Failure. The Big F. We fear it as much as the thing itself. Failure means many different things to many different people. It’s normally something that feels like an end, a loss, the closing of a door. It can be heartbreaking and devastating.
Failure is a lot of things. But failure is not a finish line.
Failure is only another step. Maybe a change of direction. A stage marker in this convoluted marathon of life.
We All Fail
If you are worried about failure remember this. Everyone fails. Everyone! It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It is inevitable that at some point in your life you will feel like a failure at something.
It might be a job, a test, a relationship. It might be a small, easily dealt with, failure. It might be a life-changing one.
Some of us might even feel like a failure at life. Living our failures from day to day. Feeling like we have achieved nothing but failure.
We get things wrong. We make mistakes. Maybe even the same repeated mistakes. We fail. We feel like lesser people because of it.
But the biggest mistake we make is thinking those failures are the end. A great defining moment that will screw us, and possibly our lives, up.
We forget that failure is not a finish line.
What Is Failure?
The Cambridge English dictionary defines failure as the fact of someone or something not succeeding: the fact of not doing something that you must do or are expected to do: the fact of something not working, or stopping working as well as it should.
We, as people, are so caught up in defining things, labelling them, being able to put them into nice little pockets, that we forget sometimes there is no defining line really. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Just because you don’t succeed now doesn’t mean you won’t. Just because you haven’t done something you must or are expected to doesn’t mean you won’t. Just because something is not working doesn’t mean it won’t work forever.
Failure is what you make it to be. The thing that holds you back or the thing that spurs you on further. What you may be quick to shout ‘failure’ at now may be considered a ‘success’ to someone else. You might have failed but at least you were in the position to fail. Someone else may even be failing to reach the point you are at.
A single mum or dad who works in a minimum wage job they hate just to have the money to keep a roof over their child’s head and food in their bellies. Are they a success or failure? They might have failed in that they are doing a worse job than they are capable of but they have certainly succeeded in doing what it takes to provide for their family. What does failure mean to them?
Is it possible to be a failure and a success at the same time? Does one override the other?
We determine whether we are successes or failures on a scale that is impossible to really measure. Our success and failures are about our perception of the matter. It’s different for everyone. And perception can be wrong. A temporary failure now could lead to a permanent success later. You just don’t know.
Feeling Like A Failure
When we feel like a failure. When something hasn’t went ‘right’ or turned out as we hoped or imagined it would. It can be devastating. It can lead us down a path of introspection, insecurity, a feeling of unworthiness.
We focus on that failure. We let it define us. We tend to forget all the good things in our lives. The things that are equally, if not more, important than the failures we are dwelling on.
That negative feeling consumes us. It makes us blind to the positive parts of our lives. The things we have that others might only dream about. The things we should feel gratitude for.
There’s no denying that confronting your own failures can be difficult. We do have a tendency to play over past events in our head when things go wrong. Wondering what we could have done differently. How could we have affected the outcome of an event. What our life after the failure going to look like.
If you wanted you could spend the rest of your life dwelling on a failure. It could affect the rest of your life. Matter of fact, if it is a big enough failure, it probably has or will.
But that doesn’t mean the effect will be bad. At least it doesn’t have to be bad. You can turn that failure into something else.
Failure Is Not What Defines You
We all fail. Some fail more than others. But it is what you do after that moment. The steps you take after you feel like you have failed. The attitude you have towards that failure. That determines how much of a failure you are.
It is not the failure that really defines you. It is your reaction to it.
That failure could be the catalyst for your greatest success. It could be the thing that shapes your attitude and belief in a more beneficial way. A springboard that propels you higher.
The example most quoted in terms of attitude towards failure comes from Thomas Edison apparently from when he was trying to develop a battery.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Thomas Edison
Whilst this quote varys slightly in the number of attempts mentioned ranging from 700, 999, 1,000s, and 10,000s according to different sources. The gist of it is what is important.
It doesn’t matter how many times Edison failed. Whether it was hundreds or thousands. It just matters that he did fail. He failed. Then he failed again. He failed and kept failing.
But he didn’t view those failures as the end. They were just something to learn from and move on.
Everything doesn’t stop just because you have failed. It changes. But it doesn’t stop. The race isn’t over. You can’t just give up because something hasn’t went your way. You can find a new way.
As I am writing this I’m dealing with some failures of my own. Big failures that are stacked on a lifetime full of them.
One was so bad it made me doubt not only what that failure meant but everything else I have been doing with my life also.
For a few days it had snowballed from one big failure into me seeing nothing but all the failed moments I have endured. My failed school years. My failed marriage.
It wasn’t just the failures though. It was doubting everything I thought I was. Everything I was, and am, trying to do with my life.
I was on the verge of giving up on everything. Accepting the poor situations in my life and resigning myself to them. Then I remembered what real failure is.
Real Failure Is…
Real failure is not trying. It’s giving up too soon. It’s letting one failure, or many, define you. I’ve failed that way before. And for a long time. I’m not failing like that now.
Real failure is thinking that you don’t have the capacity to achieve what you wish to achieve. Ok, so realistically you might not be able to compete in the Olympics. Become an astronaut, a famous singer. But if your hope is to get yourself a job, build a business, earn more money. Create relationships. Live a more fulfilled life. Then it is all possible. If you have the power to wish it. You have the power to work at it.
So this is me. Failing and having failed. That failure hangs heavy. Makes me want to stop. But I’m not giving up. I’m not being defined by the slip that turned into a slide. I’m not letting my failure define me but instead I’m going to let me define my failure.
So face your failures, and your fear of them. Take that big F and turn it into something more significant. Make it a stepping stone. A launch pad. Another piece in the jigsaw of your life.
Failure is not the end. It’s not an abrupt stop. It’s only a change. A new beginning. Failure is not the big thing that makes you who are. It’s your attitude towards it. Failure is not something to be afraid of. It is something to embrace. To learn from. It’s solid advice.
The only question you should be asking about failure is what it means to you. Is it going to be your boss? The thing that defines and controls your life. Or are you going to take your failures and turn them into something else? Overcome, adapt, change your story.
Failure is not your finish line. So what are you going to make it be?