Intellectually, we know that failure (although painful) has often been the catalyst for our greatest growth. We are amazed at how our worst days – over time – can be remembered as our best days. But deep down, we hate to fail.
We fear it, avoid it and when it happens – it can wreak havoc on our emotions and confidence. We can’t seem to let go of it – rehashing and re-living every painful element (real or imagined).
So, how do we let go and move on? The best strategy is simple to say but very difficult to do: Don’t take the failure personally. In other words, separate the failure from your identity. Just because one of your ideas failed doesn’t mean you are a failure. In fact, the failure has brought you one step closer to success (as in Edison’s 5,000 failures that finally led to the light bulb).
To keep your psychological distance from the failure, look at it analytically. Suspend feelings of frustration while you better understand what went wrong. The objective review can help us keep the limiting emotions at bay. The biggest question we can answer after a failure is: What did I learn from this?
Rehashing the failure will also be disabling – so it is critical that you do your post mortem as soon as you can so that you can take the next positive step forward.
Here’s the deal. It is almost impossible to find an historic or current-day success story that isn’t also a story of great failure. As we get closer to those who have achieved great success, we are often surprised to find that their journey was riddled with bumps in the road. What makes their story great is how they overcame setback after setback.
So, let’s review. Failure is inevitable but it also is a necessary and powerful learning step in our journey forward. We need to leverage our failures – and not let them define us. We also begin to see how failure has shaped our life story in some extraordinary ways.
I leave you with an adaptation of philosopher Descarte’s famous insight: cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"). It was offered as a proof of our existence. In that spirit I offer the following: I fail. Therefore I am.