I suppose that everyone hates the experience of failure, but I question why we have to use the word at all. Unavoidably, there are times in life when you strive to be Superman, but don’t even measure up to Clark Kent and you feel pretty miserable because of it. This is the sort of thing that we label a “failure.”
There’s more than one reason why I wish we didn’t use that word. First, so many of us wither under the judgement of failure. The word itself is harsh and unforgiving. Second, it’s disabling and takes away your initiative, and makes you fearful of trying again. And third, usually when you don’t succeed as you like, there are ways to turn it around and make some sort of success from it. Making it into a personal catastrophe doesn’t help that at all.
This isn’t to look at things with rose-colored glasses. “Failure” hurts badly and you probably know as many people as I do who just can’t move beyond it. They wallow in their sense of failure (and we all know how much good that does). To be honest, I’ve done it myself (and gotten just as much reward from it), but time taught me the better alternative is that learning from my “failings” was usually the best way to take away something meaningful from the experience.
You can only do that if you are able to be very honest without getting defensive. When you are emotional and feeling a loss of face, that can be a bit of a challenge and the temptation will be to blame circumstances or someone else, to avoid any, or very much, responsibility.
Resist the temptation! There is too much to “salvage” from what happened. Be honest enough with yourself that you can face the fact that you created certain obstacles (for instance, if you procrastinated at an important point), even if that is embarrassing or painful. Recognizing how your actions undercut you is vital. Your own actions are the only things you are completely in charge of. An honest look at them reveals what it is in your power to change.
Also, don’t over-emphasize the factors outside of you that you can’t control. Often, the explanation for why things go south is a balance of factors about yourself and your environment. Believing that external factors cause all your problems only creates a mental block, sticking you in a corner where you are hostage to forces you can’t control. This makes you more passive.
So, to help you get to that balance and face up those sub-Clark Kent moments, I put together this list of questions to be consider. It’s pretty comprehensive and should give you a lot to think about when you end up with egg on your face, disappointed and mad about things going wrong.
- Are my natural abilities suitable for this goal?
Was this really right for me? For whatever reason I wanted it, was it really a good fit for me?
Was there someone else who really was better for the job? Maybe people would have been more
supportive if they thought that this really was for me.
- Do I have the training and/or skills that are needed?
Was I fully prepared? Do I need more knowledge or experience if I want to go in this direction again?
- Do I have the resources to fully do the job?
Maybe you lacked the right tools or technology or the proper personal connections. Maybe someone
else was backed up by a stronger organization.
- Was the timing right? Did this goal fit with my current schedule of commitments?
Was there a better time to go after this goal? Was there too much going on to fully devote
yourself to this goal right now? Would I have less opposition at another time?
- Was the organization ready for what I wanted to do (this applies even if the organization
set the agenda)?
Have you ever tried for something that others just weren’t ready for, that they shot down
but they might have accepted if they had time to get used to it?
- Did this goal really suit my plans and interests?
Personally, I was excited about playing guitar, but when I started taking lessons, it turned out
that it wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep at it.
- How did the actions of others affect my plans? Did they support me or hinder me?
Sometimes people are with you, but sometimes they are not. They may have goals and plans
that clash with yours. Make sure you consider these without looking to blame
It’s almost inevitable that a let-down makes you feel disappointment, embarrassment, frustration, and other feelings, but it’s a big mistake to stay in that mind-frame any longer than you have to. Better to deal with the consequences as best you can and make yourself ready for the successes yet to come. Being clear-minded about mistakes can be part of getting to them.