Do you let failures stop you — or even slow you down? You’re definitely not alone. So many times we let something we failed at keep us from trying again. Or even thinking along the same lines.
Someone I’ll call Theresa thinks of herself as a failure. Yet to me she’s successful in so many ways – career and otherwise. She lives her life based on her own thoughtful and caring values. During her career, she’s worked on issues she cares deeply about. And she always gives of herself as fully as possible. Especially when it comes to helping others.
Pictures we hold in our heads
As I said, Theresa has a very different picture of herself. Because of all the things she hasn’t accomplished in her career. All those things that she feels she could have done better. And all the times she stopped when maybe she “should” have gone on. Because of all that as well as talents she has that she feels she hasn’t fully utilized, she sees herself, at least on some level, as a failure.
To me, life is a series of choices. If we take one path, such as when I dropped out of law school (something some might see as failure), yes … we close off certain doors. But we also find new opportunities that would not have been there otherwise. I never once regretted dropping out of law school. Nor do I think about all that I could have done if I had just seen it through.
Instead, I think about all I learned from that intensive year of study. I learned about the foundations of the law. And I learned how to structure a basic contract. I even learned ways justice can be both pushed forward and diverted. Most of all, I learned I didn’t want to be a lawyer! 🙂
Focusing on what you don’t have?
Some people look at their careers and see what’s missing, rather than all the things they do have. We make choices. Those choices may include NOT aiming to be president of a company. But instead, we can choose to focus on things we love, rather than traditional career moves.
While choices like that do wind up closing off certain doors for us, they can also open new doors. And they can open our lives up in ways that just don’t show on a resume.
At any point in our lives, I think it’s a great thing to stop and look at where we are. And see if there are things we still want to accomplish. Also, it’s good to look at our past to see what we can learn from the things we’ve done. Failures as well as successes. And there’s no need to let failures stop you.
But one thing that can stop us is constantly looking to the past. And holding on to counter-productive feelings like being a failure. The real secret to success is being able to transcend all that went before and use each stumble to grow stronger. And to look the fear right between the eyes and say “so what?”
Giving power to your failures?
Every regret, every screw-up we still feel guilty about, every iota of feeling that makes us think we’re not good enough or strong enough or smart enough because of how we judge ourselves in the past (oh how hard we can be on ourselves), saps our energy NOW. And the more you let failures stop you, the more that feeling builds.
But every one of these things we choose to finally let go (or at least step over), gives us more available energy for taking actions toward building an exciting future. Corny as it may sound, we really do only have now and tomorrow. Why whip ourselves over things we did wrong (or think we did wrong) or simply missed making happen for ourselves back then?
Rather than being stuck in a downward spiral of regrets, think about what you can do for yourself right now. Or within the next few weeks – even if it’s only a tiny step. That will get you moving toward something you can feel good about.
Is there something you’ve been longing to do
that you keep talking yourself out of or just putting off?
Come up with a baby step now. Even if it’s just planning to speak with someone about your idea. And then build from there. Every step you take today makes it more real. And gets you further away from that negative picture of yourself.
Think about your successes
It’s also important to spend some time (daily at first if necessary) reminding yourself of all your successes, large and small. There are plenty if you really stop to think about it. And yes … that includes things like simply pitching in on a team effort or making someone feel better when they’re down!
If we focus mostly on our failures, the good stuff fades into the distance. And we begin to give too much weight to the other stuff that keeps us down. When we sit in our regrets,; the picture we hold of ourselves gets warped. Just like the way Theresa saw herself.
Don’t let failures stop you
So keep building that list of things you’ve done right. And don’t forget … as you take on new challenges of any size in the present, each new success helps you paint a much more positive (and relevant) picture to hold on to. We all have stuff we’re not proud of.
But why spend our precious days focusing on that when you can work toward things you’ll really can feel good about? As an added benefit, you can also use your bag of successes as a quick pick-me-up to help change your mood while moving forward!
Speaking of failures …
When I getting my MBA, I interviewed with a major New York City bank. The SVP asked me if I had ever failed. I said “no”. (Oh, I screwed up plenty by then, but didn’t think I should say that.) Well, he looked me in the eyes and told me “That’s too bad. You learn a lot from failing.”
And if you do get that interview question, think of a not-too-horrific time when you screwed up. And then make sure you add what you learned from the experience. Use a success story showing how well you’ve applied the lesson. Turning failure into success is a powerful concept. In interviews and in life.
All this can take time, of course. Have faith in yourself. Sometimes we learn right away, and sometimes it takes many many years to apply the lessons. But it’s all good. Wastes precious energy and good shoe leather to kick yourself. Not to mention those additional self-inflicted bruises.
So what about it? Do you think of yourself as a failure? Have you let failures stop you from moving forward because of how you see yourself? How do you handle screw-ups and failures?
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
[Article updated in 2020]
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