6 strategies that will change your perspective on failure and help you see it as the key to the success you deserve.
“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” John C. Maxwell
Four years ago my business failed and the course of my life changed drastically. I saw it coming, but I didn’t want to believe that the company I had built from the scratch with my husband was slowly crumbling. I wasn’t prepared to face money loss, debts, and dramatic lifestyle changes.
Though, mostly, I wasn’t ready to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with failure. Indeed, it took me quite some time to figure out the 6 strategies to recover from failure that this articles is going to describe.
When reality finally hit, I felt lost, guilty, gutted, and so ashamed.
Ashamed for failing, for not making it, for not being good enough. So much so that all of my life accomplishments thus far faded away in comparison to this one, massive breakdown.
I’d failed myself, my partner, my collaborators, my parents, my friends. I felt as if all those eyes were on me, on my failure, as an indelible stain on my life that would never go away.
What was left of me was wounded pride, hurt ego, and a great deal of fear and self-doubt. Basically, I identified myself with that failure to extents whose magnitude I’d understand only later on…
I fell into a state of depression, topped up by paralyzing anxiety, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts. I hated the world for being so unfair to me, despite all my efforts and hard work. But, most of all, I hated myself. I would blame myself hard for the mistakes and bad choices that led to the crash. And when I say “crash” I mean it. Like a car crash… like that was it. At 34 years old I was dead.
I couldn’t look back nor forward. And the present sucked too.
I was prescribed benzodiazepines and antidepressants and I abused them for the following couple of years. I truly was a hot mess. Completely blocked. Incapable of accepting my situation and moving on. I felt literally coated in shame, all over my body, face, and mind. For a while, I couldn’t talk about it, not even with my family and close friends, for fear of ruining my image of a successful, accomplished entrepreneur.
As I write this, from where I stand today, I have mixed feelings: I’m both sad and thankful. Sad for how much I’d hurt myself. Thankful because I needed to survive a crash to understand that life is made of “crashes,” and that the difference between failure and success lies in how we see them.
So: how did I get out of my misery and come to this realization? How did I recover from failure?
It’s taken about 3 years of continuous, hard work on myself to change perspective, to see things differently, and to start getting rid of self-destructive emotions (and it’s still a WIP). In particular, I had to flip over the way I’d see failure to begin practicing the 6 strategies to recover from it that you’ll find below.
It’s been a tough journey, brutal even. I’d like to share it with you if anything because there are so many of us going through this very same struggle.
“Just another post about how necessary failure is on the road to success” you may be thinking. Nothing new, right?
Nonetheless, despite all the literature and psychological studies on the topic, people keep on suffering from the pressure of the dichotomy of failure/success.
It seems to me, in fact, that there’s something truly wrong with the way our society defines failure.
As kids, in fact, we are told by family and school not to make mistakes because we must succeed in what we do. Failure and success are usually presented as opposites and are tightly linked with the perception of our worth. The pressure that comes with this view takes a heavy toll on people. It generates unhappiness, anxiety, depression, addiction, and even death.
The common idea about failure has the negative connotation of something bad, that shouldn’t occur; something unforgivable and definitive.
ACTUALLY THAT IS NOT TRUE.
Read on to discover the 6 strategies to recover from failure that helped me, and will help you, deal with it and turn it into something positive, something to be grateful for.
1) Replace the word “failure” with “experience.”
Stop for a second and think about it: what is a failure if not an experience?
Isn’t it something that you do that doesn’t go as planned, doesn’t bring the results you hoped for, or simply doesn’t go through?
We can easily describe failure the same way we’d do an experience: a set of actions, their consequences, the emotions we feel in the process, the interactions with other people, the circumstances we can or cannot anticipate, and our reaction to those.
Language carries very deep meanings and affects the ways we understand things.
The term “failure” brings with it a burden of negative emotions, including shame, guilt, and regret. It hinders our progress as we get stuck in mental loops and rumination about the fact that it shouldn’t have happened; that we’re not good enough; that we did something wrong and we should have done and known better.
“Experience”, on the other hand, brings about the idea of learning. It’s one among many others. It’s something that we can more easily look back to and learn from. It’s not definitive because it can teach us lessons that will serve us in the future.
In order to grow and better ourselves, humanly and professionally, we need experiences. Usually, bad or disappointing experiences — what we often define as failures — are the ones that teach us something valuable for our lives.
Why is that?
When things go well we feed our Ego, which likes to get comfortable in the podium of pride and affirmation. Contrarily, when things do not go as we expect, we are forced to reconsider, revise and question ourselves and our decisions. Those are uncomfortable yet revealing moments.
When we see failures as experiences we open our minds to understand what we could have done differently in a given situation. Those are the teachings that allow us to get better results the next time.
Failures teach us what to do and what not to do, how we can choose more wisely, how to adopt a better behavior, what needs to be improved and what needs to be let go.
In other words, if we don’t fail we can’t learn. We need trials before figuring out the right way. The earlier we fail the sooner we’ll find the path towards our success.
This change of perception is essential to be able to practice the rest of the 6 strategies to recover from failure.
2) Tame the Ego.
Buddhism defines the Ego as an “illusion of the self”.
In psychology, the Ego is the rational mind. It’s responsible for controlling our instinctual impulses and rationally dealing with the external world. Although they sound very different, those definitions are linked. A great deal of responsibility is assigned to our Ego. It’s what controls the way we think and act. It’s our rational self and, in a society ruled by reason, it tends to get bigger and bigger as we grow up.
