They write songs, books, inspirational quotes, and movies about it, but they always talk about failure in the past tense, like it’s somehow okay to discuss once we have transcended, made meaning, and are back on the come up. News flash—failure sucks. When you feel like you have failed in life, it can be difficult to identify the romantic, poetic, or meaningful messages we are intended to learn, mostly because we are too angry or broken-hearted to look for them.
Feeling like a failure in life is energy-consuming and takes many forms. The only guarantee in life is that we will, in fact, fail. We will do so repeatedly, and when failures compound, it can feel like the earth is crumbling beneath our feet.
Here are some ways how failure can look and feel like.
Failure can look like:
- Getting fired
- Going bankrupt or experiencing financial hardship
- Missing a promotion
- Getting ghosted
- Breaking a diet
- Going through a divorce, sometimes more than once
- Standing by when you wanted to stand up
- Failing to complete a major goal or just your daily task list
- Doing everything right and still losing where it seems to count.
- Something you poured time into coming out all wrong (IKEA fail, anyone?)
- Your twenties (just kidding—well, kind of)
Failure can feel like:
- Deflation (lots of “d” words, I know)
On the other hand, failure can also feel like:
So, what exactly are the lessons that happen in between that help us transcend from the depths of despair to emboldened by wisdom? Turns out, they are there if we are willing to see them.
Here are 10 critical lessons to learn when you feel like you’ve failed in life.
1. There Is Merit in Trying
If you have failed, the underlying truth is that you must have tried to be in this position. The fear of failure runs so deep that many people choose not to try just to avoid the possibility of failing.
In a survey by Linkagoal, fear of failure plagued 31% of 1,083 adult respondents—a larger percentage than those who feared spiders (30%), being home alone (9%), or even the paranormal (15%).
If you have found yourself feeling like a failure, then it means you summoned the courage to do something hard. Remember that same courage hasn’t disappeared just because it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. Celebrate your willingness to try and note that this is the same spirit that will fuel you as you move forward and try again or try something new.
2. Failure Humbles Us if We Don’t Give It Too Much Power
If we give our failures too much credit, we memorialize them as predictors of future inevitable failures. It’s as if by failing at something in life, you can never succeed in that area again. We catastrophize our failure, widen its scope, and turn a single moment in time into a self-fulfilling prophesy we are destined to replay.
But we don’t have to. When we acknowledge our failure for exactly what it is—no more, no less—we allow it to humble us. We take it in and name what has happened, narrate its impact, and keep it just like that. We see it as data and acknowledge that it has little to do with whether or not we will fail or succeed in the future.
3. The Mental Gymnastics of “What if” Are Useless—Repurpose the Time
What’s done is done. Reliving our failure moment serves nobody. “Would’ve’s”, “could’ve’s”, and “should’ve’s” rush through our minds as we consider all of the ways things could have turned out differently, if only. But the truth is that the time we spend in this place of unnecessary replay could be better spent working to take 100% ownership of the parts we had control over that led to the failure.
This is our chance to spend time in reflection and identify the key factors with utmost honesty. Many of us seek the opportunity to let ourselves off the hook when failure hurts too much. Rather than admit to the thing that we could have changed, we look for external sources to blame or distort the memory with excuses.