Failure is a good thing. We’ve all heard this before. No one can deny that failing builds character. It builds resilience. It builds problem solving capabilities and it can make one a more compassionate, a valuable individual to the benefit of society at large. In that way failure promotes growth.
It’s noteworthy though, that the word ‘failure’ implies that something went wrong. Either we did something or we did not do something, when we could have done something different = failure.
Against this backdrop, I think that we often confuse failing with something else. I actually can’t define that ‘something else’ yet ….. I just don’t have the term for it yet although I know it’s a tangible concept. It also leads to growth but it is not failure. Let’s call it ‘not-a-failure‘. It is confused with failure because the process towards growth is so similar to when you failed at something.
In the case of ‘not-a-failure‘ a person might even say ‘but I tried my best but I did not succeed’. This means that what you tried was wrong. This emphasizes the person’s effort and the fact that they did not get the reward for that effort. When this happens, most human beings involuntarily turn against themselves and believe that they have failed ….when in fact they did not, because in cases of not-a-failure, the situation was just outside of one’s control.
Ok Ja what I’m saying might like waffle but let me use real examples from my own life to explain…
The job I took, after I finished studying my Masters degree. It was a disaster. I just didn’t fit. There were tons of variables that played a role including an insecure micromanaging supervisor. I tried my best but eventually resigned after a year. I felt like a failure…. but did I really fail? Fast-forward a few years and I ended up in my dream job, teaching at a University. Resigning from that job freed me in terms of time, to do things which gave me the experience I needed to apply for my current job.
My marriage. I worked so hard to save it. I was devastated, shattered when my ex-husband left me. There are things that I know I could have done differently but I think that truthfully, the majority of what played out was simply just out of my control. Looking back I see that no matter who said or did what, we were both just not mature enough to manage the situation in a way that would change the eventual outcome, which was a divorce. Failure? Yes, No… there was more out of my control than in my control. Growth yes definitely. In retrospect, failure not. Similar too, other relationships since my divorce. I have the tendency to want to think I’ve failed because each time I’ve genuinely opened up and allowed myself to be vulnerable. When one is openly vulnerable and you don’t achieve a successful outcome then you feel like failure. The same would apply to sporting activities, work or other projects or even friendships that don’t work out even after you tried your best.
The ‘not-a-failure‘ concept really is an intense form of disappointment. Disappointment is a result of failure but, importantly, it’s not always because of failure. The mistake that I think many human beings make is associating all our disappointments with failure. Our brains seem to be hardwired into tricking us into believing that all our disappointments are all failures! How unkind we are to ourselves 😔
The bottom line for me with all of this is that I need to remember to be kinder to myself when I feel disappointment. Not medicate disappointments with self-pity, or anger, humiliation or shame. I need to medicate myself with kindness and reject any self deprecating thoughts which tell me that I have failed.
Essentially, that is the act of surrendering control over something I never had control over in the first place!