Failing just sucks. Doesn’t it? No matter how you couch it, and all the positive (yes, to follow!) attributes that stem from it, failure just sucks eggs.
We live in a world that worships success. Whether on the playing field, the art world, running a Fortune 500 company, we glorify those who win the game. We make celebrities of them. We keep their pictures in our minds of what’s possible at the end of the rainbow.
Not that that’s a bad thing! Often when slogging through the darkness, a great way to deal with stress is to remember those who traveled a similar road and won—whatever “winning” meant in their fields of endeavor.
And the funniest part is that we tend to forget all of those folks’ failures. Or perhaps those are kept hidden. But fail they did—or they never would have succeeded at all.
Man, have I had my share of it. Being an author gives you the opportunity to fail almost daily. Big misses and little ones pepper the world of anyone playing the game.
I’ve had more learning experiences than I can even count! And if you’re invested in, well, just about anything in a serious manner, you have had your own opportunities revolving around dealing with failure as well.
Here are the 7 most prevalent tips I’ve learned to deal with the stress that comes from it:
- Recognize that You Will Fail.
Gulp! Now, that’s not the mindset I need when beginning my marathon! You tell me I’ll fail?
Yep. Comes with the territory. There is simply no way to try something—truly try something—without stubbing your toe. In both big ways and small. Learning can be truly tough. And even when you’re no longer a beginner in your field, well, failure will still come.
I began my wine novel 7 years ago. Seven years! Real life got in the way. Yet the characters kept talking to me and when I finally could settle back into it last year, I realized that the last third of it had gone off track. The remedy? Ditch that part. Yep, throw away over a hundred pages, get back into the stream of it, and write an entirely new last chunk and ending. Ugh. And ugh again! Now, that hurt. Was the novel failed? No. That part, however, was.
But I have the skills to write it better.
President Theodore Roosevelt talked a lot of effort and failure and rising again. I love when he said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
- Failure Comes when You Least Expect It.
Isn’t that the danged rub? I mean, we visualize our goals. See ourselves running the good race. Envision crossing the finish line. Yeah! We have everything planned out meticulously in order to win.
But obstacles arise that we never saw coming, of course. In the marathon’s course, you planned for the run up graveyard hill. But who knew about the killing stretch, against the wind, under the blazing sun? Dang.
Just knowing that unknown factors will arise to trip me up always comforts me, in an odd way. I know I’ll have to deal with demons I didn’t know existed. And just knowing that takes some of the sting out when it happens.
One of my favorite quotes ever is from boxer Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.”
- You’re in Good Company when You Fail.
Now, doesn’t knowing that ease your fear a bit? All of our heroes—all of them—have failed in the process of their quests. Refer to number 1. Anybody anywhere who’s in the game has failed.
When it comes down to it, nobody knows what he’s doing when he starts. Nobody. You can’t know how to do something until you do it, no? And even when you’re an “expert,” you’ll face trials that are new and unforgiving.
The truth is, we’re all winging it. Nobody actually knows what she’s doing, even Fortune 500 CEO’s, successful entrepreneurs, athletes of the highest caliber. We think we do, we try to learn all we can, but there will always come a time when you realize you’re flying without a net.
As Olympic Champion Runner Wilma Rudolph said, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time.”
Note the Olympic-champion part 🙂
- Admit to Your Failure.
That’s another gulp. So often, we want to re-frame our failings into something they’re not. Mostly, that they were successes in disguise. And while it’s true that by learning from them, we grow and point back toward success, first we have to admit that well, yeah, we failed.
Because if you go straight to the re-framing, you’ll miss key lessons.
Why did I fail? Where did I miss the mark? How did this happen? Spend time figuring that out first, before you go on to the next step.
When I went back to that novel, and could see it had gone so off-track (that is the beauty of letting a manuscript sit—when you return you see it with fresh eyes), I dissected the wheres and hows and whys of it. Ah, that character wouldn’t have reacted that way. And oh, there, I took the easy way out.
As Author C.S. Lewis said, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
- Face Your Fear of It.
That’s at the root of not admitting to failing in the first place. We all fear failure. It doesn’t feel good! And we like to feel good. But paradoxically, being afraid to fail stops you from acting, which just ensures your failure. And even if you do act, but haven’t faced that demon fear, you’re going to stumble at some point.
Fear is like that. It keeps you rooted, attached, to whatever you fear. Isn’t that just the nuts? But any fear you keep stuffed grows fangs you cannot see, and spins around to bit you in the butt.
It shackles you as if running that race with one arm tied around your back.
Instead, take it out, into the light, and stare it down.
As Statesman and Author John W. Gardner said, “We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure — all your life. It’s as simple as that.”
- Learn the lessons from the Failure, and more about Yourself.
That’s the true gem in failing—it teaches you not only why you failed at this particular venture, but also helps you identify the weakness in yourself that caused it to happen in the first place.
I’ve spoken before about my editorial client who was a 3-pack-a-day smoker, took up jogging to help her quit, and eventually set her sights on Everest. She failed—twice. Ouch. Her problems weren’t from lack of preparation, training, nutrition, etc. And after the second failed attempt, she finally faced the snarling fear deep within her psyche. And a beast it was, indeed.
And she returned for her third and final try up that monster of a mountain.
As Psychologist B. F. Skinner said, “A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”
- Success can only Grow from Failure.
Failure is not just a glitch on the road to success. It is that, to be sure, but failing is actually a tipping point—that place that determines whether you go on. And if you go on, you’ve learned—often vital things—that place you in a much better position to succeed. Without failure, humans don’t learn.
Isn’t that just the nuts too? I so wish I could learn from others’ failures, and not have to stumble off that same road! But when it comes down to it, no one else can tell me how to write my novel. Folks can point to where it failed, but it’s up to me to figure out its success. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
It’s the walking part that always strikes me. Because I know that what I have learned from the failure, will point me toward success.
As Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister said, “All my successes have been built on my failures.”
Failure, in the end, is not at all a bad thing. I can point to a number of failures, which led to successes. Can’t you? Maybe it didn’t feel that way at the time, but in hindsight you can see it clearly.
Because as Real-estate Tycoon Donald Trump said, “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”
How do you deal with failure?