9. Redefining Failure

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Failure has been on my mind a lot lately because when you first start anything new, there’s going to be failure.  A lot of it. Probably more failure than success.  Being able to accept failure has always been very difficult for me because I’ve taken it as a personal hit.  A hit to my worth as a person.  I’d say to myself,

“Oh, I failed. I’m not good enough.” 

I’d sabotage myself from getting far with anything because I’d try something and the first time things didn’t go how I expected it to, it would stop me in my tracks.  I couldn’t handle it.  It’s also kept me from trying new things for fear of failure.

Failure is not linked to your worth as a person.  Saying it like that sounds really obvious, but it sneaks it’s way into our subconscious thinking because we think success is so great, so failure must be terrible.

Where do we get the idea that failing is bad?   I thought about this because I know we had a lot of failures as children.  As a baby, think about all the times we tried to roll over and sit up. And we’d get so frustrated, but we’d keep trying.  Then we wanted to get ourselves from one place to the next, so we tried our own version of crawling and scooting.  We wanted to go faster so we did what the other big humans were doing and tried to walk.  How many times do you think we fell down before we finally got the hang of it?  And even when we walked, we’d still wobble… until we didn’t. 

We just kept on trying until we succeeded.  I can’t remember being a baby, but as I watch other babies, when they fail, I notice they don’t cry because they are ashamed that they failed.  I don’t even think they understand what failure is.  They cry because they are frustrated or maybe they banged their knee, so they are physically hurt.  Where did we learn failing was such a bad thing?

The first time I can put a finger on it is when I went to school. At school, we are graded for what we get right and what we get wrong.  Sometimes the only thing we see on the paper are the red checks that say “wrong”. Some teachers would put a star by what we got right, but the purpose of the red checks was to show what you got wrong.  When we’re graded at school, what does an F mean?  It means we’ve failed. We got too many questions wrong and received a big fat F for failure.  It was something no one wanted.  We were pushed to get A’s and rewarded when we got them. A lot of kids are punished for failing a class.  So of course, we equate failing to a bad thing.  For me personally, I equated failing to mean there was something wrong with me as a person.

I want to be clear. I’m not trying to bash on the school system because I don’t have an answer for a better way.  I don’t know if grading on giving your “best effort” would work. There are so many definitions of what “best effort” could mean.  Teachers, I love you, and I’m grateful for you trying to make a difference in our future generations.  You definitely don’t get enough recognition for all you do.  And I’m going to guess that there are some teachers that have figured out a way and I just haven’t heard of it.  So again, I’m not bashing on the teachers or the school system on a whole.  This is me trying to make sense of where I think failure got such a bad rap.

For the sake of this podcast, it makes sense to me why so many of us connect failing with something being wrong.

I think there are two main reasons why we are so afraid of failure.

One, we are worried about what others will think of us and two, we don’t want to risk feeling disappointment.

When we fail, for some of us the first thing to go through our head is, “What will everyone think?” We are immediately afraid of being judged. We worry, what if they think I don’t know what I’m talking about? Or that I’m not smart enough or capable enough?  We go through all kinds of scenarios in our heads of how we aren’t measuring up to other people’s expectations.

The other thing we want to avoid is feeling disappointed.  When I’m thinking about trying something new, I think about all the possibilities and fantasize how wonderful it’ll be and how awesome the success will feel.  Then if it doesn’t happen that way, I feel that let down, and the disappointment sets in.  So maybe the next time I think about trying something new, I might entertain the idea that it’s safer to not try at all, then I won’t have to feel disappointed which feels way worse than if I didn’t try at all.  So because of the possible disappointment we may feel, we resign to stay safe and not do it.

Let’s try to unwind our fears a little.  When we’re afraid of being judged. We’re thinking, “what will everyone think?”

First of all, other people’s opinions are irrelevant.  What other people think about us has nothing to do with what’s really true.  This is one of those sneaky ways how failure tries to convince us that our worth is linked to our success.  We get sucked into believing that if other people think that, then it must be true.  Regardless of what other people think about you, regardless of what you think about yourself, your worth as a person, your value never changes.  No matter how many times you fail, none of that touches your value. 

To unwind it even further, answer what everyone will think.  Try this.  On a piece of paper write out, “If I fail, everyone will think I’m (fill in the blank)

everyone will think I’m … Stupid? Unreliable? What?

And who is “everyone”?

Answer your brain who “everyone” is.  Write the list of names. Actual names who would think you’re stupid or unreliable or whatever you wrote.  All my coworkers or all my neighbors or my family is not actual names.  It has to be individual names like mom, dad, Charlie, I don’t know. You might be surprised at how short that list is and who’s really on it.  It’s possible it’s someone you’ve compared yourself to or someone you look up to.  A lot of times it’s only 2 or 3 people, not everyone.  So this gigantic crowd of faceless people in your head is now a couple people.  Much different. Notice who “everyone” is and diffuse it.

Once you know who these few people are, realize that living your life to change what they think is a battle that will be lost most of the time.  Whenever we try to change ourselves to make other people happy or accept us, we’ve given up our authority over our ability to feel the way we want.  Anytime you are waiting to feel any emotion based on something outside of you, you are gambling that if you change, they’ll feel differently.  A lot of times you’ll change and it doesn’t change how they see you.  Why?  Because they have their own thoughts and their own experiences that shape how they see you.  It’s so much effort to change how others think and there’s no guarantee.  The only person you can guarantee a change with is the person you have complete control over, yourself.

