The idea of failure grips us at our most vulnerable internal place – our inner sense of self-esteem and self-love. Although intuitively we know that in reaching high we are guaranteed some degree of failure, when we fall short, that knowledge offers little or no consolation
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
“I’m a loser.”
“I can’t do anything right!”
“I’m such a failure.”
“ I failed in my marriage.”
“I failed as a parent.”
“I failed in my job.”
“If I fail that would be terrible!”
“I can’t stand failing!”
When we fail at something, all too often we think globally rather than in temporary terms. We think that we not only failed, but are failures. Feelings of unworthiness drag us down, leading to missteps and setbacks, defining us rather than merely offering feedback and educating us with useful information moving forward.
The good news is that we can build on our failures on the road to success. And in this article, I’ll show you how.
We can learn from our failures rather than being haunted by the ghosts of them. We can stop thinking in all-or-nothing, global ways, so that our mistakes and failures become stepping stones for success rather than millstones around our neck. Failure can help you succeed and grow.
We learn from history about many famous failures who became some of the most successful people on the planet.
Here are just a handful of examples:
- Walt Disney at age 22 was fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” Then Laugh O Gram Studios, one of his first ventures, went bankrupt.
- Colonel Sanders was broke at the age of 65, and with his social security check for $105 he went on the road, living in his car for 2 years, going from restaurant to restaurant to find a place to use his chicken recipe. He was rejected 1,009 times before finding an owner that would use his recipe, leading to the franchise.
- Michael Jordan was cut from his Sophomore High School basketball team.
- “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” Theodor Seuss Geisel’s first children’s book, was rejected by over 20 publishers before being published by Vanguard Press.
- At the age of 30, Steve Jobs described himself as a public failure when he was fired from the board of Apple, the company he created. This led him to develop other ventures such as Pixar Animation and NeXT, before returning to Apple a decade later, resulting in his invention of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. In his famous speech at the 2005 Stanford Commencement, he cited this failure as being the best thing that happened to him, as he could begin again in most creative period of his life.
- Thomas Edison was fired from his job after working on his own invention for hours, which ended up in a chemical spill, damaging the floor and his boss’ desk. After he was fired, he started working for himself as an inventor. Later on, as he was working on perfecting his nickel-iron battery, he told a reporter “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
These are just a few examples of the many successful people who prove that there can be success after failure. As inspirational as these stories are, most of us remain plagued by our failures rather than motivated by them. Even if we know that failure is surmountable, it does not change the way we feel about ourselves when we experience it. Failure can take a toll on our self-esteem and feelings of self-love, diminishing our sense of optimism about our future.
So how can we feel better about ourselves? Below are 10 acts of self-love when we feel like a failure.
1. Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what you do now.
The ability to forgive is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to ourselves to help us recover from our regrets and missteps.
Instead of beating yourself up for not knowing what is so obvious now, see yourself as a work in progress and give yourself the gift of forgiveness.
2. Focus on being self-compassionate.
Self-compassion is perhaps the most important element of self-esteem and resilience. It used to be thought that achievement and success–rising above the norm–is the road to high self-esteem.
However, that road to self-esteem is way too conditional and assures that anyone at or below the norm is not as worthy or special. Self-compassion gives all people, high achievers as well as lower achievers, the assurance that they are worthy of love anyway, with no conditions.
3. Stop judging yourself.
Suspending the labels you put on yourself is an act of self-love. Instead of calling yourself “a failure”, be more specific and less global.
Failing does not have to define you and your worth. Changing your self-talk from “I”m a failure” to “I could not get things to work out.” or “I made some mistakes and will use this experience as stepping stones going forward.”
4. Turn your failures into goals.
Instead of “I failed at my marriage” you can say “I had trouble communicating in my marriage and am learning to communicate better now.”
The first statement is anchored in the past that cannot be changed while the second has an eye to the future and is more empowering of what you can do now.
5. Give yourself a hug.
Instead of letting your inner critic have full reign, how about just giving yourself a hug?
We all need hugs sometimes – especially from ourselves! Don’t you deserve it?
6. Imagine yourself as a young child, full of innocence and beauty.
Keep in mind there is no such thing as worthless or failing babies and children. We possess the same worth that we had when we were born.
Sometimes we need to look behind the scars and wounds to see that preciousness is still inside of us.
No matter how much we fail, our worth remains the same and we are still beautiful.
7. Switch your mindset from being a victim to a victor.
When you feel like a failure, you see yourself as a victim of the past instead of focusing on your resilience and ability to spring back.
After all, it’s not how many times we are beaten down and fail that matters – what really matters is how many times we get back up and try again, each time a bit wiser.
8. Become more mindful.
Mindfulness is not just about meditating or breathing deeply and quietly in isolation. Rather it is staying fully in the present in our daily lives with non- judgmental awareness in whatever you do.
When we are mindful, we stay rooted in the present instead of looking back at our past missteps or anxious about the future. As the saying goes, “Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present!”
9. Calm yourself with a calming box.
Sometimes we need something tangible to sooth us when we feel down. As a therapist, I would sometimes have my clients create a self-soothing box to help them cope in stressful times.
Using actual objects that serve to distract and self-soothe can provide soothing touchstones.
A journal, a stress ball, a polished stone to remind you of your self worth and body oils are all examples of things that can be placed inside a calming box and used to soothe you when you’re feeling down.
10. Connect with others.
When people feel like a failure, all too often they isolate themselves, closing themselves up instead of opening up to others.
Seeking social support is one of the best choices you can make when you feel like a failure. Getting another person’s perspective will help you stop the tunnel vision that distorts your self-view.
Asking for help, having the courage to open yourself up instead of closing yourself down will pave the way not only for avoiding loneliness, but it will also deepen your connections with others.
These 10 action plans for defeating feelings of failure will serve as a springboard for a resilient and full life. Instead of focusing on the failure that comes with falling short, be proud that you dared to pursue your dreams with courage and enthusiasm.
To quote Winston Churchill,