I Am A Failure: 10 Ways To ReDefine Yourself After Adversity
I have failed many times in my life.
Some failures have been relatively minor, like attempting to learn Italian and giving up after just a few weeks.
Other failures were devastating and painful, like the end of my marriage.
There's no way around it — failure hurts. The pain can be mild embarrassment or debilitating angst, but no matter how big or small the fall, no one relishes the experience.
Everyone wants to avoid failure, and some of us go to great lengths to stay out of its path.
Unfortunately, there is no avoiding failure altogether. Even when we keep our lives contained and predictable to minimize the chance of failure, we've already failed ourselves. We've given up on our potential and compromised ourselves.
The main problem I see with failure is identifying with it. Rather than thinking, “I failed at this experience,” we tend to think, “I am a failure.”
We overlook all of our positive traits, great relationships, past successes, and happy experiences to doom ourselves to complete loser-hood.
In my research for this post, I read stories from people who viewed their entire lives as a failure, with one string of mistakes and regrets followed by another.
They are so immersed in the failure mentality that they can't extricate themselves from it. It's heartbreaking.
Even a long string of failures doesn't destine you to living this way forever. Reinvention and second chances are always available.
With some shifts in your thinking and behavior, you can transform the way you see yourself — which will ultimately lead to greater success in all areas of your life.
If you find yourself feeling a like failure, here are ten ways to redefine yourself and start again:
1. Stop using the words.
Just stop. Don't allow yourself to speak or write the words, “I am a failure.”
You might still think it, but don't empower your thoughts through your speech or writing. When you do think the words, consciously change your internal narrative.
Yes, you may feel like a failure, but remind yourself that you failed in a life circumstance. You aren't the failure.
When we feel bad about ourselves, it's hard to say positive affirmations and really believe them. Instead, acknowledge how you feel right now, but add an assertion about your potential for the future — a potential that is always there.
“I may feel like a failure today, but I have the ability to improve in the future.” Allow yourself to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
2. Correct any mistakes or right any wrongs.
When we fail, we want to distance ourselves as much as possible from the situation. Just thinking about it is painful enough. Who wants to hang around the scene of the devastation?
But if you've left carnage in the road, you need to go back and clean it up. This is essential for your integrity and self-esteem.
If you need to make an apology, go make it. If you left a mess as part of the failure, go clean it up. If you harmed a relationship, try to make amends.
These actions are critical to your ability to move forward.
3. Practice self-compassion.
If a close friend or family member failed or made a huge mistake, you would forgive them and continue to love them.
Maybe the failure or mistake would disappoint you or make you angry, but you'd get over it eventually — especially if the person did their best in the situation and tried to repair any damage.
Sadly, we don't offer this same forgiveness and compassion to ourselves. Everything is magnified tenfold, and it feels like we aren't worthy of anything accept constant flagellation.
We have the muddled belief that if we whip ourselves enough, we'll eventually regain our credibility and self-respect.
Punishing yourself does nothing more than add to your pain. Rather than pushing yourself into further self-loathing, start practicing radical self-acceptance.
You, like everyone else on the planet, have screwed up. This fact aligns you with the rest of humanity — it doesn't make you different or “lesser than.”
Become your own best friend or loving family member, and give yourself a break.
4. Learn from your failures.
Rather than obsessing about your failure, put your energy into learning from it and doing what you can to salvage and repair the remains.
Most failures aren't “complete” failures. There's always something to take from the situation and apply to future endeavors. You'll likely see several things right away you'll do differently next time.
If you walk away from your failure without taking the time to examine it, you're leaving valuable information on the table. You're also undermining your chance for a success with the next attempt.
Self-development author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer says this about failure: “I suggest you consider a radical idea. What if there is no such thing as failure? Failing is a judgment that we humans place on a given action. Rather than judgment, substitute this attitude: You cannot fail, you can only produce results. Then the most important question to ask yourself is, ‘What do you do with the results you produce?'”
5. Don't stagnate.
After a failure, you may want to climb under a rock and disappear from sight for a few decades.
You feel so completely exposed and sometimes even judged or maligned. However, the best cure for the self-esteem blow that accompanies failure is action.
