After having watched parts of the Olympic Games I am astounded at what a fine line there is between success and failure. We have seen gold medals awarded to athletes who just seemed to quietly get on with it without a great deal of media attention. Conversely, others who had lots of attention, and who had great expectations heaped upon them didn’t make it. At times, especially in athletics and swimming, there were only hundredths of a second between a medal and nothing. Indeed, in some races there was less than a second between first and last place.
The fear of letting down the nation must be excruciating after so much training and preparation. I can only imagine it. Then having journalists quizzing them on what went wrong must have taken so much courage. Even though they handled themselves with humility and grace, openly accepting their loss, and looking on the bright side, their pain was palpable.
Fortunately, most of us deal with our failures in relative privacy. Learning to be skilled at whatever we do inevitably involve failure at times. Sure, no failure is completely private. We feel shame, embarrassment, and judgement, especially the self-inflicted kind. We may even inflict harsher judgement on ourselves than we would accept from others.
It is natural to grieve when we don’t meet up to our own expectations, or the expectations of others, or if our failure comes with some cost. But we don’t have to let it define us. We are so much more than that. We are not failures; we are worthwhile people who experience setbacks, even if we seem to repeat our mistakes. The interview we didn’t get, the weight we haven’t lost yet, smoking again after a period of success, failing an exam, finding a task we committed ourselves to is much harder than we expected, are some examples of things that we ordinary mortals struggle with.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. ~ Winston Churchill
Here are some of my tips for bouncing back from failure. This list is by no means exhaustive; a whole book would barely scratch the surface.
1. Breathe deeply. Even if you feel that you have been treated unfairly do not react impulsively in anger. Allow yourself plenty of cool-down time. Take a lesson from our athletes. Accept defeat graciously. It is okay to express hurt and disappointment; it is not okay to go on a rant.
2. Give yourself time to honestly reflect on what went wrong. It is part of the human condition to apportion blame to anyone and everything; it takes courage to accept responsibility for our actions. However, honesty earns respect.
3. Decide what is important to you. Nobody chooses a life on the floor because her first attempts at walking involved lots of falls. Every time we try again we get a little stronger. On the other hand sometimes choosing a different path might be more prudent if it’s the strategy that’s faulty.
4. Nourish a growth mindset. People who think of life as a series of challenges to be enjoyed tend to do better in the long run than those who get discouraged easily. Being a perfectionist is a huge barrier to success. Children who are praised for their effort rather than for being good or clever achieve much more in the long run. If we are used to beating ourselves up for not succeeding we may be expecting too much of ourselves.
5. Stop the judgement. If you notice yourself saying things like, “I’m so stupid”, “I’m a failure”, “I should never have tried this”. It’s time to mentally stop, say to yourself, for example, “I’m having a thought that I’m a failure”, then change it to “I notice that I’m having the thought that I’m a failure”. If you say that to yourself a few times you might even notice that it’s a bit funny. You are unlikely to tell someone you love that they’re hopeless losers, so don’t treat yourself that way. But if you do you might want to rethink the judgement and say something kinder.
Perhaps you have found your own way to move forward after setbacks, blind alleys and disappointments. Please do tell. Learning from others’ experiences can certainly provide shortcuts to success. One thing I know is that I get older I have more experience to fall back on, and I know there is a lot of wisdom out there. I would love to hear about yours.
Are you looking forward to starting each day with enthusiasm and energy? Let’s get you past being stuck. Make a Career Booster Call now.