibilities that lie ahead.