How to cope with failure

Failure is an ugly place, I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I hate it when my plans don’t turn out.

Even as I write this I can feel the bitter taste of failure welling up in my throat. You might recognise that taste, that feeling, too. I wish I could give you some deep and meaningful quotes that makes it all go away. But it doesn’t. It’s a condition of being alive and you can take some comfort in being alive.

Sometimes that’s a small comfort. I know that. Things go wrong and *bang* I’m that determined (but misguided) four year old who sewed the oven cloth to my clothes. By mistake or misunderstanding, it makes no difference, the only way out was cutting my work off me. My sister made a big deal of my failure, and that really hurt.

I’ve failed so many times I’ve finally began to build a relationship with failure. Along the way I’ve learned a few tricks to make the depressing ditchwater taste a little better. Here are a few suggestions – tips for how to cope:

Just keep swimming. You are a creative person who creates things. To create stunning work you have to practice a lot. You don’t get perfection on the first attempt. If you do, you won’t get it perfect on the second. You’ll get better at what you do, if you do more. That sounds so trite, but try it. Keep going, keep working.

Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It’s okay to feel disappointed, angry, shamed, or frustrated (or all four) after a failure. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions. Allow yourself to feel them, and then let them go. If you haven’t stood in the shower and wept with rage, frustration, and exhaustion, you haven’t been trying hard enough. Don’t waste the energy, get it out and over and done with, then focus your emotions on moving forwards.

Don’t dwell on your failure. It’s important to learn from your failures, but don’t dwell on them. Focus on the future, and what you can do to improve your chances of success next time. Work on getting the failure event into proportion. Every famous person, great artist, everybody has had their deep, dark moment. Get a grip. Welcome the failure, and ask it what it has to tell you. Every failure has a message for you.

Learn from your mistakes. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. Take some time to reflect on what went wrong, and what you can do differently next time. Reflective practice is the difference that makes the difference. Once a week sit down with your peers or someone who cares and talk about your progress.

Set realistic goals. If you set your sights too high, you’re more likely to fail. Set realistic goals that you know you can achieve, and then build on your success. Here’s how – you can always be 1% better. When you start you’ve got nothing, if you continually aim to be 1% better it’s only a matter of time before the compound kicks in. Graphs that show a graceful learning curve show a theory. In practice, a lived learning curve looks more like the path of a bumblebee around a garden full of flowers.

Take breaks. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to take a break. Step away from your work, and do something you enjoy. This will help you clear your head, and come back to your work refreshed. You might find an amazing insight – history sparkles with stories of serendipitous breakthroughs. Get a massage. Massage can be beneficial in fighting depression by lowering cortisol levels. When you’re stressed your body releases cortisol, and massage can lower it by up to 50%. Massage increases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitters. It’s a win-win outcome.

Celebrate your successes. It’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem. This will help you stay motivated, and keep moving forward. However bitter failure might be, a single grain of success tastes so sweet you’ll be addicted instantly. Success breeds success so follow on the path that’s working, refine as you go. Celebrate doesn’t mean adopting the rockstar lifestyle – that doesn’t always end well.

Talk to someone you trust. Talking to someone you trust can help you process your failure, and get some support. This could be a friend, family member, coach, or anyone else you feel comfortable talking with. These moments of connection can help you get a sense of proportion, and perhaps help you find a new approach. Or help you plot your revenge.

Seek professional help if you need it. If you’re struggling to cope with your failure, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. A therapist can help you understand your emotions, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and build resilience.

Remember that you are not first person. Everyone fails at some point. Keep trying. I have a mission statement I reflect on when things don’t go to plan – “I will attend to my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide service of the highest standard.” I’m nothing without my health and well-being, and I deliberately conserve, expand, and update my skills. It’s a great defence against the failure blues. Personal wellness is a serious issue. That’s why I undertake ongoing professional development, including technical training courses. I believe it’s an essential part of customer relations.

Keep creating. The best way to overcome failure is to keep creating. Don’t let your failure stop you from doing what you love. Keep creating, and eventually you will have created a body of work. Success – whatever that is, is a completely different question. By every contemporary measure, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings are sure signs of his genius, with the associated price tags. He dominates the best seller list. In his lifetime he only sold one painting, and that for around $2000 in current values.

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

“No choice but stand. Somehow up and stand. Somehow stand. That or groan. The groan so long on its way. No. No groan. Simply pain. Simply up. A time when try how. Try see. Try say. How first it lay. Then somehow knelt. Bit by bit. Then on from there. Bit by bit. Till up at last.”
― Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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