At age 27, Alexandra thought she was being ‘smart and strategic’ by only pursuing opportunities she knew would work in her favor.
At work, she would only volunteer for projects she had done in the past. She only liked to vacation at places she had been to in the past and only took up hobbies she knew she would be good at.
The problem was, Alexandra had a pit in her stomach because the idea of ‘being wrong’ or ‘failing’ in any way loomed over every single choice and decision she made. She came to see me because she wanted to learn how to make the ‘right’ decision every single time.
As a psychotherapist and coach for millennials I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, just like Alexandra, figure out how to embrace failure and push past disappointment.
This might sound a little strange but failure is awesome. Yes, you read that right. Failure is awesome and here are two reasons why…plus, how to bounce back from it.
1. Every failure contains valuable information
Failure is the best way, and sometimes the only way, to gain valuable information about yourself.
You failed because something wasn’t working. You failed because you missed a vital piece of information. You failed because, while you may have done everything “right” it wasn’t the “right” time for you in your life to land that promotion, meet “the one” or achieve a certain milestone.
Failure is knowledge. You have to be able to look at each failure as a life lesson or you’ll continue to repeat the same mistakes and nothing in your life will change.
2. You build grit
When you fall down and pick yourself back up and manage to keep going you’re building “grit.” Grit is a term coined by psychologist, researcher and author, Angela Duckworth in her book called, Grit. Duckworth defines grit as, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals.”
Duckworth found that the ability to stick with things which are important to you and the ability to bounce back from disappointment is vital to long-term success and more important than intelligence and/or talent.
If you want to achieve long-term success in anything, failure will be a part of the process. The sooner you allow yourself to fail, the sooner you’ll have the chance to prove to yourself you can handle disappointment and build up your grittiness.
You took a chance and it didn’t work out — what now?
Once you get past your initial fear of failure, here are the steps you can take the next time you need to bounce back from disappointment:
1. You get to feel down (for a period of time)
Give yourself time to feel disappointment. It’s OK to feel sad about the missed opportunity or loss. But you’re not allowed to see this disappointment as a reflection of what you do and do not deserve or what you can or cannot achieve.
Alexandra viewed every mistake or misstep as a failure and therefore ‘bad and to be avoided at all costs. She needed to reframe how she perceived failure and what it meant about her as a person. She believed if she failed at something, that meant as a person — she was a failure.
You failed, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
2. Redefine the failure
Actually, what Alexandra didn’t understand was…there’s no such thing as failure. Yep. That’s right. There is no such thing as failure!
Failure is simply our judgment of a situation or event. You and I both go see the same movie. You love it and I hate it. You see it as a success but I see it as a flop. Who’s right in this situation? Both of us. Neither of us. It’s our perception of something that determines if it’s a success or failure.
So, imagine what would happen if you choose to decide to see failure is a ‘good thing?’
3. Let go of the outcome
Learning to ‘let go of the outcome’ is an incredibly valuable concept to learn and understand.
When you let go of the outcome, you’re deciding to show up, present your ideas, show your products, pitch your project and then let go of how people will receive your ideas/products/projects.
For example, this blog post. My job is to share with you my experiences and perceptions from my years as working as a therapist and coach. I determine how much time and effort I put into writing this piece. That’s it. That’s what is in my control.
What’s out of my control is the outcome. Who reads this post, how each of you receives it, whether or not you agree with my thoughts and experiences, whether you like or hate my writing style and on and on. All of those things are out of my control.
If I feel like I’ve put time and effort into this post and I like the final product but someone who reads it doesn’t, then why does that mean this post is a failure?
4. Dig deep to determine what’s really stopping you
Learning to let go of the outcome (the part we have no control over) is a powerful concept because how many times have you stopped yourself from going after something you really wanted because you feared it wouldn’t turn out how you wanted?
I want you to grab a notebook and answer these questions: “What is one goal I’m telling myself I can’t achieve because I fear failure?” Once you have your answer, then ask yourself, “In terms of this goal, what is in and what is out of my control?”
Then look at the things you listed as “out of your control” those are parts of the “outcome.” If you think about achieving your goal and said to yourself, “How would I feel if I let go of the outcome?”
It’s this mindset that will allow you to go after the things you want to achieve and not get stuck in a place of fear. Suddenly going after new and difficult things won’t feel so scary.
The most amazing things happened when Alexandra stopped worrying about making mistakes or fearing failure.
The knot in her stomach went away, but more importantly, she discovered she was far stronger than she believed. She assumed she was a “sensitive” or “fragile” person who couldn’t handle things, when in fact she was an incredibly strong and determined person.
Alexandra finally stopped believing she had to avoid failure and while she doesn’t totally believe failure is awesome, she has taken some chances and has surprised herself when she was able to bounce back from disappointment.