“Life is a process of becoming. A combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” ~Anais Nin
I’ve always been an optimist, looking for the good in situations, even when they seem like the bleakest thing that could happen to me or the people around me.
But failure is a difficult one to turn on its ear.
You know when you don’t reach your goal. You know when you don’t get what you wanted.
Now I know the Rolling Stones sang “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” And you know what? Those lines never sat well with me—to just sit and accept it.
So, even though I know there are reasons I didn’t make it big as a recording artist—and that my Pilates business didn’t fulfill me, and that I’ve experienced the sting of working at companies that decided to shut down—I have always refused to simply shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well!”
I decided to find a new way to handle failure and to not only look at in a more optimistic way, but also find within it clues for my next move.
Here’s what I discovered.
Failure is a step toward your ultimate success. It’s a lesson. A challenge. A chance.
When I struggled with my Pilates business, for example, I realized I needed to ascertain where the bulk of my money was coming from and then do more of that. So I made a plan and moved forward. I started doing more of what I loved and what was bringing in income, and less of what wasn’t.
If you’re also dealing with failure, I recommend these three steps to turn it into success:
Try to look at the situation from different angles. You might ask your friends or family members to give you their honest feedback. Don’t just look for the type of support that will feed your ego; seek out perspectives from people who may not have been supportive during the process.
The important part of this step is to listen, take in the information, and then synthesize everything you know of your failure into a complete picture of what happened and why.
Try not to react emotionally to anything you discover or that people express to you.
While you’re gaining a new perspective, be open to ideas for moving forward. People might offer them without you asking. Be prepared for that. Allow them to speak, thank them for their feedback, and move on.
When you feel like you have enough ideas to form a new plan of action, write them out on paper.
You may have to detach a little bit and pretend you’re looking at someone else’s situation, especially when people are offering varied suggestions.
For me, the word revise is a nice way to give myself permission to let go of this failure or path completely. Be willing to step back from anything that isn’t working in your life.
Once you have a new plan or at least an idea of how you want to proceed, the most crucial thing you can do to overcome feeling like a failure is to embrace your new path and focus.
As hard as it may be, you can’t spend any more time second guessing yourself or replaying the pity party of why it didn’t work “the other way.”
Now, in my case, Pilates was easy to reframe. I know I’m happy to be a certified teacher and it served me to follow that path while I was on it. I still do Pilates and keep my own practice strong, so that in the case that some day comes where I do want to teach again, I can. But for now, I’m good.
My struggles with singing have not been so easy to reframe or revise, mostly because it’s painful for me to talk about this with anyone. I’m still trying to fully release my feelings of failure in the music industry so I can move on empowered.
Still, I know I accomplished what I set out to do on some level. I wrote and recorded music with some amazing people—Grammy Award winning producers—and I was able to get a CD up in the iTunes store. For me, that’s really cool.
I love that I can go there right now and find my music. It’s a beautiful marker for something I was extremely passionate about.
Now It's Your Turn
Ask yourself if you’re holding onto a failure or disappointment in your life. Why are you hanging on to it?
Seek support from other people who know you and who you trust to give you gentle feedback—especially if the “failure” feels fresh, even after many years.
Decide how you will move forward and use what you’ve learned to create a new plan, to let the past go to make room in your life for your new dreams.
In this way, failures don’t feel so final; they feel like a twist on a path of exploration. That's a path I'm happy to take.
Reframe. Refocus. Revise. Rinse. And repeat.
Photo by Mobilephotos@heidenstrom