So you didn’t get the job. Your relationship didn’t work out. You’re on the brink of failing your studies. Bad credit, bad debt and bad days just keep coming. Somehow you’ve ended up in this awful hellhole where nothing in your life seems to be working out.
Frankly, it’s quite important to know the answer to a question like this – I would argue it is utterly crucial, in fact – because as unpleasant as it is to admit, somewhere down the track, you will inevitably (or perhaps you already are or have) experience a failure or setback of some kind.
Yes, failure sucks (understatement). It can be humiliating, frustrating and downright hurtful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your outlook and attitude on failure can partially or wholly be the deciding factor in whether that ‘setback’ is ultimately a learning experience or completely harmful to you.
While you may not always be able to avoid failure, a steady mindset and good attitude can certainly go a long way. Knowing how to deal with failure and learn from mistakes is an important life skill that will show its worth over time. I’d like to share some of my tips on how to cope with failure and get back onto your feet after suffering a setback.
But first… a bit of context – I’ve decided to open up more and I’d like to share some of my own failures:
- I almost failed my high school mathematics course on multiple occasions – on my first test in twelfth grade, I scraped a score of merely 36% – luckily for me, the pass mark was lowered to 30%. So it’s not always true – Asians aren’t always better at maths.
- I held a position inside a committee at university, and decided to run for treasurer – and I lost the position against someone who wasn’t part of the committee, through a fair and square speech and election at an annual general meeting. Yep – politics and power play probably don’t work in my favour.
- I have probably sent in over three hundred job applications – and heard back from about five. So yes, I’ve been slammed in the face by a recruiter too many with the same old stale rejection email copied and pasted from a template – way too many times.
- I was, rather embarrassingly, asked repeatedly by my Geography teacher in tenth grade to repeat two pieces of coursework, for poor quality. On one occasion she even accused me of plagiarism. Oops.
- I’ve made some horrible mistakes before as a driver (and mind you I’m still a learner driver for a reason!) – once I accidentally accelerated in reverse on a steep slope by neglecting to change gears, which was very stupid, scary and dangerous. One other time, I nearly bulldozed into traffic, driving at night forgetting the headlights! Please be very careful when driving – accidents are a very serious matter and can be fatal.
- Failed relationships – yep don’t even go there
- I went in for an interview for pro-bono management consulting and I failed. I went in again six months later for the same interview, and failed once again. I guess consulting is probably not for me, eh?
- I was taught from a young age to play the piano, but no matter what, I could never seem to get any good at it. Over and over again I was told that I was dumb for not being able to play properly, that I was stupid and useless and good for nothing. To this day, I still struggle to read the notes and play the melody and harmony separately. Don’t get me wrong, I like the piano a lot – I’d love to relearn it properly some time, but music can be pretty darn hard.
- A classmate in high school commit suicide. I didn’t know him that well. Even so, I can’t help wonder if we were all partly responsible – for not noticing, for thinking nothing of it, for not being more discerning and paying a little more care. The question still remains, where did I go wrong? Could I have saved a life?
Some of these failures have been deeply emotionally scarring experiences for me. I allowed some of these experiences to chip away at my self-confidence and hurt me in ways that I should not have. I’m happy to say that I’m a bit stronger today – and while I’d be lying if I said that failure doesn’t affect me any more – failure definitely doesn’t faze me to the extent that it once did.
Without further ado, my tips on overcoming failure…
1. It’s okay
The first step to overcoming any struggle is acceptance. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to feel a little upset. Failure is a perfectly normal part of life and learning. Your journey to recovery will be much easier if you accept what happened and be open with your feelings about it.
Personally, I find it helps to write about it or even find a shoulder to cry on while sharing about my experience with a trusted friend. Speaking to someone and asking for advice is often helpful in identifying things that are holding you back or if you feel like you are in denial over what happened. Remember, everyone has experienced a struggle at some point – and you might learn a thing or two from someone else who has already experienced something similar and who may be willing to help!
Take the time you need to face hurdles and don’t rush. Let it sink in a little bit, let it hurt just a little, and let out your emotions so that moving on will be easier.
2. Don’t dwell on it
It’s so easy to obsess over details and blame yourself for things that go wrong. That’s the thing about hindsight – it’s always 20/20 – isn’t it? But it’s never as easy without the benefit of hindsight is it? So don’t be so hard on yourself.
It’s pointless to dwell on things that have already happened. Face it – no matter how much you stress over what has happened, you will not change the past. You just have to have faith and keep moving forward.
Stress can actually inhibit you from achieving and hinder the brain’s performance. Stay calm – you’re not going anywhere just by worrying.
3. Don’t take it personal – separate the failure from you personally
Try to be as objective as you can about your failure, and not mix too many emotions into it. Failing does not mean you are the failure! It also does not mean that you will necessarily fail the next time. It does not make you a bad person, or someone who is unintelligent, unworthy or stupid – failure simply means that you are human too and make mistakes.
4. Try to find the cause of the failure
It may be hard, but try to make a list of the things that might have possibly thrown you off track. Were your expectations too unrealistic? Do have have the right experience and qualifications? Perhaps your approach was not correct?
If you can narrow down some reasons why you did not achieve what you hoped you did, this will help you in developing a plan for succeeding next time.
Sometimes the cause of the failure is not your fault – I’m sorry if this is the case, stay strong and keep holding on! Things will get better from here!
5. Try again – but with a different strategy! Avoid repeating mistakes
This is the part where your try to reframe the situation, rewire, and start over! Picture yourself getting back onto your feet and trying again – steady yourself and plan ahead. Setting measurable, specific and achievable goals and monitoring these periodically will maximise your ability to achieve.
If something hasn’t been working out in the past, it may be time to try a new approach altogether. Brainstorm ways to achieve your goal and be open to trying out something that might not seem conventional – as an example, I recently scored an interview by demonstrating to my recruiter how enthusiastic I was about the position by showing, in my email, that I had read the firm’s media releases and researched it’s LinkedIn profiles. This is an approach I have not often used in any other applications, and definitely goes a long way to leaving a good impression and standing out from a pool of applicants by showing that you are ready to take a step further.
6. Finally, remember…
I want draw on a passage in the book I’m currently reading, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi and Tahl Raz –
Lincoln failed in business.
He failed as a farmer.
He lost in running for state legislature.
He had a nevous breakdown.
He was rejected for a job as a land officer.
When he was finally elected to the legislature, he lost the vote to be speaker.
He ran for congress and lost.
He ran for and lost a US Senate seat.
He ran for vice president and lost.
He ran for the Senate and lost again.
And when he was finally elected president, the nation he was elected to lead broke apart.
In spite of all his failures, Lincoln achieved even greater success and is remembered as one of the greatest public figures in American history. He never gave up and kept fighting for what he believed in.
Behind every successful person lies countless struggle and failures. Don’t give in! You are bigger than the struggle. Don’t let failure define you, and learn from mistakes and do your best to be a better person.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an ordinary destiny” – C.S. Lewis