You are not a failure and if you need a reminder of this, just keep reading and your entire outlook on success and failure will change.
As a rule of thumb, humans are very optimistic and hopeful by nature. It takes a lot of missteps and bad luck to turn that optimism around and make one feel like a failure.
Sometimes it can be the world’s fault, sometimes our own fault. Most often it’s a combination of both.
The challenges and problems you’re going through don’t even have to be that difficult. In fact, your situation might be stable overall, neither great nor bad, but livable.
What can really make you feel like a failure however, is the sense of stagnation. You haven’t achieved the objectives you’ve set out for yourself and you feel like you’re standing still. This becomes even worse if you compare yourself to others who seem to have put their lives together.
Other times, it’s not stagnation that makes one feel like a failure. Sometimes you put in all the work required to move ahead, but the efforts just don’t seem to connect. You’re close to success, but things then fall apart.
You Are Not a Failure
You are capable of success, just look back to your past
By far the biggest problem when going through a rough moment in life is being convinced that you’re a born failure, and that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Before you persuade yourself into thinking this, take a moment and look back at your past successes.
If you can’t think of a past success, that means you are stuck in a negative loop where you downplay your achievements and exaggerate your failures.
As part of the loop, you trick yourself into thinking that all your past achievements happened because of pure luck or external factors and that your skill had nothing to do with it.
Other times you’ll just say that your achievements were too small to matter, and were just the “normal thing to do”.
What Counts as Success?
- Not smoking for a whole day, if you’re a smoker who wants to quit.
- Cleaning the room, or the fridge, or the bathroom if you’re depressed.
- Getting your resume in order and applying for jobs.
- Reaching the interview stage for a potential job.
- Getting a date or even having a short relationship.
- Fixing something around the house by yourself.
- Landing a job, even one you’re not particularly excited for.
Why is this even relevant?
Because life’s great successes – a satisfying career, a happy relationship, a good work-life balance, health etc – are really just a huge collection of small successes that are tightly connected.
Thus, if you can do just one small thing right, then you can do all of the other small steps too. All you have to do is to do the small successes, and also be aware of them.
And finally, there’s another reason why you should remember past successes: if you’ve done it once, you can do it again.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – President Theodore Roosevelt
Julius Caesar is the last man you would expect to cry of envy, but that’s what he did when he learned of the achievements of Alexander the Great. By age 30, Alexander had conquered much of the known world, but Caesar hadn’t yet done anything memorable.
Comparisons don’t even make us feel disappointed in ourselves. Instead, they make us feel inferior to others by contrasting our achievements to theirs.
A lot of the times, feeling like a failure isn’t connected with your own achievements. Instead, you’ll judge your success (or failure) based on how far ahead or behind you are compared to your peers.
This, however, ignores the fact that people move at their own pace. Some people connect the dots early on in life, in their early or mid-twenties. Others do so in their late thirties or early forties.
In Caesar’s case, he left his mark on the world starting from his late 40’s onwards.
Accept the failure, then move on
Often times, the most damaging part of a personal failure isn’t the pain it causes to your life. Problems such as money shortages, breakups, disappointed families or friends can be worked out with time and effort.
Instead, the most haunting impact of failure is the damage to your identity and self-esteem.
Everyone interprets their life through the filter of a personal story: they see themselves as the entrepreneur, or the good romantic partner, or the good parent, or the good professional.
A major personal failure in any one of those failures can make a person feel like they’ve lost their identity (or at least a part of it).
A breakup forces one to rethink if they are a desirable romantic partner. A failed business forces the entrepreneur to rethink if they are good businessmen. The parent of an unruly child will ask where it all went wrong.
However, failures however are normal. Sometimes, they are even a required step you must complete in order to achieve a sense of success. In a way, it’s fair to consider failure as a way of “paying your dues”.
Failure doesn’t mean the destruction of one’s identity, but it has to be accepted and then integrated into how a person sees themselves.
The important lessons failure teaches
The good part about failure is that it’s a bright, neon light that says “BE CAREFUL, THIS IS PROBABLY A MISTAKE”.
This in itself is a very big deal. Sometimes failure is a big wake-up call that whatever it was you were doing is not the right thing to do. In this case, failure is a major signal to fix your approach and try something else. In short, it’s is a chance to grow and become better.
This might be obvious, but many people don’t see failure as a chance to grow. Instead they approach their failure as a victim, and choose to believe that the world is out to get them. This belief halts growth and leads to a vicious circle of disappointment.
More than success ever can:
- You have the strength to start and carry something to completion, even if it doesn’t work in the end.
- You will get to know yourself better, your strengths and weaknesses.
- You will learn more about the “unknown unknowns” of life.
- You can better measure your chances of success in future projects or relationships.
- You will learn to have a backup, or at least be prepared if things don’t turn out how you want them to.
Failure can offer a clean break from an unhealthy situation
What at first appears like a failure, can be a form of liberation. It’s easy for anyone to wind up in a situation that is unhealthy but be too exhausted to fight out of it. Examples of this abound stressful workplace, toxic relationship, harmful living conditions, etc.
For people that are trapped like this, the unhealthy situation becomes a part of their identity and who they are. Yes, their workplace sucks, but at least they have one. Yes, their relationship is broken, but at least they have someone to go home to.
When these are gone, however, the emptiness is at first terrifying. But then it becomes hopeful and opens up the chance for renewal: a better job, a healthier relationship.
Free from the past, you can look towards a better future.
You’ve failed, now start something new again
The 100%, guaranteed method to continue feeling like a failure is to simply do nothing. It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to mourn and think over your failures. That’s fine, it’s normal.
But doing nothing for too long is a sure-fire way of prolonging the negativity and going down deeper and deeper in the vicious cycle.
But there’s an easy way to break out of the downward spiral: starting a new project that is useful to you.
The point of a new project is to get you moving, to channel mental energies away from the failure and unto a new challenge that offers hope.
It doesn’t really matter how big or small your project is. It can be learning a new language, a manual skill, mastering a piece of software, or starting a new training regime. The only thing that matters is that you find it useful, and it engages your energy and mind.
Humans can adapt to many hardships, but they cannot do it without hope that things will get better.
Always Remember: You Are NOT a Failure
The phase you are in right now is at most temporary. As the old motto goes, life has its ups and downs and right now you’re in the down period. It’s true that not all down periods are alike, some are shorter, while others are longer. Some downs are deeper, while others are so shallow you barely feel them.
But all are temporary. Overcoming these dips will make you stronger, better and the same time wiser. You won’t just learn how to navigate through the bad times, but also how to live the good times, and that is skill just as useful.