Dealing with failure

At some point in our lives we’re going to feel like we’ve failed. Sometimes this might be reflected in a dip in exam scores, a job offer we missed out on, a friendship that has turned sour, or simply the feeling that we’re just not as good as everyone else.

Feeling like we’ve fallen short of a goal sucks. We scold ourselves, lose confidence and feel terrible about our lives and everything we’ve accomplished. We believe that this “failure” is going to impact us forever. When we’re in that state, it’s so hard to let go of the negativity and motivate ourselves to get back on our feet. It’s hard to value who we are when we can only concentrate on what we have done.

The first step is to accept where we’re at and know that we have the ability to make changes in our lives at any point in time, because failure is never permanent. Reminding yourself of the reason why you set yourself that goal can help give you back some of the ambition you felt before you had to face challenges.

It’s also helpful to reflect on your goal and the steps you took towards meeting it. Was your goal realistic? Maybe you haven’t been able to make as much progress as you would have liked because your initial target was too big to tackle in one go. If your goal was too inaccessible to begin with, it’s not your fault that you feel unfulfilled. Breaking it down into smaller chunks can help you regain a sense of achievement, and you’ll be able to feel proud of small victories which can encourage you along the way.

Dwelling on criticism can dishearten us even more than we need to — and chances are, we’re feeling bad enough already. Instead of being angry with yourself and saying things like “I’m so lazy, I didn’t go to the gym like I said I would” or “I can’t believe I procrastinated again and watched Netflix for four hours”, give yourself some positive self-talk. Tell yourself, “Going to the gym will boost my mood and it’ll be good for my health”, “logging off of Facebook will give me more time to hang out with friends” and “if I get my work done sooner I’ll be able to enjoy the show without feeling guilty or worrying”. If we paint a more attractive alternative for ourselves, we’re less likely to do the same thing again. You’ve overcome tough situations before. You can do it again.

Realise that everyone goes through obstacles and it is rare for anyone to get something perfectly right the first time round. You’re definitely not alone in feeling this way. Sometimes expecting and planning for a setback will help you feel less taken aback, less disappointed, and more prepared to deal with it. 

Finally, try to regain perspective. Can you do anything to change what’s happened? If you do have some control over the situation, what can you do? If you don’t, what can you do to make yourself feel better? Is this an actual failure, or simply worry that you are going to fail, or that you aren’t doing as well as other students? Remind yourself of the successes you had in the past in other areas of your life.

Understanding what went wrong (if anything) can make you feel better because you’ve taken it seriously and tried to do something about it. For example, you might find out that you’ve just been feeling too overwhelmed because you’ve got too much going on. You might discover that your priorities weren’t met, that you need to learn to say “no” and set boundaries. Or perhaps your unhappiness is actually teaching you that you don’t like certain things. Maybe the course you’ve chosen wasn’t the right thing for you. You’re learning that there are other things you like better, and this situation has given you a chance to check out all the different options available to you that you didn’t even know existed.

If you’re feeling like you can’t keep up, speaking to a parent, teacher or staff member at school can help take some of the burden of worry off your chest. These people are in a position where they can support you so that you can get through challenges together. The way you learn doesn’t reflect anything about your intelligence, ability, or value as a person, but the sooner you discover what works best for you, the easier it will be to cope.

Whatever comes out of this, it’s important to understand that failing is a common part of life, and that no one is immune, even if our schools and communities like to hide it and stay silent. Pretending failure doesn’t exist doesn’t help anyone. Lots of super famous people have written about the problems and struggles they’ve faced. It teaches you what to avoid doing and gives you opportunities to explore something new. 

Celebrate where you are and all of the things that brought you to this moment. Take time out to do things for yourself, switch off from social media and technology, and reflect on all the problem-solving skills and resilience you are developing just by getting through your day.

Editor’s note: Failures and successes do not define who you are as a person. Don’t hesitate to click here to know more about seeking help.