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How to Deal with Failure

Umesh Rijal 
on 30 June 2020

LinkedIn


I would like to start the article by sharing my personal story. I am not new to the failure; I've failed in so many aspects so far in life that failure would definitely outweigh successes. I had failed in examinations, failed in romance, failed in relationships, failed in starting businesses, failed in persuading parents, failed in grabbing some opportunities that could really boost my career, failed in recognizing who are my true friends and who are superficial, and so on. Few years back, I had reached at a point from where I thought I would take my life and be free of all the failures once and for all. And still I failed to take my life; the thought didn't fully materialize. As of writing this article, I am still sure that so many failures are still on my way as I make progress into my life. The lesson I learned from all those failures is that, 'failure doesn't shape our life; it's how we perceive the failure.'

Failure has been defined in the dictionary as, 'lack of success'. The word was originated from the Anglo - Norman French word failer which meant 'non - occurrence' and 'cessation of supply', which in mid 17th century became failure. It is one of the most common used words all around the world; we've encountered it at least a few times in our lives no matter who we are or what we are. When we pursue something and we do not get what we want, we account is as the failure. Failure may be of different types and forms, and it really can hurt us if we let it.

If we think about it: failure is not the enemy or the root cause of our misery; we are. Failure is an event like any other happy or success event - so the enemy is our perception or understanding, and the meaning we give to the failure. We are a being whose whole life is intact on the basis of representation. We represent some events as success and be happy, and some as failure and be despondent. Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death has mentioned so much about our nature, how we measure things, what are we afraid of, and most importantly our representing nature. Likewise Anthony Robins in his books Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within has also talked about how we perceive things by attaching meaning to it; we give meaning to something as per our desire or as we want it to be - we see things through our own mental eye rather than seeing as it is.

Dealing with Failure

Hence, when we think we failed; we see inability to achieve something, inability to convey something, inability to produce something, inability to console ourselves, and etcetera as failure. A person who could not pass an examination might think that his/her life is over since he/she couldn't even pass an examination, so how is he/she going to sustain in other aspects of life. People generalize the failure in some aspects of life to the whole of life itself. And this is the reason we feel overwhelmed and miserable even due to trivial events which don't happen as we'd thought. When a person fails in a romantic relationship; she/he might perceive that she/he is not fit to live in this world because, if she/he is not even acknowledged by a boy/girl, how the entire world is going to acknowledge her/him. When a person fails to start a business or his/her business goes in to bankruptcy; such person might perceive the event as the end of the world itself, since, his/her world has been the business itself - and such person didn't even think about the world outside of his business. Likewise, if we look into the failure and our wretchedness, we can find similar representations of the failure that have been causing us the tremor that we are feeling.

The question that is innate to arise at this particular moment is that, how can we change our representation or how can we not feel despaired by the failures. The answer is that we must change how we perceive things; especially success or failures. As Anthony Robins once said, 'there are no failures in life - just results'; we must start seeing things as it is rather than through our personalized and customized binocular focusing only on what we want to see. We need to understand the fundamental concept of the human life i.e. we can't control the whole world; we can only control ourselves, our thoughts, and thus our actions. If we start to look things in this way, without a doubt there is going to be a tremendous shift in how we think and perceive things. This is the first step towards living a healthy, balanced, and progressive life.

Almost all of us in our culture are brought up in the way that we depend on some external factors to measure our level of sadness, happiness, success, failures, and every other thing. We do not want to be left behind; we are in a race - a race that is never ending; just when we think we need to take a break from the race, we see other are still on the race, and with the fear of being left we join the race again: Robert T. Kiyosaki has mentioned one aspect of this as the 'rat race' in is bestselling book Rich Dad and Poor Dad. 

 

Let's muse for a moment, when we are in actual physical race, can we think about anything clearly and have a deep understanding on this? I am cent percent confident that the answer is NO. Likewise, when we engage ourselves in the continuous race in every aspect of our lives, we are unable to think things through; we are unable to know what we want, what we need, and where we want to be. And the result is: despite accumulating tons of wealth, achieving huge academic success, possessing immense personal and political power, despite having a loving and a healthy family, we still are unsatisfied with what we've achieved, where we are, and feel miserable. What do you think the reason is? The reason is the race we'd engaged ourselves with. We were so busying participating in the race, we never gave a yawning attention to what we actually want in our life, what we actually want to achieve, where we actually want to be, what actually are our strengths and weaknesses, what actually are our core beliefs and values, and why we are doing what we are doing. We didn't think whether the resources we'd possessed are aligned with what we desire, we failed to recognize the gaps between our desire and the resources, and ways to fulfill them.

However, there are tons of evidences in this same culture to support that, this is not the natural way to live life. Steven R. Covey, in his immensely famous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has mentioned that, 'how many of us think in our deathbeds that we'd spend more time in office or watching TV?  The answer is no one. We think about loved ones, families, and the people we have served.' The things that seem to have mattered a lot while living our life are not the things that actually matter at all, what matters is our contribution to others.

Like Thomas Alva Edison had once said, 'I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work'; in order to cope up with the failure, the first thing we need to do is to change how we represent things. Then, we must peel up the layers of our representations to find out our core reasons, or beliefs, or values that compelled us to have that representation in the first place. This is not an easy exercise to do, however, the benefit it provides immeasurably outweigh the effort we are required to put on. Like a doctor can't treat the patient until he/she diagnose the disease and the causes; we can't make a progress in healthy lifestyle until we know the fundamental reasons of our despair. After that, we can start the process of making progress in healing ourselves, aligning our values or beliefs or principles in such a way that meets the criteria to achieve our goal.

Fundamentally, we should not feel miserable by any failure that may befall upon us in our life. Rather we must understand that we might have done something in a way that didn't support achieving the desired result. If we failed in exam, the reasons might be - poor preparation, lack of calmness and composedness during the examination despite being prepared, or other factors. Once we understood the real reason of our failure, we can work on removing the failure factors. Sometimes we are so immersed in the problem or work or worry that we fail to gain the different perspective. I personally use the technique of detachment or going away from the problem space for the time being to divert my attention; and when I return back to the problem after the break, I gain new perspective, new idea, or new ways of looking at things. This technique has never failed me until now, and I am certain this will continue to benefit me in the future as well. Likewise, I travel especially into the remote villages, wilderness, or go for trekking or hiking, or go to watch the view of the city from a hill, in order to gain multitude of perspective in any type of difficult situations; since, nature or environment are the symbol of balance: and, we seek balance in every aspect of our life, don't we?  

Similarly, many hacks and techniques are sold by the self - help gurus around the world. Whatever the technique might be - the fundamental of dealing with failure is to change the representation we make of failure, and work on ourselves. And, most importantly, we must stop blaming other people and environment for our failures; because, as Nelson Mandela had once said, 'I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny' - we and only we are responsible for the events or outcome we are receiving in our lives. This obviously doesn't mean that we start punishing ourselves; we must accept failure, learn from it, and try again or move on. Lingering around the failure for a longer period of time is destructive; however, learning from the mistakes is constructive.

In one of the famous book that turned into a cult classic movie Fight Club, the write Chuck Palahniuk wrote that, 'It's only after we had lost everything that we're free to do anything.' Borrowing the word of Sir Winston Churchill, 'Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.' I would like to conclude this article by stating that we are not the first and the last person to experience failure; it is a part of our life and we must deduce appropriate ways to deal with it rather than quitting to live life after a couple of such instances. Let's pledge not to quit fighting and living the life, and be a leader in our life; because, there are no failures in life, only lessons.

 

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