Responding to the reality of failure: Part 1

“The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well…”

– Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee and father of the modern Olympic Games.

I recently had the opportunity to go to London and watch a close friend compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. She was 1 of 10,000 athletes competing. While the honor and most of the media attention is deservedly given to the victors, I could not help but think of the other athletes who left London failing to realize their dream. Only 962 medals were awarded during these games. That means more than 90% of the athletes did not medal. How did this overwhelming majority respond to defeat?

How about the countless others from all over the world who train for years, and some almost their entire lives, yet fail to make their respective countries’ Olympic team? How do they respond to the disappointment?

Asking these questions led me to think about our lives – the big picture. Let’s face it, as fallible human beings living in a world in which, to a great extent, people, events and things are outside our realm of control, defeat and failure are a part of our reality. Yet, we discover a passion. We set a goal. And then we put all of our effort into striving to reach that goal. Sometimes we are successful, and sometimes we are not.

Here at i360 one of our goals is to help our clients respond to success and failure in a way that leads to vibrant, fulfilling lives. In order to do this, we must each ask ourselves, “How do I respond to failure?” Where do I find the will and determination to move forward in a positive direction?

Here are 6 ideas of how we can face and respond to the reality of failure in our lives in a way that will help us find the fulfillment and joy that we are all seeking:

1. For What it’s Worth – Resilience. It’s the ability to recover readily from adversity. When it comes to responding in a positive way to failure, this is what we need. Would you say you are resilient? Or, do you have a general sense of personal inadequacy, that when triggered by external things, sends you in a downward emotional spiral of depression and worthlessness for extended periods of time? If it is the latter, you may be living as though your self-worth is contingent upon your performance and success, or upon the approval of others. The good news, however, is that it does not have to be that way. The reality is that a person’s worth is not defined by external things or people, but by the inner, core self. That core self is unique, precious and of unconditionalunchanging value. I understand that for some (I’m including myself in this group) this reality is easy to grasp, but very difficult to accept at the core, believe it, and live it out. In this case, I suggest investing some time and resources into your own personal counseling. There are possibly some deep-rooted issues that may be hindering your movement forward in this area of your life. It may be painful to face these hurtful things, but speaking from my own experience in therapy, it will be time, energy, and money well spent, and you will be giving yourself the opportunity to experience a greater sense of self-worth, the resilience to overcome mountains you thought were previously unscalable, and the ability to live a more fulfilling life.

2. Setting Goals – Every goal has smaller steps to achieve in order to get you there. Be intentional. Set short-term, achievable goals for yourself that will help you realize your dream. Achieving these short-term goals along the way will provide encouragement throughout the process.

3. Reframe the Defeat – Ask yourself the question, “How do I view failure? What comes to mind? Do you like your perspective? If not, listen to Michael Jordan’s perspective on failure:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. Never fear failure; fear not trying, fear not giving your best, fear losing focus, but never fear failure. Failure is the path to success. Failure is the sign that you’re headed in the right direction. To succeed twice as fast, fail twice as much. Fail often, fail daily, and soon you will succeed. I’ve never been afraid to fail.”

When you fail, you learn. And when you learn, you grow and mature. So try something different today. Begin to practice taking risks. Of course this does not mean throw caution to the wind and be reckless with your safety or the safety of others. But, instead “try on” Jordan’s perspective. Take ownership of it, and have some fun. When you believe there is a benefit to failing, it makes taking risks easier. And the more you risk, the easier it is to get back up after a defeat.

Click here for the rest of the ideas in a blog entitled PART TWO.

Written by Mitch Isle, LPC