Dealing with Failure

Dr. John Townsend

May 18, 2018

Let’s take a moment and admit something important: everyone experiences failure from time to time! You fail, I fail. The only people who claim they don’t fail are crazy. Everyone fails. It’s part of growth!

First thing is first, what is failure? At first glance, it seems like a lofty concept. But, failure is when you don’t meet some expectation either in a relationship or task. We all fail; it’s how we deal with that failure that really matters.

Beware of These 3 Negative Responses to Failure

Now, there are some unhealthy ways that people try to deal with failure. These habits don’t help us learn how to work through it, and it’s important to learn from our failures so that we can grow.

  1. Excuses, excuses. The first negative response is to excuse it. Like, “It wasn’t me, it was everyone else.”

Have you ever been around somebody that just points the finger? It can be very draining, can’t it? It bugs everyone involved when someone makes excuses, and those excuses don’t solve the problem either.

  1. Try, try again (without changing anything). The second unhelpful way people negatively respond to failure is to try harder. “Well, I’ll try to get it right this time.”

It’s like a New Year’s Resolution. “I’m gonna lose weight, I’m gonna make more money, and I’m gonna be nicer to my family. ” We try and try and try, but working harder and trying harder really doesn’t help if we are repeating the same steps or actions. Without changing anything about our approach, we set ourselves up for failure. The reason so many people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions is that they fail to hold themselves accountable.

  1. Shame on me! The third unhelpful way to deal with failure is what I like to call a shame attack. This reaction might vary from person to person, and it centers around beating yourself up and calling yourself names. “You really messed up. You must be really stupid!”

Stop doing that right now. As I said earlier, EVERYONE fails, so take yourself off the hook. What’s more important is understanding why the failure occurred. Stop wasting time calling yourself names, and start thinking about how you will change for the better next time around.

How to Deal with Failure

We’ve spent some time talking about what not to do. Now, let’s focus on healthy ways to deal with failure. The idea here is not to be overwhelmed (and start bad mouthing yourself) when you fail.

  1. Failing is normal. Dealing with failure in a healthy way starts with realizing it’s inevitable. Failing is regular! We all let ourselves or other people down at some point in our lives, and that is perfectly normal.
  2. Talk it out. I’ve talked before about having a life team. Having this team in place when you fail can be critical to moving forward. This means having two or three people around that you trust and that will really listen when you need them. They won’t judge or shame you. They’re not going anywhere, no matter how hard you fail. Even if they’re upset about your failure, they will still like you and want to help.
  3. Lessons learned. Examining why you failed and thinking through what you can change for next time is how you grow, both personally and professionally. What did you learn this time that you can do better next time around? For example, “Since I found myself snapping at my kids, well, maybe I was too stressed at work and I need to take 15 minutes to go jog before I go play with my kids. I’ve learned to have better boundaries.” Learn lessons from your failure, and then work on possible solutions.

Failure is going to happen in life and that’s okay. Just remember to not get caught up in a negative cycle of self-talk or beating yourself up. Take away something positive from the experience and learn as you grow.


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