If you have a pulse and the IQ of a tomato, at a minimum, you have experienced an unpleasant little Fact of Life that we all love to hate.
Usually, I would make a “and we all hate to love” quip here, but alas, I cannot. No one hates to love this or, in fact, loves it in any way whatsoever.
Because the topic at hand is how to recover from failure. And failure, plainly put, blows. Fiercely.
Before we go any further, a public service announcement: Please never google “IQ of tomatoes,” because then you will come across this extremely confusing but nevertheless strangely enchanting quiz and you will waste a full four minutes of your life for absolutely no reason. But hey, if you’re up for a bit of meaningless fun, go for it. Hint: parsnip. That’s a hard one.
Back to failure, and the panic spirals it frequently induces faster than you can say “another one bites the dust.”
Sometimes, that’s no big deal. Your dream to be an astronaut was probably going to die, no matter what. As of May 2017, NASA kept only 44 active astronauts on staff, as well as an additional 36 “management astronauts,” who are former astronauts who cannot go into space but still do things. Astronaut-y things. One assumes.
Other times, it is a big deal. A really big deal. See, when you become not-an-astronaut, you join the ranks of millions of other schoolchildren whose dream to explore the cosmos subtly but realistically morphed into a desire to keep books, prune rhododendrons or bear children. There’s a little sting in that because even you probably never took the dream too seriously.
But your failed startup? The Etsy shop you were all set to launch, but didn’t? The novel you wrote that hasn’t gone anywhere, even though you told everyone and their pet monkey all about it?
Those failures can sting a lot more. Almost as much as your PETA fine will sting if you keep a pet monkey, so don’t do it.
A few other things not to do:
Actually, I guess I just had one thing. Because DON’T GIVE UP ONCE YOU FAIL. That’s the main point of this book, so we might as well start accepting it right now.
Now, I get it. Watching a cherished dream wither and die, publicly or otherwise, is painful. It’s depressing. It’s draining. It saps your desire to try again, because where will that really go? What if you fail again? Even the thought of restarting drums up all sorts of catastrophizing and self-loathing. That makes sense, because we humans are pain-averse, and we do not distinguish overmuch between physical and emotional pain. When something hurts, we tend to turn away.
More often, we run away. As fast and as far as we can. Once the failure is in the rearview mirror, it can’t haunt us anymore, right?
Possibly. The question of whether or not you can actually escape your past is not relevant here (and the answer is a diamond-hard “no” in any case), so we won’t spend much time covering it. There’s another, deeper question on which our time would be much better spent. That question is: How to recover from failure so can you fail without giving up?
This is the crux of this guide.
Failure hurts, I’ll say again. It won’t stop hurting. People who have millions of dollars still experience the sting of defeat. Movie stars and presidents fall prey to inadequacy and the destruction of their best-laid plans. To err is human, after all. And while forgiveness is divine and all that, I prefer to focus on the first part of the saying:
To err is human. It’s normal to fail.
What is not so normal is recover from failure and to pick up and go on.
No one’s saying you have to do the same stupid thing over and over again when it’s not getting you anywhere. That’s the definition of insanity, and is, in any case, probably pretty boring. I am saying that too many people give up on an endeavor completely when what you really need to do is approach it in another way. Iterate. Change your thinking. Talk to other people who have failed in similar ways and are now succeeding.
For the sake of clarity, I will state at the outset that I am a writer and creative, and that is my main audience. You, however, do not have to be either. I welcome, with open arms, anyone who wants to learn to recover from failures in their work life, side biz, hobby, relationships, health or anything else. You do not have to have a game-changing idea for this book to be worth your time. The secret ingredient is very simple and very ubiquitous (is “very ubiquitous” redundant?).
A desire to stop getting mired in your own misery every time you let yourself down or something doesn’t go your way.
As long as that’s your goal, you’re in the right place. Because life doesn’t go our way a vast percentage of the time. Even very good lives, filled with good work and great love, disappoint us. More to the point, we disappoint ourselves in the living of them, and that makes us lose faith in our own abilities. What matters is whether the disappointment and lost faith are temporary or permanent.
By the time you’re done reading this, I want you to have the tools to recover from failure by looking failure squarely in the eye and saying, “You’re not very nice but you don’t scare me.”
Failure doesn’t have much to say to this, you see. When you acknowledge it, hold your head high and march forward, it loses its power completely.
Even better, if you can learn to make friends with your failure, you will discover open doors everywhere. And unless those doors were supposed to remain locked because they kept criminals or scary monsters inside, open doors are a good thing.
So let’s get started.
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