Saturday 3 September 2022

What to Do When You Think You’ve Failed


Failure is a scary word for most of us. It’s a heavy word. As psychotherapist Casey

Radle, LPC, said, “failure carries a lot of weight to it: It’s…powerful and charged with negativity.”

She defined failure as “not achieving an intended goal,” which typically triggers disappointment, inadequacy and sadness. Radle’s clients have shared many “failures” with her, including losing their job, not getting into graduate school, having kids with behavioral problems (and believing they’re a bad parent), and not owning a home. Business coach Carrie Klassen’s clients typically talk about failing when they’re not making enough money or have a program or product that didn’t sell well. But failure isn’t inherently negative. In fact, it can be a good thing. Klassen and Radle shared their valuable tips for navigating your “failures.”

Realize You’re Not a Failure

When we fail, we tend to internalize that “failure.” We go from experiencing failure to assuming we’ve become a failure. This is actually a common misconception, according to Radle, who specializes in self-esteem, anxiety and depression at Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, Texas. As she said, “We might not achieve our goals on the first try or the first hundred tries, but that doesn’t mean we are failures, forever doomed to feel bad about ourselves. It just means that our actions and tactics weren’t successful.”

Rethink Failure

Another misconception about failure is that it’s “bad” or “proof we've done something ‘wrong,’” said Klassen, who owns and operates Pink Elephant Communications. Radle noted that failure also “tends to carry a sense of finality to it, which then breeds hopelessness and helplessness.” However, what we label a “failure,” Klassen said, is just an “unexpected result.” It’s an opportunity to say, “OK, that didn’t go as planned,” and then to get curious, and dig deeper. Radle views failure as an opportunity to learn, grow and build resilience. “If you view it that way, it becomes a gift.”

Explore Your Failure

Radle and Klassen both stressed the importance of finding the lesson in your “failure.” Consider: What can you learn from this experience about yourself or others? What can you do differently next time? As Klassen said, “When something has failed, it's simply a sign that there are questions to be asked.” For instance, maybe your program didn’t sell well because your sales page didn’t describe it clearly, she said. Maybe you aren’t making your financial goals, because you’re under-charging, she said.

Feel Your Feelings

“Give yourself permission to feel disappointed for a while,” Klassen said. “Just because something's a learning experience doesn't mean you've got to be all sunbeams about it.” So if you need to punch some pillows or kick some dirt, that’s totally OK, she said.

Ask for Others' Insights

“Sometimes it's hard to be objective, especially when we're feeling bruised by the experience,” Klassen said. This is a good time to ask others for insight. For instance, if you’ve experienced a “failure” in your business, survey your clients, talk to a coach or join a mastermind group, she said

Quit the Comparison Game

“Comparing ourselves to others is only natural,” Radle said. For instance, it lets us see if we’re acting appropriately in a situation, she said. “However, if you constantly compare yourself to others and find yourself coming up short, you’re simply reinforcing your negative self-image and confirming your skewed perceptions of yourself.” Instead, work on accepting yourself, and letting go of comparison-making.

Avoid Judgment

When you’re upset about a failure, your inner critic may be roaring. But try to be kind to yourself anyway. “Actively engage in positive self-talk, forgive yourself, and move on,” Radle said. For instance, you might use supportive statements such as: “It’s OK; everyone makes mistakes,” or “I’m going to refocus on my needs.” Or you might gently remind yourself that all successful people have failed –many quite often. Plus, dwelling only makes you feel worse, Radle said. “Instead, concentrate on what you can do right now. You have absolutely no power or influence over the past, only how you view it and make meaning out of it.” Again, failure isn’t a bad thing. As Klassen said, “Failure is what happens to the courageous and to the creative. It's really a thing [of] honor, and makes you interesting.”

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is an associate editor at Psych Central and authors the body image blog Weightless. She writes about everything from anxiety and ADHD to creativity and couples to mindfulness and stress. You can learn more about her work at her

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