Dealing With Failure In Life
Failure is an inevitable part of life. Humans learn best through failure, and most people will fail many times in their lifetime. Failure starts practically at birth, and many people will fail until the day they die. Embracing this natural part of life is essential to learning to deal with failure and using it as a way to enjoy a richer and more abundant life.
I speak from experience because I often feared failure. One of my goals was to travel and see the world before my 40th birthday. I read countless articles on how to work and travel at the same time, how to minimize my life to save for travel, and how to rent out my apartment and car while I was on the road.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” – Napoleon Hill
I made all of my plans, booked my flights in advance, and started dreaming of my fabulous new travel life. Then, I got down to the weeks before I was to depart. Fear set in. What if I got sick while overseas? What if I couldn’t make my travel work and I had to come back after a week? Who would I have to talk to? What if I couldn’t find a job when I got back? Will my friends laugh at me for attempting to take this journey and ultimately failing?
Ultimately, I had to face my fear of failure. I told myself that I would regret not taking the chance when I could. That ultimately was the catalyst that helped me overcome my fear of failure. I eventually took the trip, and it was a fantastic experience I’ll never forget.
What Babies Can Teach Us About Failure
Babies are not afraid to fail. When they are a few months old, they attempt to stand on their own, wobbly legs. The first time they try this, they fall, ultimately failing at the task. They eventually learn that they can hold on to the side of the couch or an adult’s legs to help them in their quest to stand. Eventually, their legs become stronger, and they stand on their own. But not before many falls and a whole lot of trial and error.
After mastering standing, they start to try to walk. And the process of failure starts all over again. Babies will fall again and again before they can walk, but the knowledge that they could fall doesn’t stop them in their quest. Eventually, they walk, and then later run.
If babies feared failure, we would have an entire population of adults who could only sit on the floor for their whole lives. We could all take a lesson from babies who see failing as part of the process, not the end of the road.
Why People Fear Failure
The root of the fear of failure can often be tied to childhood or past trauma. Children who grew up with overly critical parents often grow into adults who are paralyzed with fear at the idea of failure. In many cases, these children tried to please their parents, but finding that nothing they did was good enough, eventually stopped trying altogether. Without the right amount of therapy, these thoughts of inadequacy can cripple them in adulthood, making it difficult for them to take necessary risks.
Before the advent and spread of the Internet, it was easy to make mistakes, forget about them, and move on. Outside of a few people in your inner circle, nobody knew about your failures. Now, with the widespread reach of the Internet and social media, failure can be public, humiliating, and long-lasting.
Consider the man who attempted to cheat during a Skype job interview. The candidate arranged for another man off-camera to answer the interviewer’s questions, while he simply lip-synched along with the voice. The interviewer quickly figured out the sham and confronted the candidate. The video went viral, and the man was publicly humiliated. His failures exist for the world to see and comment on.
It is not surprising that so many struggle with the fear of failure.
You Don’t Have to Believe Everything You Think
One of the main obstacles to overcoming a fear of failure is our thoughts. Our brains have a way of creating situations that don’t exist or dreaming up consequences that are out of proportion to our perceived failures. A person may think that failing a college course may mean that all of their friends and family will be ashamed of them and disown them. Another person may think that a negative review on their business page will mean their company will close, and they will have to file for bankruptcy and lose their home and family.
The reality is that we often talk ourselves into anxiety over failure. One of the ways to overcome this is to think realistically about what failure actually means. Does failing at a task mean you’re a bad person? No. Does failure mean the loss of everything you hold dear? Usually not. If you fail, will you be able to recover and start again? Usually.
Understanding that you can recover from most failures is the first step in learning how to face failure in life and not allowing the fear of it stop you from accomplishing great things.
How Fear of Failure Manifests Itself
There are several ways that a fear of failure can manifest itself in real-life situations.
Doubt and Paralysis: People will avoid trying new things for fear that they will fail. They may simply choose to do nothing when faced with a difficult task. They may also defer to others to make decisions on their behalf.
Self-Sabotage: People who fear failure may sabotage their own efforts by procrastinating, failing to follow through, and giving up on their goals just before completion.
Low Self-Esteem: Thoughts of self-doubt, “I’m not good enough to get good grades,” or “I’m not smart enough to get a promotion at work so I won’t even try.”
Perfectionism: “If I can’t do this perfectly the first time, I won’t even attempt it. I can’t fail.”
How To Handle Failure
Facing failure is easier if you have a plan of action in place to deal with the possible negative outcomes of your attempts. If you plan to start a business, for example, it helps to have savings to fall back on or an alternative if the business fails.
Another way to deal with failure is to look at the possible outcomes of your decision to take action. In many cases, people exaggerate the possible outcomes and talk themselves out of taking the risk. By examining the outcomes, they won’t be as intimidating when you have to face them.
Tactics to Deal With Fear of Failure
Imagine the best-case scenario. Imagine how your life will improve when you take the action you need to take and succeed. Picture yourself succeeding at what you undertake. Some people create physical vision boards with photos of what they want in life. Others keep online journals or use goal-setting apps. By visualizing yourself succeeding, you will be better equipped to face your fear of failure.
Set Small Goals
Maybe the idea of packing up your entire life and backpacking across the globe is a bit daunting right now. Start with taking weekend trips away. Once you have mastered the art of living in a different place for a few days, book a week-long trip. From there, build up to your around the world trek. By enjoying small “wins” along the way, you will gradually decrease your fear of failing and be able to tackle the big tasks.x
Think of Other Failures You Have Overcome
There have been times in the past when you have failed at some task. Did you recover? Tell yourself that as long as you’re still alive, there is time to recover from a failed situation. The adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may sound cliche but it is true. Failure builds resilience and makes you more knowledgeable about how to succeed in the future.
It can also help to think of others who failed before they succeeded. Michael Jordan was not picked for his high school’s basketball team because his coach didn’t think he was skilled enough. He went on to practice until he got better and went on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Thomas Edison attempted to create the light bulb more than 10,000 times before he succeeded. Understand that you will not be the first or last person to try and then fail. With that knowledge, you will be better able to take the risks you need to take on the path to greatness.
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The fear of failure is real. Many people struggle with learning how to deal with failure over a lifetime. Many successful people have failed multiple times before ultimately enjoying the fruits of their labor. Understanding the root of this fear and taking real steps to tackle it is key to living a life of abundance. By using tactics to overcome your fear of failure, you can start taking the risks you need to take to accomplish your life’s goals.