I am a big believer in defining terms. Frequently, misunderstandings are due to using different definitions for the same words. Likewise, we can find ourselves stuck in patterns (thoughts and behaviors) simply because we have a rigid view or definition of our circumstances.
So, first things first. How do you define failure? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition has eight definitions for the word failure that can be summed up in the first three:
1. The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends.
2. One that fails.
3. The condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short.
Notice that two of the three quickly become one’s identity rather than an event. In other words, being one that fails and being insufficient can become your identity if you are not careful.
There is a difference between having failed and being a failure.
An essential first step in recovering from failure – whether it be a job loss, business closure, bankruptcy, divorce (or the end of another meaningful relationship), or not meeting your performance expectations in an activity about which you are passionate – is defining the failure as an event, i.e., “the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends.”
I took a very unscientific poll of 50 of my friends, asking, “In one sentence, how do you overcome failure?” Their responses can be summed up in two categories.
o Never give up
o Take a different direction
o “Review, Repent, & Refocus” (A. C.)
o Learn from your mistakes to refine your process
And we all have that one friend that straddles the fence, “Ask for God’s guidance and keep trying” (C. S.). And that one that is a rebel, “You don’t overcome failure. You learn from it” (R. W.).
You may be thinking, Great feedback, Angela, but how do I even make it that far?
Well, a few of my more verbose friends shared pragmatic strategies that help move you from failure to trying again and pivoting.
One person paraphrased Lucero Hogaza Leon, “You realize it [failure] isn’t fatal or permanent. Success is measured in what you overcome, not in what you achieve” (C. D.).
“I try not to think of failures as failures, but as a learning experience. Information I need and the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective to make the changes necessary to achieve the outcome I want” (M. K.)
“Realizing I’m not perfect and life lessons...failures make me a better person” (T. C.).
“Pray, seek wisdom, and try to power through” (L. S.).
“One foot in front of the other” (S. C.).
“Learn from it, try again – but always keep moving forward” (D.).
Notice that each of these people displays humility and resiliency. They are flexible enough to learn and unwavering in their refusal to be defined by or adopt a mindset of failure.
How do you define failure?
How do you recover from it?
If you are struggling to learn the lesson(s) and move forward, you are not alone. One of your lessons may be in learning to ask for help.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC