Lessons learned from failure

We all fail. It’s a fact of life. If we’re not failing at something, we’re not really living. Failure demands that we take risks, stretching ourselves beyond those “sure things.” It also requires us to learn how to deal with failure.

Learning how to deal with failure doesn’t come easily to most of us. When we fail, no matter the reasons, it hurts. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, self-doubt, and worry are quick to consume us. If we fail at love, we may no longer trust our judgement; if we fail on the job, we may question our skills; if we fail as a parent, we wonder where we went wrong; if we fail in school, we assume we’re not smart; if we fail at reaching any of our goals, we think we just don’t have what it takes, and maybe never will.

It’s natural to fall down the bunny hole of fear when failure comes to us. I’ve hosted many a pity party, especially for myself. In many ways, the more accomplished and “get it done” we may be, the harder we may find it to deal with failure.

Too often, we see people who on the surface seem like they’ve got it all going on. They’re powerful, outgoing, loved by all. And they’re always at the ready to help others with whatever they may need. They’re caregivers at their core. But even those of us who fit that description sometimes find ourselves falling apart and in need of help. My recent podcast “When the strongest fall apart: Learning to find yourself again” shares the story of one overachiever who, despite all of his successes, is struggling to deal with failure — in his case, the end of his marriage on top of the loss of career.

As you’ll hear when you listen to the podcast, here are three takeaways on how to deal with failure:

1. You are greater than your circumstances

Life happens. Sometimes, we’re climbing that ladder and effortlessly soaring higher and higher from rung to rung. It’s a great feeling when everything is going our way. Isn’t it? It may be so great that we neglect to check in with how we’re really feeling inside. Oftentimes, it’s only when our circumstances downshift that we even start to notice that our outside isn’t actually aligned with our inside. That’s when we suddenly panic and fear for our survival. We seem to think that our circumstances shifting due to something unexpected or unwanted immediately means we’re doomed and that we can’t handle whatever has come our way.

Well guess what? Those fears quite simply aren’t rooted in truth. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from failure is that no matter what madness surrounds me, I’m still me. Everything I had when things were going my way is everything I still have. I am not defined by my failures. And, by the same token, I am not defined by my successes.

In this episode of my podcast, you’ll hear how not having a Plan B, so to speak, and losing Plan A led to such fear that it immobilized any kind of forward movement. There was no ability to go back to what had been and no clue on where to go. That’s when so many of us get stuck. But if we stop for a moment and think about it, one way to deal with failure and to get unstuck is to learn the lesson of what really makes you you. It’s not what you do for a living, how you look, or how many zeros are at the end of your bank account. You are greater than your circumstances. Never forget it.

2. Failure is an option

I know. I know. Few of us would choose to fail. We want to succeed and win every time right out of the gate. A nice wish for sure, but not realistic. Even as babies, we learn to walk but only after crawling and falling time after time until we get the hang of it. Do we quit and just keep scooting around on our behinds? Of course not.

Failure is just an opportunity to learn and do better. And if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying. Progress is what your opting for, not perfection. Failure is the key to growth and to success, both for individuals as well as corporations. And as someone who naturally takes charge and serves as a leader, it’s really our responsibility to model for others how to deal with failure and how to use it to learn and launch ourselves to the next opportunity.

3. It’s okay not to be okay

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from failure is that it’s okay to not be okay. Allow yourself to feel however you’re feeling — all of the emotions, all of the layers of the failure. Whether or not the failure is 100% yours to claim, it feels as if it is and that can be devastating and paralyzing. Don’t dismiss your feelings. It’s really important to be okay with the gray area of not knowing, and being willing to surrender. Surrender is a word that has come to me a lot over the last two years. Surrender and know that what is best comes next IF you surrender and don’t get in the way. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one that helps you deal with failure and, in doing so, helps you to grow as a person. Let yourself fall apart. Unlock that armor of strength that you’ve carried for so long. Reach out to the people who know you and let them see you as a vulnerable soul versus the one who always knows the way. Be open to receiving help and give others the gift of being able to help you for once.

At the end of the day, failure isn’t fatal. It’s a part of life. Every time we fail at something, we should celebrate. Why? Because it’s proof that we’re trying, that we’re bold, and that we’re one step closer to success. Listen to the podcast, and let me know your thoughts.

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