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How to Deal When You Feel Like a Failure

I started writing this blog on the same day I started the 137 Days Project with Patti Digh.

Patti turned 53 last week, the same age as her father when he died. Patti did some extra math and realized that her dad passed away 137 days after his birthday. She also learned a couple of weeks ago that her husband has renal cell carcinoma, so you can only imagine how her days have been given new meaning.

She created the 137 Days Project to encourage us all to “Live Well. Live Fully. Let Go Deeply and Make a Difference,” and I eagerly signed up. It seemed like just the thing to focus my energy after a big disappointment last week – I learned that my TEDx talk wasn’t accepted.

In light of Patti’s circumstances, the rejection seems trivial, but it hit me hard. You see, I can’t remember the last time I went after something – a literary agent, a “celebrity” guest for an upcoming telesummit, or a speaking contest – and “won.” I admit that the latest rejection helped me feel like a major failure.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling.

Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

How to Deal When You Feel Like a Failure

Churchill knew a thing or two about failure: He was a hopeless student in grade school, his parents constantly told him he was a disappointment, he had a very public fall from grace after a brutal election, his beloved son committed suicide after a long battle with alcoholism, and he almost succumbed to his own mental illness. I could go on and on.

But we mostly remember Churchill as a brilliant politician, orator, and writer. (Did you know he was also an accomplished painter??) I have to believe that’s mostly because he knew that failures were a part of life, and an opportunity for learning, but that he should never let his failures define him. He determined the meaning of his circumstances, and no one else.

I’ve learned that being an entrepreneur is one of the greatest paths to self-discovery and growth on the planet. For me, it’s only topped by being a mother and wife.

Being “in” my business triggers my old self-worth issues like crazy. Luckily I’ve learned that this is normal and to be expected.

I’ve also learned that the important thing is to remember that we have a choice in how we respond to the triggers.

We can choose to see undesirable circumstances or events as signs that we are failures, or we can see ourselves as strong (so strong!), willing to be of great service, and determined to do the work no matter what.

So when you tell yourself you’ve failed, ask yourself if you can be sure this is true. Then ask yourself if it’s absolutely true. These are the first two questions that make up Byron Katie’s “The Work,” and they get my attention every time.

More often than not my response is “Well . . . no.” And from that point I am usually much more able to focus on interpreting the information coming in rather than just reacting, telling myself I’ve failed or made a mistake.

I’ve found, too, that when I explain my so-called failure to someone else, this often helps me to see it differently.

Often, too, those whose minds have had very different experiences from you can produce the most surprising and helpful ideas: these are the folks who are most likely to see that what you see as a mistake or failure is actually the first sign of something promising.

You might want to try this: ask as many “new” (but trustworthy and discreet!) people as you can find to come up with possible solutions to your problems. When you get a handful of different opinions, choose several options that could positively address your problem — or turn it to your advantage — and act on them.

Even if you cannot fully transform the negative into a positive, you have probably found some relief and are well on your way to resolving the situation from a new standpoint.

So the next time you feel like you failed at something, question that thought, try to be easy about it and, if you can, look forward to the next failure with some of Churchill’s enthusiasm.

What helps when you feel like a failure? Please share in the comments!

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