Failure

Posted on Aug 18, 2018 in Self-Help

I was once working with a client who was stuck on this idea that she was a failure and would be destined to fail forever. Can you relate?

Her negative self-image was only fortified by a her skewed and ceaseless rehashing of the past.
“I’ve failed so many times… I left those jobs, and quit that school. Those relationships didn’t work out either.”  Every event became a reason to get down on herself.

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In our session her shift of significance came from the simple act of trying on a different perspective.

I noticed she was going on an on about each unsuccessful attempt she had had in her life — So I cut her off…

“Woah woah woah slow down. Take a breath and let’s look at this.
I find it interesting that you have been labeling all these events as failures. I can see how limiting that has become for you – to your freedom and your confidence. Can I possibly encourage you to look at these experiences in a different way?”

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Take the metaphor of the dressing room. Imagine that you are in a clothing store, you walk around, a few items catch your eye and you pull them to add to your dressing room. You draw the curtain and slip on each garment – every piece you are judging how it looks and feels.

These were all chosen because you had a theory they might work for you. Now, you are living the reality.

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We are all familiar with the following shopping scenarios, right?:

  • Something looks really good on another person or on the mannequin, but then is a total miss for you when you try it on.
  • You randomly slip on something that is totally not your style but it ends up surprising you by how amazing it looks.
  • You try something on, but just for size and come away with new information.
  • You test out a style similar to one you’ve been wearing for years, and affirm that it’s still something you like.

In the dressing room we all have hits and misses. Sometimes we strike out completely, and walk away with nothing. If such is the case, and nothing you tried on felt or looked right, do you think of yourself as failing? No.

In these scenarios we can easily understand that:

  • The item didn’t fit or it didn’t work for us (right now). It simply wasn’t a good match.
  • We don’t say, “Oh my gosh, I’m a failure because that t-shirt didn’t suit my proportions. I’m destined to fail at wearing any kind of t-shirt in the future!”
  • We don’t take it personally and we don’t use it to fuel a complex of ourselves.
  • Here, objectivity comes more naturally.

Now, imagine what it could be like to bring this attitude into our everyday lives?

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Just like clothes, we can think about our experiences as either being a match for us or not. With this approach, we unburden ourselves. We relieve the personal responsibility to make whatever “it” is (job, school, relationship, project, location etc.), work out.

Sometimes the job isn’t a match, sometimes the guy or the girl isn’t a match. Sometimes the location isn’t a match. Sometimes the activity isn’t a matchWe don’t have to believe the lie that may follow — “I fail to be employable; I suck at relationships; I can never live on my own; athletics is not my thing.”


This something is wrong with me, mentality is a victim mindset that, left unaddressed, will do nothing to support personal development.

To be clear, this isn’t about avoiding all responsibility by blaming the circumstance. If everyday you were late for your job; or if you chose not to put effort into your partnership; or if you slacked off with your gym routine — then these are areas for you to work on: punctuality, communication, and followthrough for example.

Illumination of our weak links this is the value of each trial we take. Additionally, our experiences help reveal to us, that which we want and that which we don’t want. These combine to make up more than half the equation that gets us to where we want to be – a life of fulfillment, gratitude, passion and peace.

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Our culture teaches us to be destination oriented. Our focus – to reach a goal or advance a rank or claim a prize. Though perseverance is an important skill, it’s not always in our best interest to see an original plan through. Certain things are not meant to be completed in the way we initially set out to. They may be in our lives instead, to serve as stepping stones. For instance, let’s say you move to another state to attend school but mid-way through you realize it’s not for you. The classes aren’t stimulating and you come to learn that the community values aren’t in alignment with yours. So you drop out. In the eyes of many, you are a failure. There is much however that lies out of view to an onlooker. Your hidden gem – in moving to that state, you met your, now spouse, and are in a happy and healthy relationship!

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Another pitfall to be aware of: Reprimanding oneself in response to a changed mind.

For instance,

“I’m overwhelmed… I want more free time.”
Now that I have it, “I’m bored, I want some work to do.”

“I don’t like it here… I want to move to the city.”
One year later. “I want to move back to the country.”

“I feel lonely… I’d like to spend less time by myself.”
After becoming more socially involved. “I’m desperate for my alone time!”

Observance of such displeasure may evoke self-talk similar to the following.
“It seems like ‘the grass is always greener’ scenario for you! You get something and then you want something else. You are so hard to please, you’ll never be happy.

Be assured – it is okay and natural to desire differing, and even opposing experiences. With a wider perspective we can see that, though it may appear like flip flopping or careless penduluming, in both situations you are seeking the same thing – you are seeking balance – balance between stimulation and rest. And, as it goes with time, a swinging pendulum will learn to find it’s place closer to center.

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We can all do with the reminder that change — internal and external — is forever in motion.

Let’s revisit the shopping analogy. Imagine browsing the aisle and spying a trendy  mannequin. It’s sporting a fluorescent orange jacket which is quite striking to you though you do recognize the piece would be very much out of your comfort zone. For fun you slip it on… only to slip it right off! Clearly it was not your style. A few years later however, you return. Fashion has changed, seasons have changed, your body has changed and your style is a little more adventurous now. Surprise surprise, it becomes your new favorite piece!

The takeaway here – experiment; seek to learn yourself with every try-on; and never write anything off completely. If school doesn’t feel right for you now, then it doesn’t feel right. Don’t however be opposed to reconsidering it if, at age 60, an interest emerges for some more traditional education. We can all do with the reminder that change is forever in motion.

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Let’s shift away from looking at our time spent and choices made, as mistakes. Instead, let’s view them as experiments. We try things out and in the process receive feedback. We learn about what our needs are and which areas of ourselves we can develop. Remember that uncovering both what does work for us and what doesn’t, helps to clear the brush and lay the path to a future of fulfillment, appreciation, passion and peace.

Reframe “failure” today by dispelling negative self-talk with gratitude for the information gifted.

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I understand that a nonlinear life path can feel disorienting, sometimes frustrating.
“Am I really even getting anywhere with life? I seem to just be hopping here and there. When will it all add up, am I just wasting my time?”  In personal understanding of this fear I want to leave you with something that I wrote a few years ago.

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