What do Steve Jobs, Micheal Jordan, Walt Disney, and the Beatles have in common?
They all experienced failure before becoming the cultural icons they are today. Apple fired Steve Jobs before he created the iPhone, Micheal Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team, Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for lack of imagination, and Decca Records rejected The Beatles because the studio didn’t think they had a future in show business.
Looking back, it seems obvious that these individuals were right to not quit on their dreams, but in the moment I bet every one of them doubted themselves. The stories we know today of these wildly successful people could just as easily been erased from history if they had given into failure. In the words of Walt Disney himself,
The difference in winning and losing is most often… not quitting. – Walt Disney
It’s human to experience doubt in the face of failure. Every time I write something that almost nobody reads I question whether I should ever write again. My brain tells me all the reasons why I should quit and stick to what I know. I nearly always give in, but then a reader sends an encouraging message (thanks Donna!), or I think of a topic I really want to write about and remember why I enjoy writing, so I open up another blank word doc and start typing. This guide grew out of a desire to help those like myself who need a little encouragement and perspective in the depths of defeat.
1. Step back and take a deep breath.
Failure almost always seems life altering in the moment. It pulls us in, and we lose sight of how life will go on today, let alone tomorrow or a year from now.
We view our progress in daily snapshots. Did I meet my Fitbit step goal today?
Instead, look at progress over an extended period. One failure has an insignificant impact on long-term success. Approach failure with a big picture perspective.
2. Take ownership of your mistakes.
There is always a temptation to downplay our mistakes, or blame others. We seek to distance ourselves from the defeat, but consequently, we rob ourselves of the lessons from this life experience.
Recently, I went spear fishing in the keys and didn’t catch a thing. I was unprepared and unknowledgeable of the area. It was a little embarrassing, and I could have tried to forget about the whole thing. Instead, I took notes about what I need to do next time and got advice from people who know more about the area.
3. Accept credit for trying.
Take caution not to dwell on feelings of guilt. One mistake does not define someone. It took courage to step out of our comfort zones and attempt something new.
The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something. – Seth Godin
Remember, the method may have failed, but that does not make one a failure. Believe in yourself. Past performance does not dictate future success.
4. Diagnose what went wrong.
Not many people know Coca-Cola was originally invented as a headache remedy. Only after the recipe was sweetened and carbonated did it become wildly popular.
Think about failure like a scientist analyzing an experiment. Identify possible causes of the problem and try to narrow down the variables that could be adjusted. Get specific and tap into the valuable insight failure provides.
5. Two heads are better than one.
Sometimes it’s not always easy to see what went wrong. We can get so caught up in the details that we struggle to see the main issue.
Reach out to someone close and discuss the roadblocks. They may have a more objective perspective. Regardless, a fresh set of eyes can help come up with innovative ideas for the next attempt.
6. One step back and two steps forward.
Taking the first step after failure can be the hardest. If one focuses on all the obstacles in front of them, it will be so much harder. Just take the first step, any step. Remind yourself why this task, goal, or project is important to you and keep moving.
7. Assemble a cheer squad.
When I decide to try again after failure, I tell a friend about what I am trying to do and why it is important to me. Articulating my goals to someone helps clarify the plan in my head, and sometimes, they even want to help or join. Nonetheless, they hold me accountable to follow through on my next steps.
8. Share your story.
Overcoming failure takes courage and determination. I love hearing anecdotes of people who have persevered through failure and made it to the other side. You may still be working towards your goal, but if you didn’t let failure get in the way then share your story. The lessons you learned may prove invaluable to someone else.
What would one’s life look like in the next year if they never let failure stop them? What if every time they failed, they tried again? Would they look back with regret on the failed attempts? Or would the victories inspire them to keep going?
The world would miss out on an awful lot if we let the bad days hold us back.” – Hugh MacLeod
Want more useful tips to add contentment to your life? Check out my free 3-Day Contentment Challenge. You will learn 3 simple techniques to help recognize discontentment in your life and eliminate it.