Maybe you aren't ready to start again on the failed endeavor — but start again with something. Do something in which you feel valued, accomplished, and useful.
Maybe you volunteer with an organization or begin a creative project. Whatever it is, make sure it's enjoyable and not tied to some big outcome.
You may not feel like talking to people or networking, but again, after you have licked your wounds, get out there and start connecting with others.
Don't dwell on your failure in conversation, but instead sound optimistic and motivated about the future, even if you have to act a bit. Other people will be drawn to your positivity in the face of a setback.
6. Seek sound feedback.
It's natural to want to hide your failure from others, especially from those who are successfully doing what you just messed up.
However, there's no better time than soon after your failed effort to seek feedback and guidance. While your decisions and outcomes are fresh on your mind, share them with someone who's opinion and experience you trust.
This person will have a more detached perspective and maybe even a bit more experience and knowledge, and they can offer you valuable insights that you might not be able to see.
Even if you disagree with the advice you're given, allow it to sink in and sit with it for a while. You might feel defensive about your methods or actions, but let yourself be open and vulnerable.
This is the only way to learn and invite the needed change for your next pursuit.
7. Cut your losses.
Failure is often tied to loss. Maybe you lose money as part of a failed business venture. Your failure might be the loss of a job, a marriage, a client, or business partner.
You might feel you've lost hours and hours of time with nothing to show for it, or you've lost the respect of those you wanted to impress.
If failure of a business, job, client, or marriage seems inevitable, and you've done everything you can to salvage the situation, then it's time to cut your losses.
We often want to revisit the situation again and again, hoping something else could be done to revive it. But this just keeps you in tortuous limbo.
Once it's fairly clear there's nothing more to do, and you've cleaned up any messes, then cut your losses and move on. Don't look back.
Life is always moving forward, so keep your eyes ahead of you.
8. Rebuild your confidence.
Your sea legs will feel a bit wobbly when you start again.
Even if you aren't consciously thinking, “I'm a failure,” you won't have the same level of confidence and boldness you may have had before.
Remember to review the lessons learned from your failure, and begin taking small steps in the direction of your new goal or effort.
If you feel afraid, acknowledge the feeling but recognize that fear won't kill you. You'll need to get comfortable with the feelings of discomfort until you rebuild your confidence. Celebrate every small success along the way.
Also, remember that practice is an essential ingredient in self-confidence.
If you want to write, you practice writing.
If you want to be an artist, you practice your art.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you practice the necessary business skills daily.
If you want to feel confident about any ability, practice, effort, and experience are essential.
And you must be willing to endure both the discomfort of being a beginner at something, as well as the discipline required of practice.
If you fall back on the excuse that you aren't self-confident because you failed at something, then by all means, become more skilled.
9. Act like a success.
There have been many studies that suggest your actions can change your feelings.
Rather than waiting to get over your feelings of failure to appear successful, begin behaving like a successful person right now. Take care of your appearance. Maintain a strong and confident posture with your shoulders back and head held high.
Smile often (which triggers your brain to feel happy), and speak with authority. In other words, fake it 'til you make it.
By acting successful and confident, you're sending strong messages to your brain that will actually boost your mood and give you the energy and motivation to be successful.
Pursue other success-enhancing behaviors like exercise, eating healthy, limiting your alcohol intake, and getting plenty of sleep. Stay busy and engaged to keep your mind away from worry and ruminating.
10. Share your knowledge.
Believe it or not, your failures can be a huge source of inspiration and help to other people.
One day, you will experience the success you want, and others will wonder why you're successful and they aren't. They might compare themselves to you, believing you were dealt a lucky hand — not knowing all you experienced and endured to reach your goals and dreams.
Be open and generous in sharing your fail efforts and disappointments in life. This will make you more approachable and authentic to others and will show them how it is possible to move on after failure.
Don't share your failures as a way of seeking sympathy or offering excuses. Share them in the spirit of personal growth, to provide a stepping stone for others on their own journeys in life.
Failure happens, but you aren't a failure. You are a person like everyone else, working to make the most out of life and become the best version of yourself.
Every day is a new opportunity to begin again, gathering the gems of knowledge from all of your past experiences, good and bad. Armed with this knowledge, you are more empowered than ever to become the person you want to be.