“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” (Winston Churchill)
Economist and Financial Times columnist, Tim Harford, in his book “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure” noted: “Few of our own failures are fatal”. This may ring true, but we certainly don’t enjoy the pain and process that goes with failure. When our flaws stare us in the face, our confidence plummets and we potentially miss out on the benefits that can be derived from the failure: the possibility of overcoming our egos and returning with a smarter and more integrated approach. Harford continues and suggests: “Success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right first time”. Finding your feet following failure is important for ultimate success.
We all make mistakes – plenty of them – but we seem to use the word “failure” for “big mistakes”; the times when we have let others down and, more importantly, ourselves. It is during these moments that the sting of failure is felt most acutely and our confidence is shaken. We hate to fail. We fear it and dread it and end up holding on to it. We give it power over our emotions and even allow the failure to dictate how we are going to move forward (or backward). We find it really hard to forgive ourselves and we thus allow the fear that the failure produces to derail us.
Finding your feet following failure, however, is possible – the steps to potential success could include the following actions:
- Recognise your defence mechanisms and address them – denial or passing the blame for the failure on to others delays dealing with the issues and impedes your ability to adapt. Take responsibility for what went wrong. Don’t just try and save face – release the need for approval from others.
- Understand your emotions, but don’t dwell on them – attempt to pinpoint what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way (anger, shame, frustration, regret, etc.). Understanding the emotion often assists in showing you what could have been done differently. Obsessing the failure, however, does not change the outcome, but in fact intensifies feelings that produce pain and disable you. Keep your failures in emotional perspective.
- Don’t let failure become part of your identity – failure is something that happens, not something that you are. Susan Tardanico from Forbes suggests: “Just because you haven’t found a successful way to do something doesn’t mean you are a failure”. Be careful not to blur the boundary line between making a mistake and someone who only makes mistakes.
- Develop support structures – find people to encourage and support you, counsel you when necessary and offer suggestions.
- Establish a clear path ahead – without a defined vision for the future, you may end up wandering aimlessly. Know what you want to achieve through your giftedness and set goals to realise your vision.
- Get to grips with your unique value – you are one of a kind and can therefore contribute as such. Napoleon Hill said it like this: “Failure seems to be nature’s plan for preparing us for great responsibilities”. J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, noted: “I was set free because my greatest fear had been realised and I still had a daughter who I adored and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation upon which I rebuilt my life”.
- Make a decision and move forward – collaborate in order that no hasty decisions are made. Once you have thoroughly researched your next steps, move to action. As you proceed, get advice and feedback. Use your support network to mentor you with your progress.
Finding your feet following failure is a possibility – necessary confidence if you want to be successful again. We all can learn from failure and chart more effective and meaningful paths towards successful futures. Make your failures stepping stones to get you where you want to go.