You can’t keep failure away forever… so what can you do?
When I started writing a piece about learning how to accept our failures, I was trying too hard to make it absolutely perfect. I found myself deleting line after line as my high expectations got in the way of actually writing. That’s when it occurred to me, I was failing at writing about failure. How ironic to realize I was exercising the same muscle of perfectionism and unrealistic standards that I was intending to address.
I have a feeling there might be others who relate to how I was feeling. Others who hold themselves to high standards and want to get it just right. It feels amazing to succeed and demonstrate a sense of competence, efficacy and achievement in our endeavors.
Everybody loves getting a gold star.
The problem is there are many times we don’t receive a gold star from life. We don’t meet expectations. Stuff falls apart. Somebody gets hurt. We get hurt. We fall apart. We contemplate the merits of quickly donning the cloak of shame, slinking under the closest rock and not emerging until spring arrives.
We don’t fail because we choose to fail. We fail because let downs, disappointments and mistakes are an unavoidable part of being human.
In working with people on the business of life change, I have found that resilient people are able to think about failure in an adaptive way. Resilient people choose to face mistakes head on. They are not afraid to look at what went wrong, examine their role, and then challenge themselves to grow from their experiences. They understand failure can have a healthy place in our lives.
If we are engaging in life, failure is an inevitable part of the process.
When Failure arrives in our lives, we have choices about how we receive him. He shows up unexpectedly. He is not welcome. We liked our house the way it was.
We don’t know what to do with the new tenant who has come on the scene. He is messy and embarrassing. He trashes our living room and seems unapologetic. He makes us feel bad about the state of our house, inferior. We don’t want others to know he is associated with us.
Yet he comes all the same. An unavoidable guest. Usually he refuses to leave until we entertain him, though we have a choice on what accommodations we give him and what status he receives in our household.
1. We can give him the best room in the house.
The luxury suite which denotes our deference to his authority over us. Failure takes over. We scrape and kowtow as we offer fresh towels rolled in the shape of a monkey along with a chocolate on his pillow. Demanding, rigid, exacting, he is a perfectionist with unrealistic standards who berates us and makes us feel inadequate.
Our life begins to be defined by our failures. We make choices to try and compensate for this shameful guest, but no matter what we do, it still isn’t enough to evict him. Instead of learning from our experiences with failure and moving freely into the future, we over focus on what went wrong and live in the past.
It is easy to become trapped in a cycle of self doubt and shame. We haven’t lived up to our expectations of self, and we can’t get past those expectations. If we want to move beyond our mistakes, we have to find a way to embrace them or we let Failure run our household and overstay his welcome.
2. We can refuse him entry.
Pretend he doesn’t exist. We stick a sign outside that says no vacancies. Our house is already filled with other guests: Avoidance, Blame, Distraction, Denial. They crowd our rooms and keep us from tending to the real issues.
When we don’t deal with our mistakes, we don’t open ourselves up to the work of change. Those mistakes can become a repeating pattern that starts accompanying us through life. Our refusal to face Failure results in a loss of opportunities for reflection and growth. Little will change.
The longer we spend running away from Failure, the harder it is to be fully present in our lives. It becomes increasingly difficult to be emotionally available for ourselves and for others, and our relationships can start to suffer due to our lack of availability. If we want to be fully present in our lives, we need to learn how to receive our failures.
3. We could invite him in as a temporary guest who has something to teach us about our life.
He stays in our guest room and helps us face the reality that sometimes life does not go as planned. He teaches us about self acceptance, flexibility, releasing the reins of perfection, and becoming more fully human. He stays only as long as he needs, helps us grow, and then packs his bags and goes along his merry way.
We learn to recognize that failure is not the end of the world. At times it might constitute an ending, but it also lays the groundwork for something new to rise up. When we learn to embrace our failures we will let go of them more quickly and create new space for the next chapter.
I think one of the most heart healing things we can do for ourselves is learn how to accept our failures. Recognizing that failure will be an inevitable guest in life helps us better receive him when he comes our way. After all, failure really just means you were open to trying something, and it had a different outcome than you would have liked.
Next time you find yourself in a space where you are dealing with failure: pause, take a deep breath and know this is part of your life process. Congratulate yourself on doing a really good job being a human. You are trying. You are open to experiences. You are engaging in life.
You must be doing something right.