"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default." - JK Rowling
By now you’ve heard and read enough about failure to know it’s supposed to be an essential learning experience. Everyone fails and you just need the right mindset to triumph and overcome. You may already know that Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections. Michael Jordan didn’t make varsity tryouts his sophomore year of high school, and Steve Jobs got fired from the company he founded.
But none of this helps you feel better, right? And none of it will. But you still have work to do to get yourself back to “okay” with whatever just happened. So, here are five steps to take after failure to get yourself back on track:
STEP ONE: Lean into the Discomfort
Nothing worth doing is easily done. You chose to do something difficult and it didn’t pay off . . . immediately. But you did a brave a worthy thing and the disappointment, anger, shame you feel is normal and temporary. Just sit with it. Don’t try and drink, deny or distract it away. Letting failure hurt for a while, so you can accept it and move on.
STEP TWO: Take Personal Responsibility
Part of the ick factor in failure includes taking responsibility for what went wrong. If this has happened to you because you’re a victim of circumstance, you’ll never learn anything except how to complain and try and avoid bad circumstances. Neither of these things are helpful.
Taking responsibility means getting a little bruise on your ego. It’ll heal. You acted in a manner that did not produce the desired result. YOU’RE not a failure. You failed a task. Very different.
Part of taking responsibility involves examining what went wrong in the areas you controlled. The second part of this sentence is key. You can think about what went wrong all day long in the areas out of your control and it will never serve you -- the subway made you late, the rain ruined your hair, your mother demanded too much attention that week. But what did YOU do that might have been done differently. Brutal honesty here will serve you well, but don’t use your ego as a punching bag. Find the middle ground.
STEP THREE: Forgive Yourself.
Tame your inner critic. If you’ve taken responsibility, and an honest look at what might have been done differently, then be sure and show yourself some compassion. Celebrate your bravery. You took a chance, stuck your neck out, and that’s an accomplishment regardless of result.
STEP FOUR: Make a New Plan
Also known as: Getting back on the horse. This is key. Do something, anything, to move forward toward your goal again. It doesn’t have to be a new master plan for world domination. Just a small thing that gets you back on the path toward the goal. One small step.
STEP FIVE: Tell Your Story
Really? I gotta share this hideous shame with others? Yes, especially with those who love and support you, because they’ll have generous things to offer, insights and comradery. But this step is less about you and more about connection. Your story of failure will be inspiring. No joke. Because it’s not a “story of failure,” it’s a story of taking risk and overcoming failure. You write your personal narrative and this is key to your growth and success. Your life story matters and no one believes or enjoys an unrealistic story of sunshine without some shit.
Inspire people with your risk taking and ALL that it brings. Live your life and be proud of your failures just as you are proud of your successes. Because we all need to stop being afraid and ashamed of failure.