Failure—the wicked step-sister to success—can be a real pain. And the worst part is accepting failure for what it is: a step backwards. Few of us enjoy realizing that we’ve just face-planted into the ground, despite Michael Kane’s voice in our heads saying, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” That’s finding success in failure.
But instead of calmly accepting failure and picking ourselves right back up, we avoid it like the plague. Failure becomes the enemy. It represents the gap between where we are and where we want to be. But just as Cinderella wouldn’t have been invited to the ball without her wicked stepsisters, success can’t be achieved without failure. Instead of doing everything possible to avoid failure and to defend ourselves against it, we can change our mindsets to expect failure and learn to see it as a welcome opportunity to go to the ball.
Changing our mindsets is always easier said than done. But there are a few ways we can actively work to be more accepting of and responsive to failure:
1. Keep a journal
In the story of Cinderella, the wicked step-sisters provide countless examples of what not to do to achieve “happily ever after” (e.g., don’t bicker in public, don’t lie to get a date with the prince, etc.). Likewise, every time we fail at something, we have a new example of what not to do to achieve success. But all of these examples are useless if we don’t remember them.
The best way to keep track of the dos and don’ts on your road to success is to write them down. Keeping a journal requires taking the time and effort to record your experiences and feelings. In order to really benefit from journaling, you have to spend time looking at your failures (and successes) from multiple angles; you have to evaluate what went right and what went wrong.
For example, as a college student, I wanted to be successful. For me, that meant having a final GPA of at least 3.5. But I kept making Bs and Cs on my papers and exams. Rather than just memorizing a series of bad scores, I decided to log all of my grades into a notebook, recording the grade I received, any feedback from professors, and a quick assessment of what I could have done better. As I created study plans for future assignments, I was able to look back and see what habits or choices I should actively avoid to be more successful.
2. Write down specific goals
Having a record of past failures and successes won’t be useful if you don’t create an improvement plan for achieving future success. One of the hardest parts of failing is being hit with the overwhelming question of what to do next. Where do we even start? The answer is to start on paper!
Read through your journal to get a feel for the logical and emotional steps you took that led towards failure. Ask yourself a few questions:
- “What was my ultimate goal in the first place?”
- “Why was that my goal?”
- “Did I lay out a step-by-step plan to reach that goal?”
- “Did I give myself adequate time to succeed?”
Next, create a game plan for round two. Set a small goal for yourself. For example, if your ultimate goal is to finish writing a novel, set a small goal to write for 30 minutes right after dinner every day. Set a reminder on your phone or ask a family member to help you remember. After a couple days, sitting down for dinner may automatically remind you to write. That small goal can soon turn into a habit that will help you find success in the long run.
3. Share your experiences with others
Failure can bring us closer to other people. It humanizes us and widens our social sphere, exposing us to three different kinds of people:
Empathizers are those who have experienced similar failures to you. And they probably have goals similar to yours as well. Discussing your failures with an empathizer can bring you comfort and help you accept your failures for what they are—the first steps towards moving on.
Competitors are people who have similar goals to you and consequently can’t help but see how your failure benefits them. The longer it takes you to reach the goal, the more time they have to reach it first. These acquaintances won’t necessarily spit in your face and keep running, but they may offer fewer condolences than those who feel empathy for you. However, in the end, being aware of competitors can help you find the drive to jump back into the race and push a little harder.
Mentors are your fairy godmothers—those who have already achieved their goals and now have the resources to help others achieve theirs. They may not be the best at consoling you about your failures, but they’re very good at pushing you back onto your feet to try again. Mentors can offer practical advice and help you find the right mindset and the right goals to reach success.
When sharing your experiences with both failure and success, you’ll meet all three types of people. Building relationships and connections with each type can be beneficial for you, as it can bring you comfort and resolve.
None of this changes the fact that failure sucks, but if we learn to look at it as an opportunity to change who we are and get in shape to go to the ball, we’ll be a lot happier in the long run.
What has failure taught you over the years?