The second fear of failure is because we dread feeling disappointment. Let’s unwind this a little bit. Fear, disappointment. They’re both an emotion.  An emotion that was caused by two neurons firing in the brain and then sending a vibration to somewhere in the body. That’s it.  Our imaginations make fear and disappointment way worse than what they really are.  What’s interesting is some people sign up to feel fear.  They like it.  Isn’t that why they watch horror films?  They watch because logically they know they aren’t in any real physical danger, so they are ok sitting in the movie theater, choosing to feel scared for a couple hours.  Fear of failing and disappointment is the same thing.  You’re not in any physical danger, but your brain will try to sell you on the idea that you are and if you don’t acknowledge that’s what it’s doing, your imagination will create it’s very own horror movie. 

What is failure really?  Paraphrasing Google’s definition, failure is not meeting your own expectations of yourself. Well now it makes sense why I was always feeling like I was failing.  I gave myself such high expectations that I never could meet.  I caused my own disappointment.

What are your expectations of yourself?  What does it mean to you to try and not succeed how you were expecting?  Are you confident enough in yourself that if your circumstance didn’t turn out the way you expected, you’d be willing to try again?  And again and again, tweaking and fine-tuning just a little each time until your outcome ended in success?

If you’re not quite sold yet, here’s another way to look at it,

Marie Forleo says, “Success and failure live in the same neighborhood.  So, if you are not failing you are nowhere near success.”

That really makes me think of failure differently.  Failure is an opportunity to learn.  It doesn’t mean you’re wrong, you just need to learn more.

What this tells me is all of the experiences you’re having is exactly how it should be.  All your experiences were designed specifically for you to grow and learn and progress.  As humans we love progress so it’s all happening in your favor.

Let’s change the definition of failure a little, shall we?  What if failure only happens when you’ve given up?  When you’ve decided to stop trying.  Looking at it this way, as long as you don’t completely check out of the game, you’re still in it.  You haven’t failed. 

It’s like when Brooke Castillo talks about failure and going to the store.  On our way the store, when we come to a red light, we don’t instantly turn around and go home because we were halted in our progress.  Sure, we may have to sit in discomfort a little because we can’t get to where we want as fast as we want, but if we’re willing to have patience, eventually we’ll make it to our destination.  Red lights, detours, accidents are all part of the journey and as long as we keep trying to get there, eventually we will.

What are some ways to get you started in the direction you want to go?

Allow yourself a safe space to fail- what does this look like?  A safe space is a place where there isn’t judgement of it. It just is.  And now, how do we learn from it? This is so good with businesses too. The more you celebrate failure, the more your brain sees it as something normal and not something to avoid.  Although we can’t control other people’s thoughts, failing in front of others can send a message that you’re a safe space for others to make mistakes around.  Whether they see it as a safe space, is up to them, but ultimately you get to decide if you want to show up as a person who’s safe to fail around.

You could also purposely change your reaction to failure. Each time you fail , you could yell “Hurray for failure!” And then proceed with action.  Take it step by step. Just take the next little step and when you’ve done that figure out the next little step.  I know some people who would think yelling,  “Hurray for failure!” is a little corny, and that’s okay.  This one might not resonate with you, but what phrase would?  That’s all you would need to decide.

If you want to take the heaviness out of failing, what if you tried to make it into a game?  Or at least offer yourself a win every time you fail.  It could be as simple as getting a little jar and each time you fail, add something to it that represents something you like.   Like for me, maybe some pink gems that look like sparkly diamonds.  Remember, I love the sparkles! Then when it’s full, maybe I reward myself with real jewelry.  Or maybe you add money to the jar each time you fail. And when it’s full, you buy yourself a massage, or a new outfit.  I don’t know, you know what your currency is, but choose something that will feel like a reward so you look forward to each time you fail instead of dreading it.  Get a jar big enough that can hold at least 50 things. The idea is, by the time you fill the jar, you will have trained your brain to think of failure differently. Are you willing to fail 50, 100 times before you get it right?  What if you knew at the end of the 50 or 100 times, you would have success?  Would that drive you to keep taking action because you saw the end, and this is just the path to getting there?

I had to use the “50 times before I give up” analogy to launch my podcast.  I had so many excuses as to why I couldn’t do it.  No time, no talent, not enough to say.  My list of excuses went on and on.  I finally told myself that, no matter what, I’m going release one episode a week for at least a year, before I made any decisions on giving up.  That’s at least 52 episodes, gang.  And I know that not all my episodes are going to be great.  I know that some probably won’t make a lot of sense to some of you.  I’ve just decided, no matter, I’ll keep going and hopefully by the time I hit episode 52, it’ll feel a lot easier and I’ll be delivering stellar content.

Failure in life will happen. The way we think about failure however, can change our whole trajectory in life.  What would you accomplish if failure wasn’t a thing?  Who would you become?  Can you imagine all the good you could do?

How you think about failure really matters. If you remember only one thing from today, remember this. Don’t quit. That’s it.  As long as you keep going, as long as you keep trying, you’re still in it, my friends.  I’m giving you permission right now to fulfill your dreams, to conquer the unconquerable!  There’s nothing that you truly want, that you can’t have. As long as you don’t quit, our new failure, is not even possible.

That’s what I have for you today.

Have a brilliant week!


If you’re looking for a life coach, I’d love to be yours.  If you want to lose weight, better your relationships, or need help with crafting your confidence, I’ve got you!  go to myinnerlove.com and sign up for a free mini-session today.

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