How to Deal with Failure: 5 Strategies
If we try something new or risky, there is a non-zero chance that we will fail at it – and as we go through life and try more and more things, the chance that we will fail at some point becomes all but guaranteed.
Failure can mean a lot of things, but let’s broadly say that it means not getting the outcome you were hoping for. This can be privately crushing, and publicly embarrassing.
If you were trying to launch a business you may have lost money, and you could be worried about damage to your reputation and career. Our egos are often tied up in our endeavors, which is why these feelings can be so hard to deal with.
However it’s often said, correctly, that failure is a necessary stop along the road to success. If you insist on avoiding failure altogether you’ll never try anything worthwhile, and failure often has important lessons for us about how we can do better next time. It can also make us more resilient by teaching us to cope with failure in a healthy way.
So if you’re afraid of failure, or are stinging from a recent let down and wondering how to move forward, here’s some advice:
Give yourself some time to process your feelings about the failure
Failure is emotionally tough. In addition to disappointment, it can trigger feelings of shame or self-doubt, or fear of what the future may hold. While it’s important to maintain a positive outlook overall, it’s also important to acknowledge any wounds a failure may have opened up.
If you suppress negative feelings and let them fester in your subconscious, they’re a lot more likely to rear up when it’s time for you to take the next risk – causing you to back out, or unwittingly self-sabotage your efforts out of fear of failing again. Allowing these feelings to compound can also make a future failure even more painful and emotionally destructive.
Shame can be particularly sticky to deal with, as it is often tangled up with our deepest insecurities, and fear of judgment by others. That’s why it can be incredibly important to work through feelings of shame before you’re ready to try something new.
When to seek help
In more extreme cases, failure can give rise to feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing – and this can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-destructive behavior. If you have trouble bouncing back after a failure, or feel like you’re stuck in a loop of self-sabotage, it may be worthwhile to talk to a professional about the deeper, more troubling issues this failure may have unleashed for you.
Do some research about failure
There’s a ton of literature out there about failure, ranging from memoirs and anecdotes about famous failures to self-help books about how to move forward. It can be very edifying, and even inspiring, to learn how the “greats” fell flat on their faces at some point (and likely at many points).
Self-help literature can help you understand and accept your feelings, and come up with a game plan when you’re ready to move forward.
Spend time on other rewarding activities
If you failed at something very important to you, in the immediate aftermath it can feel like this failure represents the sum total of your life. But this isn’t true.
Before you wade into your next endeavor, it can be very helpful to reconnect with other people and pleasures, or recharge by taking a vacation. If you’ve been pouring all your time and energy into a single-minded pursuit, to the point where other aspects of your life have fallen away, this is a great time to focus on building up those areas again – whether it’s getting involved in some new hobbies or activities, spending time with your family, or reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.
If you feel satisfied with your life as a whole, the sting of failure will become less acute and you’ll be in a better position to take the next risk. That’s because you’ll know that even if the risk doesn’t pan out, you’ll still have plenty of wonderful things in your life.
Assess what went wrong, and what you could have done differently
Once you’ve had a chance to cool off and achieve a bit of distance from the failure, it’s time for some reflection. This is where the all-important “learning” part comes into play.
Try to break down exactly what happened and take an objective look back at the choices you made. Can you recognize some mistakes you may have made, without beating yourself up about them?
Or can you identify some forks in the road where a different outcome may have been possible?
It’s important to take responsibility for the aspects of this failure that were within your control, but equally important not to blame yourself for everything, as this is usually too one-sided to be realistic, and could be destructive to your self-esteem and your future endeavors.
Create a plan for our next endeavor
All of the things we’ve mentioned above will help prepare you to tackle the next challenge when you’re ready. In addition to approaching your new endeavor from a healthy state of mind, you can take what you’ve learned and turn it into a game plan for the next thing you want to try.
Think not only about how you ideally want things to go, but about how you might cope with different outcomes and eventualities. The more prepared you are, the more flexible you’ll be able to be when you hit a curveball or a setback – allowing you to turn the threat of another failure into an alternate path to success.