The Power of Failure: We Get to Decide What It Means

Happy Woman

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Why does this affect me so? What am I feeling? Sheer Anger! Total disgust with myself. Hatred and disappointment in my life stain my thoughts. Why? Because in my ego’s opinion, I should already be who I am meant to be, and I am not there! Not by a mile.

I feel so much disgust. My fears and resentment have grown into hatred and pain. I am at a loss for who I never became. Full of shame, I see that I have wasted my life—or so I perceive it that way.

It is hard to accept this. I am so sorry that I have failed so frequently at empowering myself. Seriously, what extremes must I take to wake up and say, “I am finally okay with myself; I am here, warts and all”?

Instead, life has molded me, shaped me, and created me where I am right now.

Tears of anger fill my eyes. Why pursue so many times my desire to make something of myself? What am I making?

What did I expect to have happened already? Who did I think I was supposed to be? Fear, disappointment, and sadness shadow me as I have moved on.

Now I am asking myself, “What would someone who loves themselves do?”

It struck me, what if I decided to define what I believe I failed at? As I looked at my life, what I perceived as success and failure started to unravel.

I was learning how I defined each of these two words. This was a monumental moment for me.

Because I experienced my power at a young age of believing I could do anything, believing that I could make anything happen, I concluded in my late twenties, as one dead end led to another, that I couldn't maintain, sustain, or become successful at what I really wanted.

Attempts to open a restaurant failed as investors backed out. My joy and passion as a pastry chef failed at so many corners, it drove me mad. As a successful pastry chef in Chicago, my experience in my move to Seattle changed my belief.

Several jobs within a year, eventually attempting to do something on my own, I faced many frustrations. With enthusiasm from being told I was one of the best vegan pastry chefs around, I thought I could make a success of myself—and yet, no one would hire me. Why? 

Was it not clear just how much I was dedicated to making this happen? Was it not understood that I used my last cent to give it my best shot? Penniless, having moved five times in one year, dealing with a car accident and my dog running away brought me to one dead end after another. I finally surrendered, and gave up.

When I reflect back on my life, I can see that if I had succeeded in these endeavors, I never would have worked on my own healing and opened up to my own gifts as a healer. Fate or destiny had another plan for me.

My definition of failure became clear to me. It didn’t help that I believed I could not make much money. (Or was it that I believed I wasn't worth a lot?)

Because I lacked the skillful means to ask for help, needed to improve my coaching skills, and had minimal computer skills, I felt like I didn’t have the strength to sustain anything on my own (especially as resources back then were considerably different than what they are today).

I felt it had all led me down a big black hole that I defined as failure.

Then one day I sat down and made a bullet list showing all the failures on one side and all the successes on the other side. All of a sudden I had a light bulb moment where it was clear that I had more successes than I ever thought.

I began seeing my strengths. Looking at my failures and successes this way has changed the charge I have on it. I'm not afraid of ideas, or starting something and making something out of nothing. This is not failure!

As I continued looking and decoding my thoughts, I could see that I connected my self-worth and self-esteem with money and earnings in my definition. That is not success. That is all about old beliefs and being stuck in them.

I have changed in twenty years. And now, I can see how different I am. My past is not my future. My worth is not based on money, talents, or what I have proven to myself or the world. Success is not a destination; it is how we choose to live our life on a daily basis.

I can only now see this. At a young age, there was no way I could see it..

Life needs to create “failures” so we have two viewpoints to reference from.

I’ve recognized that I am quite successful at many things. As I looked at my successes on my bullet list, I realized that I need to market my strengths and hire someone for the things I'm not great at. Maybe even get a coach. As my excitement bubbled up, for the first time in my adult life, I felt I was becoming myself.

By redefining this word “failure,” I learned that I am able to move forward and embrace who I am becoming.  The guilt, the anger, the wishes and desires that shadow my past can fade away.

The illusions of who I was and who I am can fade as my authentic self emerges and rises above. I get to create success now through my choices. I can rejoice that I have made it thus far. For me, that is magical. I feel I am enough.

That is how someone who loves themselves gets to decide what failure means.

Photo by Ian D. Keating

About Shakti Chionis

A lover of life, magic, and miracles, Shakti has made a journey of self-love committing to 365 days asking a profound question "What would someone who loves themselves do?" Join her blog and discover how she reclaims her authentic self at 365 Days...Expect a Miracle*.

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  • Michael Saunders

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Shakti. A very influential teacher in my life Pema Chodron has said that success and failure are the path. We all too often fear failure and get too attached to wanting success. The trick is to not get caught up in the success-failure duality and instead to maintain one’s equanimity regardless of what happens in our lives.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message!!! Congratulations, that breakthrough sounds liberating, empowering, and joyful! 🙂

  • growthguided

    It is vital for ourselves to be shaped by the context of failures. If life were an easy breeze we would just sit back and live in sloth, with no care for our fellow being and progress!

    Thank you for this great post

  • Michael Scott Dembesky

    Love it!!!!!!!!!!!! This was awesome… well said, well lived & well done!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Shakti

    That is a good message. I agree. I have been on retreats before with Pema Chodron in the teachings. I follow Thrangu Rinpoche. His teachings are priceless and so precious.

  • Shakti

    I wish I had a wise teacher at such a young age to help me see the wisdom in it so much sooner. I really didn’t like going through THAT many challenges! But, this is my life and this is my path and I accept it all. I have really grown since and am grateful for my new perspectives. It makes life much more joyful.

  • Shakti

    Glad it resonated with you and so many. I wrote it after reading a book called the 9 insights. There was a section on failure. After I read it, all this raw emotional stuff came out and I was wowed by it! It was one of those moments that I knew I had been given a key of understanding. I’m glad to share it.

