I don’t think I am alone in my dislike and sometimes utter disdain for experiencing feelings of failure. We work hard in life to achieve success, whether that is in our relationships, financially, parenting or in our career. We all desire to be successful in the things that we pursue and value. And yet, how we respond to failure is in many ways more important than how we respond to success. If all person experiences in life is a non-stop string of achievement, it’s doubtful that the result would be a mature and well-rounded person.
My Dad used to ask me a question growing up in moments where I felt like a failure. He was quite skilled and asking this question in moments where I was having a pity party and was convinced that the entirety of my existence was now doomed. In a kind and gentle way, he would ask, “So, what did you learn?” Sometimes I would say things like, “That I am a total and complete failure!” My dad, in his wisdom, would respond, “Well that’s not accurate so you couldn’t have learned that”.
The summer before I started college, I sent my father a letter thanking him for the things that he had taught me...characteristics such as being responsible, working hard, being loving, and the area that I spent the most time on was what he had shown me over and over, how important it is to actually value failure. In his amazing response letter to me, he wrote, “I learned a long time ago that the greatest lessons in life never come from success, they come from failure”
For most of us when we are struggling with thoughts of failure, we tend be towards one end of a continuum. At one end is shame and the other is blame and sometimes we have both. It tends to be someone else’s fault, or I am a total idiot.
But what if we started with a simple question?
“What can I learn from this experience?”
Although not easy, emotions of failure become opportunities to learn and grow rather then inhibit and constrain.
So, the next time you feel like you are failing, grab a pen or your computer and write a LONG list of all the things that you WILL learn from this moment. Think about the amazing growth that will continue to happen EACH time you ask it.