In high school, I was rewarded for good grades. If I achieved a perfect report card, my parents handed me one hundred smackaroos. It was a great incentive for a girl whose main desire was to save up for a down payment on the same sporty blue car her friend’s older sister owned. If, however, my grades were below perfect, all I’d get from my parents was a shrug as they re-folded my report card. “Better luck next time, kiddo.”
The need to be successful, to be perfect, was reinforced to such an extreme that not only was I letting my parents down with a few “B”s, I started letting myself down. I don’t think I’m alone, either. A lot of what defines our modern conceptions of “success” involves climbing the corporate ladder, gaining promotions, or making six-figures. There isn’t room for anything but perfection!
Reality, however, operates differently. Failure is a natural part of life, whether it’s in our careers, our relationships, or our hobbies. Humans are flawed, a truth we cannot escape, no matter how many cars fit into our garages. Even more than being natural, failure is an important, inseparable part of being successful.
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” When we step outside our comfort zones – engaging in new endeavors, starting a new relationship, or finally pursuing our dreams – we’ll encounter failure. Lots of it. Instead of seeing it as a sign of defeat, of needing to turn back, what if failure became a barometer of success, pointing us further down our desired path? What if failure was merely an indication that we were doing things right?
Here are some ways in which we can learn to embrace failure and maintain our enthusiasm, instead of shying away:
Recognize your response to failure. Where do you feel failure in your body? What’s your internal dialogue when you fail? Practice becoming aware of how you treat yourself when you fail and ask: Is this reaction helping me achieve my goals? Often our self-abuse simply creates more hurdles we’ll have to overcome. What would it look like if we didn’t let failure indicate our worth or our value?
Reconnect with your “why.” There’s a reason you stepped outside your comfort zone to begin with. Maybe you always wanted to sing in a band, or you long to share your opinions more openly and honestly with your friends. You chose this path because you experienced the alternative, and things just didn’t feel right. When failure appears, reconnect with your “why.” Is it worth the slight, occasional discomfort of failure, knowing the rewards of becoming more authentically you will outweigh those feelings tenfold?
Celebrate your victories. What? Failure’s a victory? It is if you want it to be! It’s the victory of you trying new things, of the world receiving those things, and of your continued opportunity to keep trying. If that’s not victorious, then I don’t know what is. Now, who wants a piece of cake?!
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