Fail Fast, Fail Forward
We all fail. Heartbreak, loss, struggle, doubt, sadness, regret, and inadequacy are all part of the universal human experience. No matter how successful others seem, they are not immune to failure. You’ve likely experienced your fair share of failures that have shaken you up and filled you with doubt. The question is, what do you do when you fail? Do you throw yourself a pity party, and get caught up in a victim mentality? Or, do you learn from your failures and use them to your advantage to deepen your awareness and grow closer to your goals?
Acknowledge your Failures
Maybe you’ve written off your pain by thinking, “there are people who have it so much worse than me.” In order to process and move forward from your failures, you first have to acknowledge them. Sadly, there will always be people who face struggles greater than yours. But that doesn’t make your struggles invalid.
The only way to move past your failures is to acknowledge them. Every successful person you know, every celebrity who seems to have it all figured out, and every person you look up to has one thing in common: they fail. When you accept that there’s nothing inherently wrong with you for failing, you learn to detach yourself from the failure. Don’t take your failures personally or think of them as a character flaw.
Understand the Root Cause
To better understand the root cause of your failure, look at it using the analogy of failing a class. Did you not pass because you didn’t study enough, or because you were dealing with other stresses and couldn’t prioritize the class? Maybe you studied your hardest, but your professor intentionally made the class difficult to pass. Or, maybe the material just didn’t interest you enough for it to click.
Now think about your specific failure. Did you not put in the effort needed to succeed? Or were you going through grief or stress that spread your attention too thin? Maybe you gave your goals your all, but were met with unexpected obstacles. Or, maybe along the way you realized that what you set your sights on wasn’t what you wanted after all.
Once you understand what led you to fail, you can begin the process of moving forward. You can take responsibility for your shortcomings, ignorance, blind spots, and commit to further growth. Additionally, acknowledge your efforts and give yourself grace for any unforeseen challenges you faced that were out of your control.
Create a Plan of Action
Creating a plan of action is twofold. First, think about the ways you are going to move forward toward your specific goals. If you want to achieve something, what steps do you have to take to get there? Break your goal down into smaller objectives so that you can feel confident as you make progress toward your dreams. Maybe your goal is to take a two-week vacation to your dream destination. In order to reach this goal, maybe your plan of action includes action steps like “save an extra $200 per month, cook at home instead of eating out, sell unwanted belongings online, get a part time job.” As you create your action plan, make sure the objectives are realistic and are steps that will lead you to achieving your ultimate desire.
Second, create a plan for how you will handle failure the next time it comes up. Your focus should be on minimizing the time spent between failure and bouncing back. The more resilient you are, the quicker you will achieve your goals. Your plan for handling failure can include guilt-free mental health days, taking the time to grieve and process your feelings, and seeking support from others.
Think about the things that genuinely lift your spirits. Maybe this includes spending time with loved ones, walking in nature, sweating it out at the gym, or kicking your feet up at the beach with a good book in hand. Choose a foolproof joy-inducing activity and commit to doing it when life knocks you down. When you’re in the slump of failure, getting yourself to do your favorite things can feel draining or impossible. This is why it’s important to equip yourself with a plan of action ahead of time, so that you’re prepared to bounce back quicker the next time around to keep moving toward your goals.
Give Yourself Grace
When you learn from your failures, you realize that they, afterall, were not failures at all. In fact, you learn to appreciate the challenges you face as lessons for growth. Have you ever heard someone who overcame a tragedy refer to it as a blessing in disguise? You may have wondered how someone who has gone through something so challenging could look at their struggles with optimism. People like that are shining examples of moving through setbacks with the intention to learn, grow, and become better versions of themselves.
When you do fail, don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Failure is only made worse by beating yourself up over things you could have done differently, or taking on the blame as part of your identity. Let go of thoughts like “I’m a failure. Nothing I do is right.” Instead, tell yourself, “This setback is helping me build strength for the road ahead. I’m more equipped now to move forward in the direction my dreams.”