As humans, failure is inevitable, but overcoming the initial devastation of failure is fundamental to our growth and wellbeing. When we look at the most successful and highly regarded people, we usually only see the end result – the overnight fame or the prestigious award. The journey towards achieving success is one we must examine more closely.
From a young age, we are taught that failure is bad, making mistakes means we are stupid and that the only consequence of failure is punishment. This mindset can be detrimental to a young person’s growth and development. It can make them feel worthless and incapable of achieving their goals. In some cases, it can make them feel their identity has become their failure.
This shouldn’t be the case.
I will share with you a story that changed my own outlook on failure.
In an interview, a famous Indian actress shared that after a series of well-received and successful films, she was involved in one that did really, really badly. She, of course, felt shame, humiliated and disappointed in herself. While others around her and people on social media were putting her down for her failure, her father called her and congratulated her on her first “flop” film. He told her that it was important that she experienced this kind of failure because it was likely to happen again in the future and she should take this failure as an opportunity to learn and rebound from it. As Bill Gates said, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure”. After that failure, she went on a solo vacation to reflect on what her father said, and the following year, she released a very successful film that won her an award. Both failure and success are temporary, so it is essential to keep moving and learning at every step.
In grade 9, I remember feeling insecure about my ability to speak French. Although I enjoyed French class, I always had the fear of mispronouncing or incorrectly translating a word. Thankfully, I had a teacher who had a positive outlook on failure. If someone made a mistake, she would first thank them for making the mistake and then correct them. Her attitude gave us a comfortable learning environment that allowed us to take risks. She told us that making mistakes was the best way to learn because once you make a mistake, you will never forget it. Albert Einstein once said that “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. This is true because if you are perfect at everything you do, you are stuck in a comfortable place without growth. To be continuously improving and achieving bigger dreams, one must break away from their cocoons of comfort and experience the fear and thrill of failing.
Failure makes you fearless. When you already know what it feels like to be at rock bottom, you know the only place to go is up. Failing gives you the drive to dive straight into your weaknesses and the motivation to become stronger.
Failure gives you the humility and innocence of approaching new tasks like a child, having no expectations of the outcome and enjoying the process. For example, if you are starting a new project and you fail several times in the process, it’s important to keep innovating and producing ideas because, at some point, your project will succeed. As Robert F. Kennedy said, “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly”. So be fearless and don’t let the fear of failure limit you.
Overcoming failure is easier said than done but the most important thing to do when overcoming failure is to talk it through with the people who care about you, like your family and close friends. Don’t isolate yourself or continuously stress over what has already happened. Practice healthy coping mechanisms to help you move forward, like physical exercise, walking in nature, meditation, journaling, painting or listening to music.
Next, take the time to reflect and accept what has happened. From what I know, time travel has not yet been invented so you can’t go back to fix your mistakes. What you can do is be present, acknowledge the failure, and learn from it. Separate the failure from your identity. Remember that even though you experienced failure, you are not a failure yourself. Making this distinction will give you perspective and compassion for yourself.
After that, be sure to take constructive criticism from the people you know genuinely have your best interest in mind. This could be your family, friends, teachers, mentors, etc. Work with them to get an outside perspective and to see where you could improve. Write down some learning points for yourself and visualize yourself applying those lessons learned in your future tasks. Create an action plan with your personal reflections and constructive criticism in mind.
Lastly, say “thank you, next” and move on with your life.