It’s no secret that we live in a society where failure isn’t accepted. We’re all expected to be successful, and if we fail, we are encouraged not to talk about it. But here’s an interesting question: Why do some people succeed when others don’t? What separates those who achieve from those who don’t achieve? The answer is the mindset.
Have you ever failed?
If the answer is yes, take a moment to think about how you handled that failure. What they don’t teach us in school is that failure is a part of life, and it’s inevitable—we all fail at some point or another. But failure isn’t a bad thing. What many are blind to is how failure can actually be a learning experience and an important step on the path to self-acceptance, success, and balance in their life. So what keeps us from failing, talking about our failures or accepting them? Failure often creates fear. Fear prevents us from taking risks and trying new things and limits us from opportunities. Fear essentially stunts growth and learning.
I failed for the first time at 28. And I still cringe just writing those words.
When I was in my late twenties, failure was something that happened to other people. I had my life together; I knew what I wanted and how to get there. I was motivated, driven, and extremely hard working. I was living in DC, newly engaged, running marathons, and I adored my job – What else could I ask for? I was living the dream.
Fast forward to August 2016, when the onset of a very rare genetic condition began to show symptoms for the first time. I went from being healthy to losing my ability to function and complete everyday tasks. But that is not the failure; that was just genetics! The failure came about two years later when I was struggling at a new workplace and, despite all my best efforts, I seemed to be missing the expectations set for me. I didn’t know what to do, I have always been one to work hard and get results, but nothing was working.
They fired me.
I was devastated. I sulked for a while, wondering what was wrong with me (besides my disease). It was during that time that I realized, wow, I have never failed at anything in my life, and I don’t know how to handle it or what it said about me because failing meant I wasn’t good enough, right? That is the message I felt like I have received my whole life.
Shame. Shame. Shame.
A recent study shows I am not alone in this; the most common thought after failing is, “I’m not good enough,” which only propels the internal embarrassment and shame we carry daily. This shame that we internalize becomes a part of our narrative and shapes our decisions and behaviors.
The thought of not being good enough and the shame it carries led me to believe that “I needed to work harder on myself so that I wouldn’t fail again.” To some extent, that is correct that working hard leads to better results; if I am being honest, though, it was just a defense mechanism. It was my way of soothing my anxiety and creating a sense of control. I couldn’t have known then what losing that job would do for me, professionally and personally.
Comfortable is toxic & toxic can be comfortable.
Looking back, I see how suppressed my creative side was at that job. I was a shell of myself, but it was comfortable – I knew what to expect, even if it was toxic. I dreaded going to work and felt like I could fix it if I worked harder, but the harder I worked, the less power and worth I felt. But I stayed. Why? Well, looking back, I felt like leaving was a failure. If I left, that meant that I couldn’t do it. It was as if it was a reflection on me if I couldn’t make this toxic work environment work and failing was too uncomfortable of a place for me to be, so I stayed, and when they got the chance, they fired me. The very thing that pushed me to stay happened anyway; I failed.
The truth is that failing is uncomfortable but incredibly powerful.
The fear of failing creates a prison that limits our ability to be creative, take chances on ourselves and reach new potential, but if you can fail, you are given the gift of realizing that your fear of failing was worse than the failure itself. We aren’t taught this, but we have the chance to change this now by choosing to normalize failures and talk about them without judging ourselves or fearing others will judge us. Failure cultivates creativity, learning, change, and growth. The key to failure is having a growth mindset and being open to the idea that failure doesn’t define who you are. Change and improvement come from the lessons learned from failing. You just have to be open to hearing them.
Over the last few years, I have sat with the discomfort of that failure, and the biggest takeaway was that failure is a necessary part of growth. If you have never failed, then maybe you should consider if you are taking enough risks. Are you living life in your comfort zone? Does your fear keep you hostage? If so, this is your sign to go out there and bravely fail for yourself. Failure may feel like the end of the world, but the reality is that failing at something important to us—whether it’s a job interview or learning a new skill — is just the first step toward something much better in life.