Everyone gives you the same condolence:
“Failure is key to success. JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before a publisher accepted Harry Potter. Producers told Oprah she’d never make it,” they say.
They don’t take into consideration the impact this failure has had on you. You’re devastated. You’ve lost so much. You gave it your best, and somehow it wasn’t enough.
You’re tired of sitting on rock bottom, but unfortunately, you’re accustomed to it by now.
You don’t need anyone to tell you, “You can’t succeed without failure”. That doesn’t stop the doubts from haunting your thoughts at night.
What more could you have done? What went wrong? Is there hope? Should you keep going or is it time to throw in the towel?
Failing repeatedly is soul-crushing. You knew it was essential to success, but you didn’t expect it to be this bad.
You repeat to yourself, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison”, but the punch to your gut when you opened your latest rejection letter isn’t any less painful.
Collapsing into a puddle of misery and self-hate isn’t going to help, either.
How to Bounce Back from Failure
Failure can be the foundation of success, but only if you make it so. Make failure your ally by learning the lessons it’s throwing at you, then use that expertise to move forward.
Learn the Hidden Lessons
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
The ones who say “the more times you fail the closer you are to success” are liars.
Failure is only worth the lessons you learn from it. Many people brush the dust off their shoulders, get back up and try again, only to repeat the same mistakes.
They don’t do this on purpose. They believe they are headed in the right direction this time.
Their real shortcoming lies in not learning the right lessons from their mistakes.
Here’s an example:
Tom put his sweat and blood into his work for the past 6 months. He yearned for a promotion, and he was sure he was going to get it.
Then, one morning, he overhears his coworkers chatting about how Robert is incompetent for his new position. Tom is stunned. It’s the position he was working so hard to obtain!
Despite the disappointment, he tries again. Last time, he had said no to a few projects because his plate was already full, so this time he works even harder. He pushes his personal life aside. He puts in extra hours. He does more than he’s asked. 3 months later, someone else gets the promotion that he deserved!
What was he missing?
He talks to his boss and she tells him, “Look, I see that you are diligent, and we appreciate the work you do here. You’re just not a team player.”
Slowly, it dawns on him.
In his quest to prove himself, he stepped over other people. In every meeting, he argued to prove he was right and other ideas were inferior. He would take over others’ work in attempt to show his excellence.
If he had understood this mistake earlier, he’d have that promotion today.
Failure is a brutal sensei. It pushes you repetitively, so you can rise stronger and smarter. It doesn’t feed you the answers. Failure will punish you until you reach them yourself.
Emotions distort reality.
You won’t be able to clearly recall the events and distill the lessons if you’re convinced that the universe is against you.
Things didn’t work out as planned. Admit it. Don’t make cover-up stories and excuses. Don’t sink into a spiral of negative thoughts. That doesn’t help anybody.
If you’re fired from your job, you can blame it on your boss, on Colleen, whom you are sure played a part in this, or on the guy in the Lexus that made you late this morning. You can beat yourself up and mope about how useless you are.
Where does that take you?
You end up with a disheartening self-image and a deep desire to quit.
Separate yourself from the emotions. Take a practical approach to dealing with the occurrence.
Don’t think, “I’m such a failure. How did I not see this coming?”. Think logically. “My boss had given me three warnings before this. I wasn’t concerned with them because I believed she was prejudiced. Next time, I will take the warnings seriously.”
Scrutinize the Incident
To use your failures as a catapult to your destined success, examine what happened.
Ask yourself three questions:
- What were you trying to do?
- What was your method?
- What went wrong?
Pay special attention to the last question. The answer usually isn’t straightforward.
In the story above, Tom thought he had missed the promotion because he hadn’t worked hard enough. It was easy to assume that. Yet, his boss had a different view. The real flaw was his lack of teamwork.
In the same way, the main contributor to your setbacks might not be what you think it is. Many times, there isn’t a single determinant that triggered the results. It’s the interplay of many different factors.
Your mindset can get in your way as can the way you perceive the matters you deal with. You may have neglected important components or forgot one of the fundamentals. It could have resulted from the lack of perseverance, discipline, or motivation.
Don’t accept superficial answers to complex problems. Dig deep and uncover what caused your downfall.
Get an Outsider’s Perspective
You worked diligently on your project for months. You see the nitty-gritty details that no one else can see.
At times, that is an advantage, but when you look for the root cause of your shortcomings, you need to perceive the big picture.
How can you do that?
Ask a colleague, friend, or family member for their insights.
Putting ourselves and our work out there for others to judge—and potentially criticize—is nerve-wracking. It’s also enlightening. They may notice a key contributor that you disregarded.
Patch It Up
Now you know where the fault lies, you’ve changed your perspective and got someone else’s insights. It’s time to pick yourself up and move forward.
The first step?
Fix the mistake, apologize if needed, and save what you can.
Admitting you were wrong isn’t easy, but you can’t build success on a broken foundation. If you made a repairable mistake, do what you can to set the tables right.
“Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure.”- James Altucher
If you can save and reuse parts of your previous blunder, use it to get a head start moving forward. If not, don’t be afraid to start from scratch and build it up even better than before.
This experience has given you new insights and perspectives. You have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s time to put it all on paper.
Distill the lessons you learned into actions. Make a plan that puts together what you should do while acknowledging what you shouldn’t.
When I was working on growing my website. I thought all I had to do was write great content that helped my audience.
After a year of working almost every day of the week, I realized that I wasn’t seeing results. I was giving out tons of value in my posts, but no one was reading them!
I analyzed what I was doing and did some research on what else I could do. Only then did I comprehend that a successful website required more than helpful articles. There were so many aspects I was neglecting.
So, I went back to my planning board and redesigned my strategy. I thought about how I could write content that changed people’s lives and get it in front of my audience.
Failures are opportunities in disguise even when it feels otherwise.
Your failure showed you that what you were doing wasn’t working. Revisit your plans and figure out what will work instead.
Use the Fresh Start Effect
Ever wonder why you are more successful at achieving your goals when you start at New Year?
It doesn’t matter what you did the past year because this year you’re becoming a new, better version of yourself.
The fresh start effect states that you’re better at facing your goals when you start on a temporal landmark. It’s like a psychological reset, separating you from past failures.
The first day of a new job is a new start as is the beginning of a new week. It’s an opportunity to recreate yourself. Increase your chances of success by starting a new project at the beginning of a new week, month, or year.
Pick a date to begin your plan. Set it at the start of something new—be it a new week, a new month, or a new life in an unfamiliar city.
Failure or Opportunity in Disguise
Failing hurts. You know it’s inevitable, but no one prepared you for the emotional turmoil that comes with it.
Sometimes, you feel like you’ll never make it. Other times, it feels like you aren’t up to the arduous journey ahead.
Don’t let those negative thoughts take bearings in your mind. In your path to success, there are bound to be some setbacks.
When life pushes you down, brush the dust off your shoulders, understand where you went wrong, and try again smarter.