No matter how you define it, failure has many nuances and a million emotions.
When you have failed and you have dug yourself a very deep hole, it will feel like things are over. Crawling out one more time will feel exhausting, endless, discouraging, hopeless.
Over my lifetime, I have accumulated some very successful failures:
- Shoplifting GI-Joe action figure accessories, around the ripe age of 11.
- Setting a hill on fire in my home city of Calgary, Alberta.
- A three day stint as a restaurant Bus Boy. On my third shift, I found out that they wanted to schedule me to work every Saturday and Sunday. As a teenager, losing my weekends felt like the end of the line. After only three shifts… I quit.
- High school Chemistry. Physics. Math. I suck at math and science.
- A six month stint as an apartment manager. It all ended when I froze, then blew up the water pipes in one of the apartments.
- Six weeks as a sales staff at the Gap. I was hired for the Christmas rush, but apparently I didn’t rush fast enough…
- Two ventures in Amway network marketing. Both businesses lasted about 3 weeks.
- A short career selling Registered Education Savings Plans, lasting about 3 months.
- A non-starting business as a consultant. I still love the name of my company: Quest Consulting. Great name, but I had no idea what being a consultant really was. It just sounded more cool than the job I was doing at the time.
- My first gig as a supervisor. I quit after three months.
- A short career as a clergy that lasted about two seconds.
- A short stint as a board member of a failed non-profit Addiction Counseling association.
- Crashing my camping trailer.
- Regularly sucking as a parent… (or seeing your parents in your own behavior and concluding that you suck).
- Sucking at romance, house repair and lawn maintenance.
- I am an Editor with the Good Men Project and I suck at spelling. And grammar. And punctuation;
I could easily add another 25 items to the list, but the more failures I tried to add, the more that I had to admit that every failure has also turned into something good. In reality, each item has taught me to better know myself, and my corresponding (and opposite) strengths. The one thing that I have learned from my failures: the closer that I get to the stupid-idiot level of failing, the more important the lessons.
I don’t know who said it, but it is true that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. An essential part of growing up, and being able to mature in your career, your mental health and your overall outlook is to learn to see all of your efforts as workable. Especially your failures.
Failure is not an end point. Failure is workable, it is learning, and it is one of the best ways that you can grow. In reality, failure demonstrates that you are exactly where you need to be.
I admit, it is tough to fail but not see yourself as a failure. The businesses that I started above never really effected me because I invested very little of my self-worth. For some reason, these ventures quickly reached the pissed-off level and I cut my losses. Other career lessons were tougher to work through. I went through several stints as a clergy, until I realized that no, this career path is not for me. That one took me about four years. Then three years ago I took on a job as a manager. While I learned many incredible lessons, I eventually left the role. I was not a failure at it, but I didn’t do as well as I had hoped.
These job roles carry a sting of regret for me, mostly because the roles impacted other people. Failing at a business that only effects me is easy. But failing at a role as a leader is harder.
Working through the emotional leftovers from failure can be difficult. Psychologists call it an “Adjustment disorder” when you experience a short situational depression after a specific event, loss or personal failure. Most times, people adjust, learn from it and then move on.
Our ability to make use of our failures is probably the most important aspect of growing up. Even though it may take time to work through your emotional baggage, learning from your failure can become second nature.
10 Ways that you are not getting the most out of your failures
You can learn from your failures, or you can just settle into it and conclude that you suck at things. You miss out on what failure can teach you when you:
10.Invest time, and brain power seeing yourself as a failure. You may have fallen, failed, blown it or relapsed. That does not mean that you are: fallen, a failure, an idiot or an addict (once again). Get over yourself.
9.Avoid risks. Go ahead, take time to learn from your failures. But then get back up and keep at it.
8.Get stuck and remind yourself of all of your other failures. Sure, you have blown it and screwed things up. So has everyone else around you. Be easy on yourself.
7.Refuse to also see your strengths. You may have blown it, but you are much much bigger than one failure or series of failures.
6.Ignore the ways that you can turn this failure into something better. It can become part of a new sense of meaning, strength or better ideas. But if you get stuck seeing yourself as a failure, you will miss out on growth and any ideas. And if you are not ready for the ideas, they will just go on their merry way to find someone else who is finished feeling like they suck.
5.Spend time feeling like you suck rather than sucking whatever you can from this one. Each failure is like another course in your personal MBA. Sucking won’t suck as much when you learn something from it.
4.Hate yourself rather than just being humble. Say “I’m sorry” to yourself, your family, your staff, your coworkers. Then move on. Being humble and admitting that you blew it is the first step to rebuilding your self-respect.
3.Believe the “Rock bottom” lie. In recovery circles, there is an idea that has zero research to back it up, but it feels real: In order to recover, you have to hit rock bottom. Bullshit. This week you hit rock bottom. Then next week a little lower. Then next month, even lower. Which one is the real ‘rock bottom?’ Truth is, wherever you are at today can be your ‘rock bottom.’ You don’t have to go any lower. You can learn, change, start, begin, or get to it TODAY. You don’t have to crash in the worst, most devastating, most life-altering way in order to make change happen. If you really want to be a disaster, go ahead, but you will just cause yourself unnecessary pain and suffering.
2.Go for too much therapy. Okay, I am an Addiction Therapist, so I get paid for people to come and talk about their failures and make sense of how to grow through it all. There is a time to go for therapy and then there is a time to just do the work. Sometimes you really need a therapist and other times, you just need to eat shit and make some new decisions.
1.Think that failing will ‘blackball’ you. The only way that a failure can write you off is if you write yourself off. If you make a decision that blows your reputation in your department, remember there are other departments out there. The economy is tough, but there are other jobs. You may have failed at 10 stupid businesses, but you can start up one more, or apply the lessons that you have learned to be a better person, staff member, advisor, leader or writer. One of the greatest failures we can make is when we reach a plateau and conclude that because we can’t go any ‘higher up,’ that’s it. Bull. If you can’t grow “upwards,” then be creative. Grow ‘outward’ instead. Learn all that you can in your current position. Refuse to be pigeonholed. If you learn more and grow, you will eventually outgrow a bad reputation. You may need to leave, but you can leave with your head held high.
I have blown it. I have sucked. I have fallen into the mud and stayed there too long. You too? So what?
Get up. Learn from it. Grow. You are not done yet. You cannot control your future, your past, your clients, your colleagues or your boss. But you can learn from your failures.
So go ahead and suck at things. One of the greatest things you can do is embrace your accidents.
I write articles about mental health, recovery and learning suck the life out of the times that you suck. If you enjoyed this article, you will want to check out some of my other writing:
I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.
Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.
Keep it Real
Photo by R. Crap Mariner