  • Shakti

    I like to see it as relief. I feel these last few months living with the question, “What would someone who loves themselves do?” has brought me tremendous relief. It is an incredible journey and it’s only been 4 1/2 months! I still have 8 to go! Wow.

  • lv2terp

    SO FANTASTIC!!!! 🙂 That is an exciting place to be, I have experienced that often over the last 4 yrs…good for you! 🙂 That is a great question to ask yourself, and to practice, so it becomes habit in each situation you are faced with that trigger you. Remember to be kind to yourself when you falter 😉

  • jesse

    this article speaks to me, thank you!

  • Donna

    What a great question to ask yourself! Congratulations on realising your successes and why that failure had to happen. It’s so hard to see at the time, but life is so often ‘for’ us, and the sucky things that happen are actually gifts. (it’s the reason I want a time machine, so I can go forward and find the gift…or go back and tell me then the gift!) Good luck with your next phase!

  • Matt Schmidt

    Without failure how do we advance? We need failure to learn from our mistakes and grow.

  • Luca Samson

    Hey Matt,

    We do need failure to advance, but is it really failure if you stop, look at whats been done wrong and correct it to advance?

    Sure, its failure if you fail at something and then just leave it and don’t try to improve. But I don’t see it as failure if you actively try to make a change and improve.


  • Needed this today. I’ve been going through this lately and I’m doing better, but not as well as I’d like.

    Thank you for this post.

  • Thank you for sharing your life lessons Shakti. Life creates failure so we have different perspectives! I’ve come to see what you talk about in my own life in many different variations. Failure has in fact help me face those things which I didn’t wish to see. I felt like a hidden sea shell hidden on the beach – failure washed over me like a wave, over and over til i came up on the beach. A few more waves later and I’m sitting on the beach, know my place in life and shine a little bit brighter. I didn’t want failure but have come appreciate it in my life.

    I like how you say failure helps us come in contact with our true essence. If failure does so many positive things, is it really failure:) ? Why do we think of it as such.

  • Shakti

    You are very welcome. Sometimes the right people show up at the perfect moment.

  • kyy

    Dear Shakti,

    thanks so much for this well-written article that tackles such an important topic in our lives. I’d like to ask what you would recommend to partners/friends of people who are dealing with a row of ‘failures’ and can’t seem to find their way out of the forest? I wonder as my boyfriend has experienced a couple of harsh set backs in his career (loosing a job, becoming self-employed, investors withdrawing, serious money problems, various entrepreneurial ideas but no financial means and/or contacts to set them up..). I have always been very supportive, but start to doubting his path and hate myself for second-guessing his approaches. I would like to be kind and understanding but feel the pressure is starting to eating me up too. So I wondered if you had any ideas of dealing mindfully with the situation and being a great support to him?

    Thanks a billion and loves and light to you!

  • Shakti

    I have some suggestions, but I don’t know how willing he is for this. Everything stems from our beliefs. Ones that we don’t even know about. Everything sits inside our subconscious mind. So even if he has changed as an adult into seeing things differently (as I did), the childhood beliefs sit deeply hooking us very subtly. Often we have no recollection of it until we find a list of things one after another just not feeling like we are getting it “together”. If you go to my blog and use the contact form, send me an email that I can respond privately. I have a few ideas that may help. Thanks for reaching out.

  • I feel like a failure at the moment. I failed to start a business. I haven’t got the chance to start my career change. It seems like I suck at chasing my passion, and it hit my confidence real hard. I pull out from my social circle ‘cos I feel ashamed of my failure. All these self-blaming also affect how I treat those close to my heart, I start to resent them because I feel like they were somehow either blaming me too or pitying me. Then, I realize that it starting to get unhealthy which could lead me to depression!
    Today, I am making a decision to leave it all behind. I believe this failure is trying to teach me something, just like Katy Perry sings it “maybe you’re the reason why all the doors are closed, so you could open one that leads you to the perfect road…”
    And knowing that there are people out there going through similar situation and surpass it, really helps! So, thank you Shakti for sharing your story and let us learn something from it.

  • Manoj Sethi
  • Jason Holborn

    Well there’s a lot here for me to mull over and consider; this was good for me to find. Thank you, namaste.

  • Tiffany

    This really speaks to me right now. I absolutely feel like a failure. I don’t think making a list is going to help me. Do I drop the ego and just wait for the universe to work, or do I push forward to get what I deserve? Or do I deserve it at all? … Crap.

  • Carl Kevin

    Thank you for sharing this nice article. it really gave me enough knowledge about failure. You can visit my blog
    and give some comment/s about my life. Thank you! God Bless.

  • peteski72

    Like many have said. I woke up today, feeling so down. Unfortunately, it is an ALL too familiar state. I have been searching for a way out for more years then I would like to say. But it is getting harder to move on. I want to give up, but it is not what I want.
    I try to stop smoking and failed. I know what I need to do but it seems I don’t give a damn about myself to overcome.
    I totally understand why Robin Williams did what he did. And understand his fight. He was exhausted by the EVER lasting torment. He had highs and lows. Times he felt on top of the world, then extreme lows.
    Thanks to everyone for coming forward. I thought I was alone.

  • Monicaiman

    Love this..these words have spelled out the feelings others cannot put into words: Why does this affect me so? What am I feeling? Sheer Anger! Total disgust with myself. Hatred and disappointment in my life stain my thoughts. Why? Because in my ego’s opinion, I should already be who I am meant to be, and I am not there! Not by a mile.