Failure comes in all different forms – it’s not as simple as missing the mark on a test and receiving an F, or bombing a major presentation. Failure also presents itself on a scale. Does that sound weird? Consider it… there are such things as major and minor failures, but they all impact us (emotionally or physically) in some way.
That being said, what do you do when you’re faced with failure? Do you take it head-on and learn? Do you need a moment to collect yourself? Do you get angry and consider burning everything to the ground? Or do you breakdown and need a few days to collect yourself? In reality, you may have a mixture of all of these, or you may not experience any of these; it may be something completely different, but we all react when faced with failure.
For example, I get embarrassed and shutdown – which does nothing for myself, or the team I’ve just directly impacted by my failure. So I work (as quickly as possible) to pick myself, reassess what I can (and will) do, and keep moving forward. The longer I have to wallow in it, the worse it’s going to be for everyone involved. So I keep an “always forward” mentality whenever possible. Does it always work? Nope. But more often than not, I can keep it together.
I strongly dislike failure because it makes me feel weak, but it’s very much a part of being human. Hello, dichotomy! What I’ve realized as of late is that the weakness comes from learning nothing in failure. If you make no changes, that is the real failure.
Recently, one of my best friends faced what she considers one of the biggest failures of her life (her words, not mine) and she has experienced residual impact for weeks after (truthfully, some of it is still there). There has been a full range of emotions in dealing with said failure, including remembering how to trust herself and judgement, and more importantly, believe in herself again.
I’m going to preface this and let you know that my best friend is amazing – she’s beautiful, incredibly intelligent, extremely positive, and absolutely astounding at her job – so to be faced with something she cannot bounce back from immediately, it paints a clear picture on how tough this setback was for her.
I’m including some screenshots of the language she used to beat herself up – mainly because I want you to realize we all do it. Usually, we’re the toughest on ourselves, and we drag it out and make the process longer than necessary because we’re not letting go or allowing ourselves to move on. (I pulled all these screenshots after the fact to reference, so I’ll provide relative timelines and situations to help with the narrative.)
In the subsequent weeks since said failure, Megan (that’s my bestie’s name) has gone through a series of emotions to get back to “normal” and realize that it will all be okay, she did not ruin or topple her entire world. Some days are easier than others, but that’s why we go through them with a support unit. There are a few things that she did that I need to share with everyone facing failure (at any point in their lives):
Take Time to Breathe
In that moment, it’s not going to be okay. Give yourself a short period to feel the failure, feel upset, and then after that, step back, and decide you have to hold your head up high and move on (I recommend 24 – 72 hours). Otherwise, you’ll never leave the table where you’ve sat down for the pity party.
Face the failure and situation head on – come to terms with the fact that you screwed up, and figure out what you need to do to move on from it. (This is where asking your team or mentor will come into play.) It all starts with realizing you cannot change it, and you cannot blame someone else. You have to accept your responsibility and choose to move forward.
Turn to Family, Friends, and Your Significant Other for Support (Physical and Emotional – we all cry)
You do not have to do it alone, so don’t. Turn to those who are willing and want to help you. They’ll have better insight to who you are as a person, and you’ll learn to better trust and appreciate them – but, you have to give them a chance. You cannot blame them for not helping you if you did not allow them.
Ask Your Team/Mentor What You Can/Should do Better and/or Differently
If we failed, there is usually the chance for someone to tell us where we went wrong, or what we could have done differently. Seek that someone out and ask the question. Yes, it is difficult because of pride, but you’ll feel better once you know. It could have been something very little or it might have been something big. But the truth of the matter is, you cannot change the behavior or the item unless you know what it is.
Learn From Your Mistake/Failure – or We’re Doomed to Repeat Them
The silver lining with a mistake or failure is that we have the opportunity to grow. However, we have to seize the opportunity. We have to be willing to make the change. We are (read: should be) different from who we are the last time we failed – continue to demonstrate this progression each time we move on.
All in all, we fail! We’re human, so it happens. It just hurts, and it’s rough. We feel embarrassed, low, and we never want to feel that way again. What we need to accept right now is that it happens, but we need to learn how to manage the process afterwards. If we can walk away knowing we can find a way to make ourselves better, we’ll have actually learned how to manage (not overcome, let’s be realistic) failure. Until then, I’m with all of you – I still have to mute myself on a phone line sometimes when I realized I missed the mark. But I’ll step back, breathe, and figure out how to pivot and make it all work.
I want to thank Megan, who so willingly shared her story, feedback, and allowed me to share her vulnerability via her words, emotions, and screenshots. The hope in sharing her story is that people will realize we all experience failure; she hopes her story will help someone else, which already shows you the growth she’s experiencing.
I love you, Meg. Thanks for being my bestie