The Ego thinks that we can control events and their outcome. It believes that we are directly responsible for everything that happens to us. It’s what triggers negative emotions like shame and guilt. It embodies our expectations, which are a mental manifestation of this illusion of control.
Accordingly, people with a big Ego (hey there!) often panic and get excessively hurt when things don’t go as planned.
The point I’m trying to get across is that our Ego is our comfort zone. Experiencing failure gets us right out of it. When we’re out of our comfort zone we go through a process that is mind-opening, learning, and humbling.
Taming the ego is crucial in the recovery process from failure.
How do we do that?
3) Practice Humility.
Practicing humility lowers our expectations and allow us to open our minds to learning. We become teachable and we stop having this job of knowing everything.
Humility slaps the Ego in the face because it takes us down from “the podium” and places us among others.
Being humble, in fact, allows us to give the right weight to failures in our lives. And that’s because we realize that everybody fails. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s not all about us.
A humble mind doesn’t compare to other people’s success but it lets us focus on our own journey to achieve it. We are not better than others, but we’re not worse either. The competition is with ourselves. So, humbling up turns failure into a chance for personal and professional improvement.
Note: Don’t necessarily see the 6 strategies to recover from failure I’m presenting here as a sequence but, rather, as practices that can be worked on at the same time.
4) Practice Acceptance.
This has been one of the hardest parts for me, big Ego girl.
When our Ego is hurt by failure we get delusional. We just can’t accept the reality of things when it doesn’t match our expectations. We believe that there’s something against us specifically, which, as I mentioned before, is quite ludicrous and arrogant as a thought.
Humility leads to acceptance: we can’t change the past, but we can understand it. We come to terms with our present situation, no matter how difficult it is, and we realize that our best option is to learn from our failures and move on.
No shame, no blame.
Acceptance means acknowledging our failing nature as humans. It helps us learn how to act outside of our comfort zone.
An accepting attitude recognizes the benefits of a blow as it prepares us to take other blows, fight back and, ultimately, win.
Acceptance is the wisdom to identify the things we cannot change and be ok with those. It helps us deal with the unexpected because we accept that we have no control over outcomes, no matter how hard we work.
When we accept failure as an experience among others, instead of complaining or despairing over it, we can learn and make room for the changes we need to get back up stronger.
5) Embrace Change.
The experience of failure normally involves two, opposite reactions: getting stuck in self-pity, blaming yourself for letting it happen, or learning the lesson and moving on a stronger basis. The former leads to the misery I’ve been through, whereas the latter produces positive change.
The Ego, by definition, rejects change because it can’t control it. Instead, an accepting and humble mind embraces change and its degree of uncertainty and hardship, but also as something new and exciting. That’s not easy because, often, change is damn scary!
What’s the best way to embrace change?
Firstly, by accepting the fact that everything, including ourselves, always changes, minute by minute, second after second, regardless of what we do.
Secondly, by learning to let go.
Recovering from failure is about letting go of the past, not staying anchored to it.
Letting go doesn’t mean disregarding or dismissing. Rather, it’s accepting that you can’t fix the unfixable. A smarter thing to do is to cherish what you’ve learned from your mistakes, understand the valuable lessons, and use your newly acquired skills and knowledge as your weapons to succeed the next time. That is: Fail forward!
Only by embracing the changes that failure brings into our lives, we can turn it into a positive experience; one that provides us with the necessary tools to manifest our definition of success.
6) Be Grateful (turn the negative into positive)
Easier said than done right?
It is, indeed, very hard to perceive something bad that happened to us, something that caused loads of problems and made us suffer, as a good thing.
But there’s a way: Gratitude.
This is the last (but not the least!) of the 6 strategies to recover from failure that helped me resurface from an ocean of shit.
We could sum up this mental process through the super common expression: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As cliche as this sounds, it’s actually true. Without failures, and painful experiences in general, we couldn’t possibly grow, become stronger, wiser, and, overall, better people, in our personal, social and professional life.
Think of boxing as a metaphor: you need to get hit before being able to fight back. You need to fall before learning to get back up. You have to be cornered before finding the strength to break through and strike back.
This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned – one of the hardest to apply – during my failure recovery process: being grateful for everything I’ve been through.
By practicing gratitude daily I’m able to see the positive teachings and apply the new knowledge I’ve gained through this rough experience.
Take the long list of people who brought me down along the way: I used to be poisoned by the hatred I felt towards them. I wanted bloody revenge on all of them. Though, who was getting actually hurt? Just me.
Now I can (kinda!) thank them because they played a very important role in giving me the motivation to do and be my best — which is also the best revenge of all.
The toughest 4 years of my life have turned out to be the most learning ones thus far. I’ve changed. I’ve embraced who I’ve become: a different person and, frankly, one I prefer. I feel stronger on many levels; I’ve learned new skills; I’m more patient, more open-minded, more resilient. I can finally speak up for myself instead of being afraid of disappointing people. I’m less afraid of challenges and I don’t take everything so personally.
To conclude: accept failures as learning experiences, be grateful for your mistakes and even for your enemies: these are the teachers from which you’ll learn the greatest lessons towards becoming the best version of yourself and building the life you truly want.
Photos by Virginia Villari (except the ones captioned otherwise…duh! LOL)
For more of my photos check out my IG @virginia_the_cat