I saw this tweet from Whitney Johnson on how she handles failure and made me reflect on how I’ve evolved. Below is my answer:
When I fail, I am mortified, but I am also heartbroken. I have envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, and perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I didn't. And I wasn't. I've learned it is important to grieve.
How do you handle failure?
— Whitney Johnson (@johnsonwhitney) June 27, 2018
In our society, failure has negative connotations; but it is part of everything we do. Failure is where the lessons are. Early in my life I had to learn this very quickly because I’m intensely competitive. I used to operate by the “failure is not an option” mindset. I don’t like losing. I’m not a sore loser, but I’d rather not lose.
For example, one of my first teachers told me a story about 10 years ago on how intensely competitive I was. She recounted how we used to have competitive games between classroom (obstacle races and other types of games), and how I acted on an occassion when I didn’t win a race. I sat on at the finish line with my head down. Everyone started leaving and my teacher saw me sitting at the finish line, went over to tell me the race was over, I responded: Yes, but I didn’t win. Let’s go again!
I laughed when she told me this story!
The way I dealt with loss was not healthy. I’m highly self-critical. I hold myself to high standards. Nobody will kick my butt more than I will. So the way I dealt with failure was by getting pissed off at myself, and hold a grudge until I replaced it with a victory. Just like high-level athletes use visualization to think things through before doing them, I visualized victory before it happened. This is a great exercise, but by creating the expectation of winning I set myself up for a huge emotional down when it didn’t happen.
I was so intense my mom would tell me I should learn to let things slide and not take everything so personal. To put things in perspective, she would tell me two visualize a scale and place that which I believed mattered the most against something else; the lessons is most everything isn’t important and I should only worry about the right things.
Back then most everything seemed to go my way, which gave me a lot of confidence. So confident that I would “arrogantly” tell my mom that I was so damn good that all I had to do is snap my fingers and things would get done; just like Thanos! But a funny thing happens when most everything stops going your way: you start question your methods and dig deep to find answers.
Failure humbles you, it happened to me.
I’ve changed how I deal with failure. But before I learned my lesson I had to understand what drove my frustration with it: I wanted to control everything and had a burning desire to constantly top myself.
I’m not happy going through life in a loosy-goosey way, I want to mold it to my desire. This quality is both my superpower and my weakness. I had to learn to accept that there are things out of ones control, all I had to control was my attitude towards myself and others. Since then, I’ve adopted an attitude of “give everything you got and live with the results; there will be other battles to win”.
In other words: There is no failure, only setbacks.
Also, I’m more friendly towards myself. I’ve not accepted failure as a state, I’ve simply accepted that its part of the process and the only failure is when you truly give up; not the situation but on yourself.
Failure is growth
Just because you failed at something doesn’t mean you are a failure. Everyone fails. Nobody is excused from it. But failure is a temporary tattoo, not a permanent one. It’s a part of pushing and bettering yourself and everything around you. You don’t become the best at anything by doing the same thing over again without pushing and testing your limits.
This is why I like entrepreneurship: I feel alive when there’s a massive chance that the venture will fail. The focus and purpose it gives me is addictive, and you only get that feeling by putting yourself in situations where there is high uncertainty. This feeling of uncertainty is a good sign that you’ll learn something new about yourself, that you’ll grow.
So seek failure, it’s your chance to grow. If things didn’t work out, tomorrow will be another day. Fail fast, fail often, fail forward. Remember, there are only setbacks. I’ve learned to deal with setbacks by reframing them as opportunities: if that didn’t work, something else will. You get an opportunity to start again.
With that said I leave you with the video below from Jocko Willink, Ex-Navy SEAL, on how to view failure: