Reflecting on lessons learned from failure

Aug 1st, 2017 | By | Category: Commentary

Jeff Hough

By Jeff Hough

This morning I received a text from a friend who a shared a milestone length of time being sober. I was proud and gave sincere congratulations on the accomplishment. It has been a long road and anyone going through those struggles knows how perilous the journey is.

Reflecting on my friends struggles, I began to examine failure from the perspective of recovery. I have written many times about not being afraid of failure, but I have not considered surviving it. To reduce fear of failure’s grip on us, we need to understand its effects.

Failure hurts on many levels. There is the personal and public embarrassment of it. Confidence and pride always take a beating, as does one’s belief in oneself. While not fatal, combined they are a formidable foe.

A closer look at failure reveals another key aspect that is often overlooked. When we fail at something, a small part of us dies. It is that part of the process that hurts the most and causes us to shrink from moving forward.

A part of us dies because we have invested ourselves. As we invest ourselves in something, it becomes a part of us because we grow and nurture it. When failure occurs, that little part of us goes away, leaving us to mourn the loss.

Therein lies an important part of overcoming failure and moving forward. Recognizing and acknowledging loss is a key element in making a success of failure. Much like pruning a tree, the greatest growth occurs after loss.

As humans, we tend to internalize everything and make it feel permanent. Also, we tend to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and lose perspective of the bigger picture. We think failure is permanent. It isn’t.

Going through the pruning process isn’t easy, but it wasn’t meant to be. Our greatest lessons and growth come from pain. The trick is learning to see beyond the moment and learn the lessons available. In looking at the failures of others and reviewing my own setbacks, four common themes to overcome failure become apparent.

First, you must recognize that failure is part of the process. Recognizing that helps speed up the cycle of frustration and recovery. When learning something new, you are learning to recognize mistakes and correct the behavior. As you progress, you get better at recovering and moving forward. Rather than focusing on the mistake, you begin to focus on not making another mistake.

Next, you need to shift your paradigm. I have worked with many people who after making mistakes berate themselves and engage in negative self-talk. Nothing good ever comes from telling yourself how stupid you are. You can become whatever you focus on. If you tell yourself repeatedly how dumb you are, soon you will be.

Third, you need to own it. Blaming everyone and everything around you does no good. There may be things beyond your control affecting the situation, but you played a part in the process. Owning it puts you in control of your destiny and doesn’t leave it to fate.

Finally, debrief yourself. You must be brutally honest with yourself at this stage. When I reflected on a particularly painful failure in my past, I learned a truth about myself. I knew it was there, but didn’t want to admit it. That knowledge spurred a course correction and a refocus on what was most important.

To quote the great philosopher Limp Bizkit, “life is a lesson—you learn it when you’re through.” Failure is as much a part of life’s lessons as is learning to deal with it. Success in life comes from finding 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb; not from always getting it right the first time.

Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.

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